Tuhua (Mayor Island) is a wildlife refuge and is administered by the Tuhua (Mayor Island) Board of Trustees. Opportunities to enjoy the island's unique character and wildlife must be pre-arranged.

Place overview


  • Bird and wildlife watching
  • Diving and snorkelling
  • Fishing
  • Walking and tramping

Find things to do and places to stay Tuhua (Mayor Island)

About this place

Nature and conservation

Volcanic history

Tuhua (Mayor Island) has a remarkable history of violent volcanic upheaval. The island is the summit of a volcano rising from the sea floor and frequent eruptions over the past 120,000 years (the last one was about 6,000 years ago) have produced the great variety of landforms seen today.

Opuahau, the highest peak, reaches 354 metres and the volcanic crater contains two lakes, both near sea level. Lake Aroarotamahine is green and Lake Te Paritu almost black.

Much-prized obsidian

The most striking feature of the volcanic rocks of Tuhua is the black obsidian. This is a natural glass formed by the rapid cooling of silica-rich lava. Obsidian was prized by early Maori for cutting and scraping tools and weapons, and has been found at Māori occupation sites as far afield as Tiwai Pt in the south to the Kermadec islands in the north.

The name Tuhua has a double significance: it applies to the locality itself and also to its glassy black obsidian. Tuhua was the ancient name for Me'etia Island in the traditional homeland of Hawaiki, which was also a source of obsidian. Such a valuable resource meant the island was permanently occupied despite scarcity of water and lack of land suitable for cultivation.

Its 1,277 hectare terrain is very rough with rock ridges, narrow gullies and very little flat land. The island and its valuable obsidian were fought over in many raids and tribal battles. The last permanent residents who moved to the mainland in 1901, were the hapu of Whānau A Tauwhao. They continued to visit the island frequently and planted crops to provision fishing parties. In more recent years Maori and Pakeha fishers have used Tuhua as a big game and commercial fishing base.

Safe haven for wildlife

The island has had the conservation status of a wildlife refuge since 1953 and is administered by the Tūhua Trust Board, whom represent the owners. It has healthy populations of nectar-feeding bellbirds and tūī, and wood pigeons. Other native birds include the morepork and fantail, the kākā (brown parrot), grey warbler, waxeye, kingfisher and pied stilt and, soaring on the thermals, the harrier hawk. In summer the shining cuckoo is also seen and heard in good numbers. A marine reserve was created off the northern end of the island in 1993.

Tuhua has also become a safe haven for threatened bird species from the mainland. North Island robins were released in 2003. Pateke (brown teal) and North Island brown kiwi were also re-introduced to the island in 2006. All appear to be establishing successful breeding populations. Orange Fronted Parakeets / kākāriki were introduced during 2009/10.

The water clarity (situated 26 kilometres off the Bay of Plenty Coast, Tūhua's distance from human populations has meant relatively pollution-free waters) means a wide range of marine plants thrive and there is a great diversity of fish. These include open water migratory species, fish found throughout New Zealand waters and several sub-tropical species.

History and culture

Tuhua is the ancestral home of Te Whānau A Tauwhao ki Tūhua. It is privately owned and is administered by the Tuhua Trust Board on behalf of its beneficiaries. 

Tuhua is also the Māori name of obsidian and is one of the few places in Aotearoa where this important precolonial resource can be found. Te Whānau A Tauwhao consider themselves the guardians of the island’s resources and prohibit the unauthorised removal of the jet black glassy stone.

Kaitiakitanga or guardianship is a concept that is deeply embedded in Maori lore. The Trust takes this responsibility seriously and is actively involved in maintaining the island’s natural character as much as possible.

Manaakitanga or hospitality is another important concept that easily aligns with guardianship. The Trust welcomes visitors to share the unique experiences associated with the island. Its pristine waters and rugged natural environment are available for everyone to share and enjoy.

Getting there

Boats may only land on the island when a caretaker / kaitiaki is in residence, and must land at South East Bay.

A number of private charter options offer trips to Tuhua - a list of operators is available from the Tuhua Trust Board.

Know before you go

No stores, luggage or equipment are to be unloaded without prior permission from the caretaker - on landing, all persons must report immediately to the island caretaker and go through a quarantine process.


Tuhua Trust Board
Phone: +64 7 579 0580

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