Perfect for a day-trip, or a relaxing getaway from the more popular tourist hotspots in the Bay of Islands, Matauri Bay is one of Northland’s most beautiful, best kept secrets.
Getting to Matauri Bay
Matauri bay is just 35km north of Kerikeri. If you have your own transport, just jump on State Highway 10 heading north, and after about half an hour, take a right onto Matauri Bay Road.
Just 10 minutes later you will be rewarded with the million dollar view. A long stretch of white sand beach, with clear ocean waters and a panorama of the Cavalli Islands.
Because Matauri Bay is not one of the Bay of Islands’ major tourist destinations, you may struggle to find a bus to take you there.
One option is Black Robin Tours & Transfers. They’ll see you get to Matauri bay in comfort and style, plus give you an informative tour along the way, including local insights into a few of the must-visit spots once you arrive.
Matauri Bay’s early history
Because of it’s warm climate, sheltered coves and beautiful beaches, Matauri Bay was one of the first places settled by Māori in New Zealand.
Matauri Bay is also where the Reverend Samuel Marsden first made landfall in New Zealand on December 20th 1814.
Te Tou O Taki
In recognition of Samuel Marsden and his commitment to the Māori people, you can walk to a small Anglican church just 400 metres from the Matauri Bay beach.
The Samuel Marsden Memorial Church, also known as Te Tou O Taki was built in 1896 to commemorate Reverend Marsden’s arrival. From it’s spot at the base of Matauri Hill, it overlooks the place where Samuel Marsden and his colleagues met with local chief Ruatara before spending their first night in New Zealand sleeping under the stars.
The church is still active, and can seat around 60 people on a Sunday morning. It’s also open for tourists and inside you can see some beautiful Māori carvings. One of the main themes in the carvings are whale tails, which represent dependence on the sea for food, a number of Māori legends, as well as the arrival of Pakeha to the Bay of Islands.
Te Tou O Taki is a lovely historic building, and worth a visit to appreciate the carving.
Matauri Bay Beach
Simply, this is one of the best beaches in all of New Zealand. Being in the sub-tropical Bay of Islands means you could swim at Matauri Bay at any time of year. Yes, it will be a bit chilly in winter, but the heads at either end of the bay will shelter you from the wind.
In summer, Matauri Bay becomes the perfect spot to relax, swim and play. Just pick a spot on the sand, slip, slop slap and wrap and you are set for the day.
If you feel like Paihia or Kerikeri are getting a bit crowded, Matauri Bay is close enough to be a delightful day trip, but just far enough off the beaten track to not get swamped during the most popular times of year in the Bay of Islands.
What to bring to Matauri Bay Beach?
Summer in the Bay of Islands officially runs from December through to February, but any time from November to the end of March you’re bound to catch a stretch of beautiful, warm weather.
Bring a picnic, bring sun umbrellas to provide a bit of shelter, swimming gear plus snorkels if you have them. Please just remember that whatever you bring, you need to take away with you. Matauri Bay is a slice of paradise, and the nearby Cavalli Islands are nature sanctuaries run by the Department of Conservation (DoC). To help us keep these places pristine and to protect our native wildlife, remember to pack all of your gear, and your rubbish into the car with you when you leave.
Playing golf at Matauri Bay
There are few places around the world that offer championship level golf courses with some of the best views in the Bay of Islands. Kauri Cliffs golf course is a five star golfing experience.
Getting to Kauri Cliffs
Fancy a day golfing? Kauri Cliffs can send a car to pick you up from Paihia or Kerikeri. You can enjoy the scenic drive as you prepare to play on one of the world’s top 40 golf courses as ranked by Golf Digest Top 100 Greatest Golf Courses in the World.
Short for time? If the weather is fine, the Kauri Cliffs’ EC-130 Eurocopter can take you and five friends from Paihia to the green in just 10 minutes.
Staying at Kauri Cliffs
Kauri Cliffs is a luxury resort, so why not stay a few days to take in Matauri Bay and all that it has to offer. From a day spa to an award winning restaurant and bar, plus a practice range, putting and chipping greens, Kauri Cliffs is a destination in itself.
What to bring?
If you have your own transport and have packed your clubs, you’re off to a great start. Otherwise, clubs, carts and golf buggies are all available to hire from the pro shop.
If you’re on the golf course in summer, you will need all the usual summer gear like sunblock, a sunhat, sunglasses, comfortable shoes and plenty of water. In winter, make sure you have a waterproof jacket. The sun might be shining when you set out, but you never know when you might need one.
Best time to visit Kauri Cliffs
Bookings are essential for playing at Kauri Cliffs. Green fees for Kauri Cliffs golf course vary depending on whether you’re visiting during the busy on-peak or off-peak seasons.
The on-peak busy season starts in spring when the weather starts to get warmer and runs from October 1st to April 30th. Even during winter you can still get out for a round of 18 holes, but weather in the Bay of Islands is likely to change at a moment’s notice. The Bay of Islands may be the ‘winterless north,’ but it can still pour down with rain from time to time. The off-peak season runs from May 1st until September 30th.
