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Kapiti Marine Reserve links the world-renowned bird sanctuary on the island with the protected Waikanae estuary on the mainland, creating a rare continuum of protected land and sea.


  • fourth marine reserve established in New Zealand
  • top dive spots include the Hole-in-the-wall underwater archway
  • abundant sea life including blue moki, kingfish, seals and dolphins

Place overview


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

      Diver amongst Ecklonia radiata seaweed, Kapiti Island Marine Reserve. Photo copyright: M.P.Francis. DOC use only. Please contact Malcom Francis, NIWA:
      Diver amongst Ecklonia radiata
      seaweed, Kapiti Island Marine Reserve

      Diving, snorkelling and swimming

      The reserve covers two areas – a small section to the north of the seaward side of the island, and a larger section between the protected areas of Kapiti Island and Waikanae Estuary. Its cross shelf continuum of habitats is unique in a mainland marine reserve.

      The marine reserve is popular with divers. On the exposed seaward side of the island, the reef extends to 25 m and divers can pass through the underwater Hole in the Wall.

      On the mainland side, divers and snorkelers can explore the sponge gardens and seaweed beds.

      Residents of Kapiti's waters include reef fish like blue moki, kingfish and various rays and sometimes rare and subtropical fish such as the spotted black groper. Protected great white sharks and basking sharks have occasionally been sighted by divers around the island.

      Whales and dolphins are regular visitors and many seabirds can be seen too, such as gulls, gannets, penguins and perhaps a fairy prion or Arctic skua and flocks of terns feeding on sprats


      Boating is also permitted in the reserve. When boating in these waters please advise a responsible person of your intentions, including your destination and intended time of return. VHF radio users should note that on the western side of Kapiti Island transmission is often difficult.

      Kapiti Island and its surrounding waters are noted for strong tidal rips and changeable weather - sea conditions can quickly become treacherous. Obtain an up-to-date marine forecast before boating in the reserve.

      Within the marine reserve, plants and animals may not be removed or damaged. Surveillance and enforcement of the reserve is carried out by the Department of Conservation. Warranted officers undertake regular patrols.

      Kayaking and canoeing

      Kayaking is also permitted in the reserve. 

      Visitors may not land on Kapiti Island without a permit from the Department of Conservation. 

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      About this place

      History and culture

      Tikanga Māori

      Ko te Waewae Kapiti o Tara Raua ko Rangitane: the full name given by Māori to Kapiti describes the Island as the meeting place of the boundaries of Tara and Rangitane. Tara and Rangitane were the son and grandson of Whatonga who, in 1150 AD, divided the country by making a boundary from the southern tip of Kapiti Island straight across to the east coast of the North Island.

      The land to the south he gave to Tara and the land to the north he gave to Tautoki, another son whose heir was Rangitane.

      The waters between Kapiti Island and the mainland were once travelled by the waka of the Rangitane people, the Muaupoko and later those of Te Rauparaha of Ngati Toa who gained dominance over Kapiti by 1823.

      This stretch of sea is called Rauoterangi Channel to commemorate the swimming feat of Kahe Te Rauoterangi, daughter of a Ngati Toa chief. Persuaded by a dream, she set out from Kapiti with her daughter strapped to her back, to warn allies on the mainland of a threatened attack. Te Rauoterangi was carried by the current to Te Uruhi, south of the Waikanae River and about 11 kilometres from the starting point. The child survived the crossing but died not long afterwards.

      Getting there

      Getting there by land

      Kapiti Marine Reserve is 30 km from Wellington city and is located between Paraparaumu and Waikanae beaches and Kapiti Island.

      The marine reserve's only point of contact with the mainland is one kilometre of beach at the Waikanae River mouth. The only foot access to the reserve is from Waikanae Beach or Paraparaumu Beach on either side of the Waikanae Estuary and river mouth. There are walking tracks through Waikanae Estuary.

      Getting there by sea

      The nearest boat launching sites are located at the Waikanae and Kapiti boating clubs, though there are also boat ramps at Plimmerton and Mana.

      Transport services

      Local boat services operate licensed trips to and around Kapiti Island and the marine reserve.


      Pōneke / Wellington Visitor Centre
      Phone:      +64 4 384 7770
      Address:   18 Manners Street
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      Wellington Office
      Phone:      +64 4 470 8412
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