School children at a guided snorkel day at Motukaroro, Whangarei Harbour Marine Reserve
Image: Samara Nicolas ©


The marine environment in the Whangarei Harbour is of distinctive quality, and two marine areas are set aside for protection around Motukaroro (Passage) Island and at Waikaraka.

Place overview


  • Diving and snorkelling
  • Kayaking and canoeing
  • Marine reserves
    Protect our marine reserves

    They are special places that protect the species and habitats within them.

    • No fishing of any kind
    • Don't take or kill marine life
    • Don't remove or disturb any marine life or materials
    • Don't feed fish - it disturbs their natural behaviour
    • Take care when anchoring to avoid damaging the sea floor
    • Call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) to report any illegal activity

In this section

Find things to do Whangarei Harbour Marine Reserve


Diving, kayaking, and bird watching


This reserve area is a good spot for diving, with both shallow reefs and a deepwater channel to explore. You will see around fifty species of fish, dense kelp forest, anemones and sponge gardens.

Be careful when entering the water – there are strong tidal currents and back eddies around Motukaroro. Less experienced divers should take a guided tour.


This area is almost entirely mangrove forest. Kayakers will enjoy exploring, but be sure to go during high tide or you might get stuck and have a squelchy walk back to open water.

Waikaraka is notable for its birdlife. It is home to about 10,000 migratory waders, some of them very rare, and many rare New Zealand birds too, such as dotterels, reef herons, fern birds and marsh crakes.

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    About this place

    Nature and conservation

    This reserve covers two sites – Waikaraka, and Motukaroro/Passage Island at Reotahi. Waikaraka is one of New Zealand’s richest mangrove environments and attracts abundant birdlife. Motukaroro covers reef and sandy seabed habitats. It is notable for its diverse sea sponge populations.


    The 227.5ha marine area at Waikaraka is almost entirely mangrove forest with associated intertidal mud flats and a subtidal channel edge. Being one of nature’s most highly productive zones, the gentle flowing waters and mud surrounding mangrove roots are home and nursery to many organisms - fish and shellfish as well as crabs, worms and shrimps.

    Fish like snapper, trevally, kahawai, kingfish and mackerel spend important parts of their lives among mangroves, so the protection of marine reserve status here supports the fish population throughout the harbour. The Waikaraka mangroves also provide habitat for over 80 species of birdlife, some very rare.

    Learn more about Waikaraka


    One of the special features of this 26.2 ha reserve is the abundance and diversity of the marine life in the waters around Motukaroro Island. The combination of deeper water and swift current flows has produced a diverse assemblage of reef-fish quite unique in a harbour environment.

    The surrounding seabed is rocky, with large areas of kelp providing a haven and feeding ground for an unusually high variety of fish.

    On the westward point of the island there is a large fragile environment of filter feeders, including anemones and sponges, whose brilliant colours are stunning and provide a spectacular dive.

    Learn more about Motukaroro

    History and culture

    Students at nearby Kamo High School applied for the reserve using their own research, funds, and consultation with the community. The process took 16 years (1990-2006), with thousands of students contributing during that time.

    This achievement may be unique in the world and is an outstanding example of community-driven conservation.

    Getting there

    Whangarei Harbour is located on Northland's east coast, about 160 km north of Auckland.

    You can access Waikaraka Reserve directly from the small Council reserve located off the Whangarei Heads Road at Waikaraka. 

    Motukaroro Reserve is located at Reotahi. Turn onto Reotahi Road which is at the southern end of McLeod Bay, Whangarei Heads. Continue down Reotahi Road onto Beach Road. The car park is located at the end of Beach Road from which point you can walk down to the reserve.

    Boat launching ramps are located at Onerahi, Parua Bay, Tamaterau, Reotahi, Urquhart Bay and across the harbour at Marsden Point, Marsden Bay and One Tree Point.

    Know before you go

    There are strong tidal currents and back eddies around Motukaroro. It is more suitable for experienced divers.

    Kayaking at Waikaraka should be done at high tide.

    With the implementation of the reserve if a contaminant is being discharged within or into the marine reserve, the discharge of the contaminant may continue provided there is compliance with all other legal requirements.

    Existing structures may remain and be maintained within the reserve. 

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