Islands to visit from Auckland

Many tourists to New Zealand spend their first few days recovering from long haul flights in Auckland.

And they wonder what there is to do in a city of 1.4 million that seems so different from the isolated and less-populated places on the rest of their itinerary.

One option is to take to the water!

Auckland sits between two harbours (the Waitemata and the Manukau), and visitors can make great use of ferries that leave from downtown Auckland or from Half Moon Bay.

The Hauraki Gulf has a number of islands you can visit and one of the most popular is Waiheke Island, where almost 8,000 people live permanently, with many commuting to work on the mainland.

It takes little more than half an hour to take the catamaran to Waiheke and from the ferry terminal there, you can catch a bus that takes you around the island. Local craftspeople and artists sell much of their work to tourists and you'll find plenty of cafes and shops to explore, as well as many beaches and bays.

Rangitoto Island is unpopulated but provides the chance to explore a volcanic cone that is the largest and youngest of the fifty cones and craters in the region. The circular island, visible from most of Auckland's waterfront, is only about 600 years old and consists of bare lava on which grows the largest pohutukawa forest in the world. Botanist David Bellamy made many visits to Rangitoto, enthusing about its plant life where more than 250 types of tree and plant exist - some that can't be found anywhere else.

Rangitoto is only 25 minutes by ferry from downtown or Half Moon Bay.

Beside it is Motutapu Island which was occupied by Maori for centuries and has hundreds of archaeological sites. You can enjoy a 40-minute walk through forest to see former military sites. And at low tide, you can walk across the causeway to Rangitoto Island.

Kawau Island was bought by the Governor of New Zealand, Sir George Grey, in 1862 after it had been the site of one of the country's first mines. Grey took over the mine superintendent's house and turned it into what's now called the Mansion House.

He planted hundreds of species of plants and introduced many exotic animals including zebras, wallabies, peacocks, kookaburras, weka and monkeys. Of these, only the wallabies, weka and peacocks remain.

The ferry to Kawau Island departs from Sandspit, about an hour north of Auckland, and visitors can explore the Mansion House, the old copper mine or picnic in the gardens.