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This marine reserve runs alongside one of New Zealand’s most popular national parks, the Abel Tasman. It is renowned for its golden sand beaches, intimate coves, and excellent summer weather.

Place overview


  • Boating
  • Diving and snorkelling
  • Kayaking and canoeing
  • Swimming
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Find things to do Tonga Island Marine Reserve

      People are welcome to visit and enjoy the reserve - picnicking, swimming, boating, diving and photography are all encouraged. Educational and scientific activities are allowed too, provided they do not unduly disturb or endanger the reserve's plants and animals.

      Diving and snorkelling

      Underwater visitors will see tumbled rock and bedrock reefs, inhabited by numerous grazing invertebrates, with sandy-bottoms extending beyond.

      The best snorkelling is among the rocks between Tonga Quarry and Foul Point. Scuba diving is most rewarding on the reefs around Tonga Island or in the north of the reserve.

      Seaweeds are confined to a narrow band along the low water mark, but this makes it easy to see kina and turban shells grazing on the seafloor and boulders. 

      Kayaking and canoeing

      Kayaking, rock-pooling and picnicking around the golden sandy coves at Tonga Island Marine Reserve is an idyllic way to spend a day.

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      About this place

      Nature and conservation

      The clear warm waters of Tonga Island Marine Reserve make it incredibly popular with kayakers and swimmers, and trampers on the coastal track will sometimes pop into the water with a snorkel to cool off.

      A thriving local tourist industry supports all the marine activities, and visitors can easily combine land and sea adventures in their holiday. There is also a New Zealand fur seal colony on Tonga Island.

      Kayakers will often see little blue penguins along this coast and may occasionally be rewarded with an encounter with a pod of dolphins. Because many local estuaries are also protected, visitors may see some of New Zealand’s rarer shorebirds.

      Summer Report: Tonga Island Marine Reserve

      Aired Monday 6 January 2014


      Significant increases in the abundance and size of marine species in Tasman Bay marine reserves confirm their conservation benefits. Research shows that 20 years after the Tonga Island Marine Reserve was created, there are more than seven times as many crayfish and 40 times as many blue cod over 30 centimetres.

      Tonga Island Marine Reserve report  (PDF, 1,750K)

      View a factsheet on shags living in Abel Tasman National Park:
      A shag count in Abel Tasman National Park (PDF, 11,830K)

      Getting there

      By sea

      The nearest boat ramp is at Totaranui, 5 km north of Awaroa Head. There are others at Tarakohe near Takaka, and at Kaiteriteri and Marahau in the south.

      Water users should be wary of unmarked reefs and tidal changes. Sea conditions are often calm in winter but stiff sea breezes occur daily in summer and there is little shelter to be found along rocky sections of the coastline during storms.

      By land

      Foot access to the reserve is along the coast track from the north or the south. The nearest car park, at Awaroa, is 33 km from Takaka. Allow a full day for a return trip from the car park to Tonga Quarry. Before setting out, check the tide tables because it is only safe to cross Awaroa Inlet within one hour 30 minutes before low tide and two hours after. 

      From Awaroa Hut, head east to the mouth of Venture Creek and climb up to Tonga Saddle. From here there is an easy descent to Onetahuti Beach - your first contact with the marine reserve. Tonga Island lies directly offshore from here.

      Transport services

      The Abel Tasman coast is well served by bus, boat and kayaking companies. Information on their services is available at i-SITE visitor centres in Motueka, Takaka and Nelson.

      Know before you go

      If you are planning to stop at Adele and Fisherman islands, plan and prepare before you go to ensure you do not accidentally take pests, such as mice, rats, non-native ants and weeds, onto the islands.

      Tonga Island is a seal breeding colony and public access is not allowed except by permit. Seals can move faster than you think, and have a nasty bite.

      No fishing or shellfish gathering from either boat or shore is allowed in Tonga Island Marine Reserve.

      If you see people taking fish within the marine reserve, report the activity to the Department of Conservation as soon as possible.


      Nelson Visitor Centre
      Phone:      +64 3 546 9339
      Address:   Millers Acre/Taha o te Awa
      79 Trafalgar Street
      Nelson 7010
      Full office details
      Motueka Office
      Phone:      +64 3 528 1810
      Full office details
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