Pohatu Marine Reserve
Image: Danica Stent | DOC 

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You will see many of New Zealand’s most charismatic marine animals at Pohatu Marine Reserve, which hosts both penguin and seal colonies. The drive to Pohatu is rough and should only be attempted by 4WD.


  • The drive to Pohatu is rough and should only be attempted by 4WD, but it reveals a scenic view around every corner, before descending to the sheltered waters of Flea Bay. 
  • Kayakers and boaties can explore a more dramatic landscape of sheer cliffs and sea caves not visible from land.

Place overview


  • Bird and wildlife watching
  • Boating
  • Kayaking and canoeing

In this section

Find things to do Pohatu Marine Reserve


Boating and kayaking

Boating and kayaking are probably the best way to see the reserve’s many marine mammals and birds. Out on the water, in their own environment, the penguins, seals and dolphins are often playful and curious.

Slow to less than 5 knots and stay 50 metres clear of seals or dolphins. If you are quiet and still they may come to you.

If you time your visit for low tide, you can enjoy rock pooling on the platform around the fringe of the bay.

Unfortunately visibility for diving is usually poor.

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    About this place

    Nature and conservation

    Pohatu Marine Reserves rock pools contain dense communities of the smaller sea creatures, and beneath the waves it has a wide range of water depths and seabed types.

    This combination of interesting topography and abundance, both above and below the waterline, make Pohatu well worth a visit in spite of its remoteness.


    About 2,600 korora (white flippered penguins) and some yellow-eyed penguins breed at Pohatu – the largest little penguin colony on the mainland. They can be seen clustered in the undergrowth of the surrounding hills, up to 700 m from the shore. They also swim out in the bay in large coordinated groups.

    There is a seal colony in the outer reserve, Hector’s dolphins often visit, and orcas are a common sight, making the water really quite crowded on a good day.

    The rocky shore platform around the edge of Flea Bay is abundant in small animals and plants. Visitors who enjoy rockpooling will see many kinds of crabs, shellfish, anemones and seaweed.

    Albatrosses cruise these waters and are most likely to be seen from the headlands.


    We are running a rock lobster tagging project, and needs your help to find out the movement patterns and growth rates of lobster in the Pohatu Marine Reserve area.

    Getting there

    Pōhatu Marine Reserve is centred on Flea Bay, on the southeast side of Banks Peninsula.

    To get to Pōhatu Marine Reserve, take State Highway 75 to Akaroa, then the gravel Lighthouse Road up to the Flea Bay Road turnoff. The road down to the bay is steep and unsealed, and treacherous in bad weather.

    A four wheel drive vehicle is recommended. Use the beach access provided – the beach is surrounded by private land.

    Know before you go

    At low tide the rocks may be slippery with algae. Take care when clambering around them.

    Weather warning

    The weather can change rapidly, creating dangerous sea conditions (and treacherous driving on the dirt road to the reserve).  Be prepared for rain and carry warm clothes.

    Scuba diver warning

    Scuba divers driving to the reserve need to be aware that the road reaches nearly 800 m above sea level so they need to plan dives and surface times carefully to avoid developing decompression sickness (the bends) during the drive out.

    Snorkelers and divers need to be aware of the limitations of people in their party as this is a relatively isolated area, with no cell phone coverage or medical help available in the bay.

    Marine reserve rules

    It is not permitted to take any animal or natural form from the reserve, including fish, shellfish, shells, seaweed, rocks or driftwood. Carefully replace rocks and stones if you lift them to observe marine life.

    Dogs are not permitted in the reserve, as they disturb wildlife.

    Keep a respectful distance from the wildlife – it is both courteous and sensible, as seals in particular can move fast and may bite if threatened. Penguins can become stressed when moulting or nesting, so keep your distance and do not approach them.

    Stay on the main beach. The beach is surrounded by private land and the penguins nest there.

    Remove all rubbish.


    Ōtautahi / Christchurch Visitor Centre
    Phone:   +64 3 379 4082
    Address:   9 Rolleston Ave
    Botanic Gardens
    Christchurch 8013
    Email:   christchurchvc@doc.govt.nz
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