Ngā Motu/Sugar Loaf Islands Marine Protected Area


View of Sugar Loaf Islands, New Plymouth. Photo: Herb Spannagl.
Sugar Loaf Islands Marine Protected Area,
New Plymouth

Just offshore from New Plymouth is the stubble of an ancient but massive volcano much older than Mt Taranaki. Formed 1.75 million years ago, soft rock has long since been eroded away leaving a group of low sea stacks and seven islands that provide a unique semi-sheltered environment along an otherwise exposed coastline.

The Ngā Motu/Sugar Loaf Islands Marine Protected Area (SLIMPA) comprises seabed, foreshore and water around Ngā Motu/Sugar Loaf Islands. It backs onto the northern boundary of the Tapuae Marine Reserve

Local Māori called the islands Ngā Motu – "the islands", and were actively living on them when first European settlers arrived. In 1770 the guano deposits reminded James Cook of the way sugar in Europe was stored in heaps or loaves and he named the islands the Sugar Loaf Islands. In the 1820s a whaling station was established on Moturoa Island.


Marine environment

The subtidal marine habitats around the Ngā Motu/Sugar Loaf Islands include: spectacular canyons, caves, rock faces with crevices and overhangs, large pinnacles, boulder fields and extensive sand flats.

There are at least 89 species of fish, 33 species of encrusting sponges, 28 species of bryozoans and 9 nudibranchs.

The Ngā Motu/Sugar Loaf Islands are important for 19 species of seabirds, with approximately 10,000 seabirds nesting here. A breeding colony of New Zealand fur seals (Arctocephalus forsteri) is there too.

Protection and recognition

View over Sugar Loaf Islands to Egmont National Park.
View over Sugar Loaf Islands to Egmont National Park

SLIMPA was established in 1986 to control both fishing (under the Fisheries Act 1983) and non-fishing (under the Harbours Act 1950) activities. The formal protection of this area was supported by a traditional blessing with a tohunga (priest) placing a rahui over the area.

Concern about the areas degree of protection against oil prospecting and development led to the Sugar Loaf Islands Marine Protected Area Act 1991. The Act included a prohibition against mining.


The islands are just offshore from New Plymouth, between the Port Taranaki breakwater and Herekawe Stream, Back Beach.


Diving and snorkelling Diving and snorkelling
Fishing Fishing
Kayaking and canoeing Kayaking and canoeing


The islands and reefs in the SLIMPA are close to Port Taranaki in New Plymouth and are a popular diving spot. The deep water is home to a variety of marine life and the scenery is spectacular. In summer and autumn underwater visibility can reach 20 metres so these are the best times to dive.

Dive shops and the New Plymouth Sports Fishing and Underwater Club regularly dive the area and can provide advice on the best locations and conditions. Divers must display a dive flag while diving to alert boat operators of their presence.


Recreational fishing is a popular activity in the SLIMPA. Individual fishers are restricted to one rod with a maximum of three hooks. Set netting and long lining are banned. Species taken include kingfish, kahawai, snapper, blue cod, trevally, blue moki, sweep, red gurnard and tarakihi. Normal recreational size and bag limits apply.

Game fishing for tuna, marlin and mako shark is popular further offshore during summer and early autumn.

SLIMPA borders the northern boundary of the Tapuae Marine Reserve. Fishing is not permitted in the Reserve.

Boating and sea kayaking

Take to the water to appreciate the seals, birds and other wildlife close up. The Information Centre at Puke Ariki in New Plymouth can provide guide and kayak hire details.

Places to stay

New Plymouth City offers a wide variety of accommodation.

Plan and prepare

SLIMPA rules

  • Commercial fishing, except trolling for kingfish and kahawai, is not allowed.
  • Spoil dumping and activities that may disturb the foreshore and seabed are restricted throughout SLIMPA. This includes anchoring by commercial vessels, mining and drilling.
  • Access to the Ngā Motu/Sugar Loaf Islands is by permit only.

Trip intentions

Before you go into the outdoors, tell someone your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned. To do this, use the New Zealand Outdoors Intentions process on the AdventureSmart website. It is endorsed by New Zealand's search and rescue agencies and provides three simple options to tell someone you trust the details about your trip.

Location map

Location map of Ngā Motu/Sugar Loaf Islands Marine Protected Area

View a larger, print-fomatted map of Ngā Motu/Sugar Loaf Islands Marine Protected Area (PDF, 51K)

Related links

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Find out more


Follow the Outdoor Safety Code:
1. Plan your trip
2. Tell someone
3. Be aware of the weather
4. Know your limits
5. Take sufficient supplies

Alerts for Taranaki places


Taranaki / Egmont National Park Visitor Centre
Phone:      +64 6 756 0990
Address:   2879 Egmont Rd
Full office details
Dawson Falls Visitor Centre
Phone:      +64 27 443 0248
Address:   Manaia Rd
Full office details
Ngāmotu / New Plymouth Office
Phone:      +64 6 759 0350
Full office details