Located in the Northland region
IntroductionThe Kermadec Islands Nature Reserve and Marine Reserve, located about 1,000 km northeast of New Zealand, is the most remote area managed by DOC and can only be visited with a special permit.
Find things to do and places to stay Kermadec Islands
Anchoring alongside Raoul Island will give you a chance to see birds found nowhere else in the world. You may be lucky enough to see tropical birds such as the red-tailed tropic bird or masked booby.
Many seabirds breed on the Kermadec Islands. You might spot species such as the black-winged petrel, white-naped petrel and white-bellied storm petrel when cruising around the islands.
Most people stop near Raoul Island on their way to Pacific islands further north. The journey of about 1,000 km takes most boats 4-5 days. Boaties are welcome to navigate through the Kermadec Islands Marine Reserve.
All vessels intending to go inside 1000 m from mean high water springs of any of the islands are required to have a clean hull. There are restrictions on anchoring (PDF, 4,000K). A special permit is required to go ashore on Raoul Island. Camping is not permitted on the island. If travelling from mainland New Zealand to an overseas destination you may also need special NZ Customs clearance to stop at the Kermadecs.
Note: Due to biosecurity concerns, it is only possible to visit Raoul directly after leaving the New Zealand mainland. You cannot visit Raoul Island on the way back from the Pacific Islands, ie Tonga or Fiji.
The spectacularly clear, subtropical waters of the Kermadec Islands offer some truly outstanding diving. However large swells and strong currents can make diving hazardous in many places. A variety of venomous shellfishes and fishes (e.g. cone shells and lion fishes), as well as crown-of-thorns star fish and numerous urchins also require divers to take care and remain aware of their surroundings. Galapagos sharks are abundant and may be encountered, sometimes in large numbers, almost anywhere around the islands.
Snorkelling is probably best in Boat Cove, Raoul Island, and in Boat Harbour, Meyer Islands. Snorkelling off Fishing Rock on Raoul Island you might be surprised by a large spotted black grouper rubbing up against you! These fish can grow up to 1.8m in length and probably live for over 50 years.
Diving is most varied around Raoul Island and includes relatively sheltered shallow coves, boulder shores dropping onto sand at 20-30m depth, exposed headlands and islets with sheer drop offs and overhangs, as well as isolated offshore pinnacles.
All divers should take care to avoid inadvertently damaging corals and other marine life.
Read what it's like to live and work on Raoul Island from some of the DOC workers stationed there on DOC's Conservation blog.
The Kermadec Islands are 1,000 km northeast of New Zealand. The islands are remote and can only be accessed by private boat or charter vessel.
The Kermadec Islands can only be visited if you obtain the relevant permits prior to leaving mainland New Zealand. Read about access and permits.
The islands of the Kermadec Group are all of international conservation significance. All the islands in the Kermadec group are extremely fragile, and cannot withstand even low numbers of visitors.
A permit is required to visit the land. This is only available to people who propose to undertake work to assist in the management or understanding of the islands' ecosystems.
The waters around all the islands and rocks, out to the edge of the Territorial Sea (12 nautical miles) are a marine reserve. All marine life in this area is protected.
For more information on the requirements for land and marine access, see visiting the Kermadec Islands with a permit.
Kermadec Marine Reserve map with WSG84 lat/long coordinates boundaries | View larger (PDF, 512K)
The Kermadec Islands are the visible surface of a chain of about 80 volcanoes, stretching for 2,600 km between Tonga and New Zealand.
Raoul Island is the biggest of the group, which begins at the southernmost L’Esperance. While the other islands and islets are smaller, several of them harbour important bird colonies.
The marine reserve was created in 1990 and is one of New Zealand’s largest marine reserves, covering 745,000 ha. It supports New Zealand’s only truly subtropical marine systems, and historically low levels of fishing have left this environment largely undisturbed and abundant.
The Pacific and Australasian tectonic plates collide along the Kermadec Trench, lifting and buckling the Australasian plate and sinking the Pacific plate. The volcanic chain is formed by the Pacific plate melting as it sinks beneath the Australasian plate.
Marine reserve map and boundaries
Use the WSG84 coordinates (map provided) to ensure you do not fish within the boundaries of the Kermadec Marine Reserve.
The Kermadec's region has never been connected to a larger landmass. In it's isolation, it has evolved a unique subtropical and temperate biodiversity, both above and below the waterline. A particular feature of the inshore waters is the abundance of large predatory fishes, notably galapagos sharks, spotted black grouper (which can grow to around 2m in this area) and kingfish.
Between late August and early November a significant proportion of the South West Pacific humpback whale population, including cows with calves, migrate south through the archipelago. Many pass very close to Raoul Island.
Green turtles and other tropical marine species are most abundant around Raoul Island. In fact, five of the world’s seven sea turtle species are found here. Subtropical and temperate species tend to dominate the inshore fauna and flora of the southern islands.
All of the islands support breeding colonies of sea birds. The largest colonies are located on the relatively small islets off the Raoul and Macauley Islands, which have remained rat-free following human discovery.
Deepwater hydrothermal vents harbour extensive beds of giant vent mussels, found only in this area. They in turn provide a habitat for deepwater crabs and an endemic eelpout (an eel-like fish). Elsewhere fields of sea lilies (stalked crinoids) have been observed but in most places the sea floor beyond the vents is dominated by bare rock and fine sediments.
Raoul island was settled by early Polynesians between 600 and 1,000 years ago. As a result, Raoul island may hold important clues to understanding the Māori migration voyages between eastern Polynesia and Aotearoa/New Zealand. Settlement of the island appears to have been intermittent, possibly failing for want of resources or due to volcanic activity.
Evidence of occasionally extensive ancient settlements remains, mainly on the northern coast of Raoul at Low Flat, the Farm Terrace, and Coral Bay. It is likely that the Denham Bay Caldera beachfront was also occupied at times.
There is evidence of communities based on coastal fishing. This includes the harvesting of seabirds and marine mammals as well as tools production and other artefacts from local basalt and obsidian.
The Kermadec Islands have a number of plants that were probably introduced by voyagers from other parts of Polynesia. The presence of kiore, a species of rat now eradicated from Macauley Island, also indicates Polynesian contact with that island.
Māori scholars believe the Kermadec archipelago represents a place called Te Rangitahua in their oral history, particularly Raoul Island. The Aotea and Kurahaupo canoes both visited Te Rangitahua on the way from Rarotonga to Aotearoa in the fourteenth century. The Kurahaupo was damaged there, and most of the crew transferred to the Aotea to travel on to Aotearoa. The Kurahaupo was repaired and eventually landed at Takapaukura (Tom Bowling Bay) in Northland.
Early European voyagers also based activities, particularly whaling, on the islands and much of their early eighteenth and nineteenth century contact with Aotearoa resulted from this.
From the early to mid nineteenth century, Raoul and Macauley islands were used extensively for provisioning by whaling vessels operating in the French Rock and Vasquez grounds near the Kermadec Islands.
From 1836 onwards, there were a number of European attempts to settle Raoul, focused mainly on Denham Bay and to a lesser extent at Low Flat and the Terraces. Exotic plants and animals were introduced and areas cleared for pasture and cultivation.
The New Zealand Government annexed the Kermadecs in 1887. Provision depots for shipwrecked sailors were established on the main islands in the southern Kermadecs in 1888.
In 1934 most of Raoul Island and all of the other islands in the group were set aside as a flora and fauna reserve, later to become a nature reserve. The rest of Raoul (111ha) was set aside for a meteorological station on the island in 1938, when the last independent settlers left the island. DOC acquired this block of land in 1991.