Situated just a 90-minute drive north of downtown Auckland, Goat Island and the waters that surround it are administered by the Department of Conservation. The marine reserve covers an area of 5 km2 and stretches 5 km along the northland coast. The island itself is designated a scenic reserve as part of the conservation area.
Background to Goat Island Marine Reserve
The idea for New Zealand’s first of over 30 marine reserves came after Auckland University purchased a block of land on the Northland coast as a base for scientific study. That was in 1964, by which time the popularity of the area among fishermen was causing serious depletions of the fish stocks. The local marine environment was recognized as something special, and steps began for long-term protection of the area.
The Marine Reserves Act was passed into legislation in 1971, and Cape Rodney-Okakari Point Marine Reserve as it was officially named came into being four years later.
Today while large numbers of local and international visitors are drawn to the reserve for recreation, Auckland University’s Leigh Marine Laboratory continues to conduct study and scientific research. The facilities of this advanced ‘marine campus’ include the 15 metre launch RV Hawere.
Goat island’s Marine Species
The sea life around Goat Island is just a short dip or snorkel away. As well as the myriad of small creatures at home in and around the seaweeds, rocks and sand, visitors can expect to encounter more conspicuous inhabitants that include:
Blue maomao, small school fish that feed on krill and plankton
Red moki, camouflaged by their stripes as they forage for crabs and worms on the sea floor
Snapper or tamure, chasing small fish and which also eat crabs and shellfish
Spotty or pakete, the females distinguished by a large dark spot on their side
Crayfish or koura, regularly seen on the bottom
Bluecod or rawaru, which favour the rocky habitat where they prey on smaller fish
Goatfish or ahuruhuru, which use ‘feelers’ to search the bottom for food
Parore, vegetarian fish that graze the rocks for seaweed
What to Do at Goat Island
While the reserve carries the Goat Island name in common usage, the island does not need to be accessed for the visitor to enjoy the place and gain a full appreciation of its attractions. The wide sandy mainland beach is just a short walk from the carpark.
The majority of visitors are content to swim or dive with snorkel and mask from the beach location directly facing the nearby island. For youngsters there’s plenty of fun to be had right under the eye of mum and dad while they in turn simply relax right there on the beach. A coastal walkway offers a land-based overview of the reserve.
For the slightly more adventurous or those with more serious intent to get right up close to all the reserve has to offer, there are kayaks for hire and a glass-bottom vessel that takes groups around the island. The outside is where the big fish are! Private vessels are welcome to enter the reserve with care.
Getting to Goat Island Marine Reserve
Traveling north from Auckland on State Highway One until reaching Warkworth, the visitor follows the signposts to Leigh. This road travels through the picturesque farming area of Matakana, now an attraction in itself for the range of fine wineries that have sprung up in recent years, the art galleries, cafes and produce markets. After reaching the coast and passing Matheson’s Bay, the road to Goat Island is a left turn at Leigh township. Visitors should also take the short detour to the town’s picturesque and sheltered harbour – a haven for small fishing boats.
The summer period is naturally the best time to get the most out of the reserve. But anytime of the year Goat Island, complemented by other amenities of the district, will make for a most pleasant and educational day out.