View of Cape Maria van Diemen from Motuopao Island.
Image: DOC


Northland offshore islands are home to many rare plants, skinks, and a variety of sea and shore birds. The islands are strictly 'no landing zones'.

Manawatawhi  - Three Kings Island (Nature Reserve)


Purchased by the Crown from Maori owners in 1908, Manawatawhi was declared a sanctuary under the Animals Protection and Game Act in 1930.

Its status was changed to that of a Nature Reserve in 1956 for the preservation of flora and fauna, and is now managed by the Department of Conservation.


Before 1810 and again in the 1870s, whalers released goats and pigs onto Great Island as a source of food for passing ships. This had a profound effect on Manawatawhi and its plant life, with some plant populations coming close to extinction.

The rarest of them all was reduced to one individual, a small tree Pennantia baylisiana, and Tecomanthe speciosa, a large tree vine. In response to this, the islands became the centre of the Tecomanthe and Pennantia recovery programme in 2005.


There is a wide variety of sea and land bird species including the northernmost population of Pacific Albatross. Seabirds range from fluttering shearwater (Puffinus gavia), grey-faced petrel (Pterodroma macroptera gouldii) to the red-billed gull (Larus novaehollandiae scopulinus). There are tens of thousands of breeding pairs on the islands, with the highest numbers found on Great Island.

Manawatawhi is also a stronghold for a large Australasian gannet (Morus serrator) colony, with breeding colonies on South West Island. Black-winged petrels are also common, with an estimated 5,000 pairs nesting on Great Island, and smaller numbers on North East, South West and West Island.

Over the summer and autumn months, flocks of grey ternlets (Procelsterna cerulea) containing up to 200 birds are commonly present on Manawatawhi.


Here there are six species of lizard, including a large endemic skink Oligosoma fallai and an endemic gecko Hoplodactylus aff. pacificus. Great Island has the largest number of lizard species (six species), followed by North East and South West islands (five species each), with West Island being home to four species of lizards.

Invertebrates, spiders and snails

Manawatawhi is a sanctuary for invertebrates, spiders and snails. The giant centipede Cormocephalus rubriceps, also found on the mainland, grow larger (arond 240 mm in length) and more abundant on Manawatawhi.

Ten of 38 species of landsnails found on Manawatawhi are found only on Great Island and nowhere else in the world.

Manawatawhi is also home to many species of stick insect, weta, and spiders.

Simmonds Islands 


Simmonds Islands are comprised of Motu Puruhi Island and Terakautuhaka Island. The islands are home to a variety of sea and shore birds, and passerine species. Of particular note is the presence of breeding Bullers shearwaters, which until discovered in 1990, were only known to breed on the Poor Knights Islands.

Other native bird species nesting on Simmonds Islands include white fronted tern, fluttering shearwater, little blue penguin, and grey-faced petrels.

Reef heron, Caspian tern, black-winged petrel and the pied shag have also been recorded on the islands.


Coastal forest is dominated by tawapou, with occasional mahoe, houpara and karo. Shrubland is present near coastal edges made up of ti kouka, coprosma macrocarpa, hangehange, harakeke, and toetoe. The islands are also an important site for glasswort turf and pohutukawa.

Unfortunately, there are several exotic weed species present on the islands, most notable of these is wandering willie.

Reptiles and snails

Simmonds Islands are home to the shore skink (Leiolopisma smithi), which is present in quite large numbers.

The giant landsnail Placostylus ambagiosus keenorum was released onto the islands by the Wildlife Service in 1984. However visits following that transfer have failed to find any still existing on the islands.

Taranga Island

Taranga Island is the largest and most diverse island within the Taranga Ecological District. The indigenous flora is representative of northern New Zealand prior to European colonisation.

It is ranked as internationally important with the highest local ranking due to the presence of rare and endangered fauna and flora and local endemics

Historic significance

The island has extensive historical features associated with the Ngatiwai people. While there are few signs of fortifications, stone faced terracing, platforms and extensive agricultural evidence in the form of stone rows, mounds, and walls are present.

The island holds spiritual significance to the Tangata Whenua of Ngatiwai.


Taranga Island is bush-clad – mostly coastal broadleaf forest, dominated by pohutukawa, kohekohe, puriri, karaka, taraire, tawa, tawapo and puka. There is kanuka and rewarewa in areas modified by previous Maori occupation.

There are several threatened and at-risk plants present.


Species include little spotted kiwi, red crowned parakeet/kākāriki, kākā, pycroft petrel, bellbird/korimako, New Zealand pigeon/kūkupa, and saddleback/tīeke. Taranga was the only place tīeke existed when European arrived. Little spotted kiwi were introduced in the 1990s.

Reptiles and snails

There are a number of lizards including tuatara. Shore, copper, egg laying, ornate and northern brown skinks are present, as well as Pacific and Duvaucel's geckos.

64 native land snail species, two of them carnivorous, and one endemic land snail, Amborhytida tarangaensis, inhabit Taranga Island.

Motuopao Island (Nature Reserve)

Find out about Motuopao Island.

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