Islands (New Zealand)
Where can I find information about New Zealand islands?
Entry last updated: 1/03/23
Aotearoa New Zealand is mainly known for its North and South Islands, but it is a nation surrounded by many islands. Some have interesting histories of being prisons, quarantine stations and leper colonies. A few islands have become sanctuaries, safe from harmful predators, where native species can be protected.
Well-known New Zealand islands
Here are some of the more well-known islands of New Zealand, along with some interesting facts.
Rangitoto Island: The youngest volcano in New Zealand at 600 years old. It is a popular destination for both tourists and locals.
Ruapuke Island: A site of several shipwrecks in Southern New Zealand. It once had a Māori population of 200.
Mokoia Island: Found on Lake Rotorua, it is the location of one of New Zealand’s most famous love stories. It is considered sacred by the local Māori, and access to the island is limited.
Kawau Island: Copper was mined on this island, in the Hauraki Gulf, from 1844 until June 1852, being one of New Zealand’s earliest mining ventures.
Kermadec Islands: At the northernmost part of New Zealand, this is a group of small subtropical volcanic islands uninhabited by humans, but set up as a nature reserve. Some of the volcanoes are still active.
Stewart Island/Rakiura: The third largest island of New Zealand, located just south of the South Island. It retains most of its natural forest cover, and has few introduced predators, so birds thrive there.
Quail Island: Found in Lyttelton Harbour, this island was used for quarantine purposes such as for immigrant ships, diphtheria, Spanish influenza, leprosy and livestock. The island became a recreation reserve in 1975.
Kāpiti Island: Lying off Wellington’s western coast opposite Paraparaumu, it was once the stronghold of the Ngāti Toa tribe during the 1820s and 1830s, when the great chief Te Rauparaha made it the centre of an extensive empire.
General facts and human impact
There are some great websites on New Zealand islands in general and on individual islands. If you are looking for facts or pictures the following websites will help as well.
Te Ara is an excellent starting point for all questions about New Zealand Aotearoa. If we look down to the bottom of the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable.
- To find information about offshore islands look down the page to Sections, then select Places.
- From here, look for Explore Places and select Offshore Islands. This will bring up stories on the Chatham Islands, Kermadec Islands and Subantarctic islands.
- Here you will find lots of information, including facts on the Moriori who lived in the Chatham Islands, developed their own distinct culture and outlawed war and killing.
- Te Ara also has a story on Nearshore Islands. Information you will find here includes early inhabitants, recreational use and island sanctuaries.
This website has been put together for tourists coming to New Zealand to help them with their travels, and showcase this beautiful country. You can find some good information here on Islands in New Zealand.
- Enter the keyword ‘islands’ into the search box. This will bring up lots of results including this article called White Island - an active volcano.
- By using the filter on the left-hand side of the page you can narrow your search.
- Alternatively, you could enter the name of a specific island into the search box.
Tips: We like sites that are from government or other reputable organisations, because we can trust the information. You can sometimes tell these sites by their web address – they might have .gov or .edu in their address – or by looking at their About or Contact pages.
New Zealand Geographic is one of the databases in EPIC. EPIC is a collection of reliable databases covering lots of different topics. It’s put together especially for New Zealand school students and helps to answer questions like this.
This database gives online access to the entire archive of the New Zealand Geographic magazine and is a good site if you are searching for information on specific islands.
- To search this site, enter keywords into the search bar, eg enter the keywords ‘Quail Island’.
- This will bring up a number of results including this great article called The Ghosts of Quail Island.
- It talks about the islands geology, history, conservation efforts, and use as a recreational reserve. It also shows some great images that go along with the story.
Tips: To get to the EPIC resources you will need a password from your school librarian first. Or you can chat with one of our AnyQuestions librarians between 1 and 6pm Monday to Friday and they will help you online. Some EPIC databases may also be available through your public library.
Many of New Zealand's islands have been damaged due to introduced pests and plants. This has had a major effect on New Zealand native flora and fauna - native ecosystems have been disrupted. To help solve these problems, projects have been set up to get some islands back to their original pest free glory.
The Department of Conservation (DOC for short) is the government website about preserving the natural and historical sites of New Zealand. You can see it’s a government site by looking at the About us or Contact links at the top of the page.
- As with websites already mentioned above, you can search using the keyword ‘islands’, or keywords for a specific island such as ‘Rangitoto Island’.
- When using the keyword ‘islands’ you will find this interesting page about Visiting pest free islands.
If you are looking for more detailed information, University websites can be useful. Massey University is known for its research to lessen the impact that population pressures and climate change have on the planet.
- By entering in the keywords 'island conservation' into the search bar you will find the articles Tiritiri Matangi Island Restoration Programme and Conservation breakthrough as kākāriki re-colonise remote island.
- By using more specific keywords such as 'Mokoia Island' you'll find the article Mokoia Island restoration programme.
Tips: Search words, or keywords, are the most important words in our question. Usually it’s better to leave out small words like ‘the’, ‘a’ and ‘of’ and just choose the main ones, e.g island conservation. We can always change our keywords or add more if we need to.
Some New Zealand Islands have long and varied histories which include stories of castaways, prisons and leper colonies.
DigitalNZ is a search site that focuses on New Zealand history and brings together results from lots of different websites. It’s an easy way of searching online resources from New Zealand libraries, museums, universities and government sites all at once, and has lots of primary sources. The results are grouped by the type of information, like images, videos, newspapers, articles and research papers.
- By typing the keywords 'New Zealand islands' into the search box you will find a lot of different resources. Including this interesting black and white documentary made in the 1960s called Looking at New Zealand - White Island.
- This site is a great place for images of different islands. It contains mainly historical photographs and is a great resource for other types of images, such as paintings and maps.
NZHistory is a great website for information about New Zealand Aotearoa. If we go all the way down the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable.
- For this site it is best to search for specific islands eg Ruapuki Island.
Tips: We like sites like this because they’re reliable. You can tell because of their web address – they have either .govt or .ac, meaning they are from government or educational organisations. They’re also New Zealand sites, so relevant for us.
Not just a great website for tourists, this site has useful information on New Zealand, including Maori Legends.
- By typing in the keywords 'islands legends' you will find the page Pūrākau - Māori Legends.
- Look through the legends listed to find links to The legend of New Zealand and Hinemoa and Tūtānekai.
There are lots of books you can use to explore this topic. These are just a few examples - check your local school or public library to see what they have.
- Maori legends of the land : Maori tales and traditions by Pita Graham
- Rangitoto : te toka tu moana = the rock standing in the ocean by Maria Gill
- The shaping of New Zealand by Brian O'Flaherty.
SCIS no: 1875438
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