Plus, all guests staying at Kauri Cliffs Lodge receive a 10% discount off a round of 18 holes.
Diving at Matauri Bay
If you fancy viewing Matauri Bay and the Cavalli Islands from the water, Paihia Dive will take you up north to explore the wreck of the Rainbow Warrior.
History of the Rainbow Warrior
The Rainbow Warrior was owned by environmental organisation Greenpeace, and was very active around the Pacific protesting against whaling and nuclear testing.
To prevent further protests against their nuclear activities, The Rainbow Warrior was bombed by agents of the French government in 1985 while docked in Auckland Harbour, killing Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira.
In 1987 The Rainbow Warrior was refloated for a forensic examination, before being moved from Auckland to Matauri Bay where it was scuttled to become a dive wreck and fish sanctuary.
Diving at Rainbow Warrior
This diving trip is very popular, so make sure you contact Paihia Dive and book in advance.
The day starts at 7:45am at Paihia Drive on Williams Street to fill out all of the paperwork, before driving to Matauri Bay at 8:30am.
Your day will include diving to a maximum depth of 26 metres to visit the Rainbow Warrior wreck, as well as a number of popular dive spots around the Cavalli Islands. You can visit volcanic reefs, tunnels and caves that are home to a whole host of underwater life.
The Rainbow Warrior is mostly upright, around 40 metres long and it’s bow is largely intact. The condition of the wreck, plus the variety of sea life on display in largely calm and clear waters make this one of the best dive sites in the world.
Your day of diving will end around 2:30pm and you will be back in Paihia around 4pm. If you’re catching a bus that afternoon, be sure to let your tour guide know.
What to bring?
You will need your own swimsuit, sun block, camera and something warm to wear after you have been diving. You can also bring your own lunch, or you can pre-purchase lunch when you book.
The Rainbow Warrior Memorial
Weather and time permitting, your Paihia Drive tour may take you to the Rainbow Warrior Memorial. If you’re just visiting Matauri Bay, this short walk and moving site are still well worth visiting.
You can find the memorial at the northern end of the main beach at Matauri Bay, which is called Pukepika. The walking track to the memorial is well sign-posted from the Matauri Bay Holiday Park.
In 1988 local hapu Ngati Kura and pottery business New Zealand China Clays commissioned a sculpture made from a rock arch with basalt pillars, all brought from the nearby rocky shore at Piakoa, six kilometres to the south.
All of the rocks were removed from the coastal high water mark to avoid disturbing sea life. The large, round basalt boulders weigh almost half a tonne each, while the central basalt column weighs six tonnes. Set into the main column is the dented bronze propeller from the sabotaged Greenpeace ship. The memorial was completed two years later in 1990, and dedicated by the Governor-General of New Zealand.
The Cavalli Islands
Just three kilometres from the shore of Matauri Bay you’ll see this small group of mainly uninhabited islands. The reefs around these islands are home to some of the most beautiful underwater life, and even if you’re not diving to Rainbow Warrior depths, you can still spend hours swimming and snorkelling in these warm waters.
Captain James Cook named these islands on his first visit to New Zealand on November 27th 1769. On sailing past, he dropped anchor to trade with Māori for fresh fish. Later in his journal he wrote, “during this time several canoes came off to the ship and two or three of them sold us some fish, Cavelles they were named, which occasioned my giving the island the same name“. It’s safe to assume the fish he traded were Trevally, which is common to the Bay of Islands and quite delicious, but the name Cavalli has persisted to this day.
This nature sanctuary is the largest island in the Cavelli Island group, and has a stunning walk that offers amazing views of Matauri Bay.
Getting to Motukawanui Island
If there is one disadvantage to staying at Matauri Bay, it’s that you can’t take in the beautiful panorama of the entire beach while you’re sitting on the sandy shore. By visiting Motukawanui Island, you can enjoy a rarely visited Bay of Islands gem, and enjoy the stunning vista across to Matauri Bay.
It’s roughly 3 kilometres from Matauri Bay over to Motukawanui Island. In fine, calm weather you can kayak across, or you can ask at the Matauri Bay Holiday Park about a water taxi to take you across.
Motukawanui Island Track
If you have a whole day and want some of the best views in the Bay of Islands, you will love the Motukawanui Island Track.
According to the Department of Conservation, it’s an easy walking track, which means it’s suitable for people with low to moderate fitness and most of the track is well formed, while it’s steep in some parts.
With that in mind, the Motukawanui Island Track is still 3.5 kilometres and one-way will take you close to two hours. Starting from Wai-Iti Bay in the southwest of the island, the Motukawanui Island track rises to the main ridge, and then takes you along the ridge tops of the island’s hills. You’ll enjoy outstanding views of Mahinepua Peninsula, Matauri Bay and other islands in the Cavalli group.
Parts of the walk will take you near cliffs, so make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes, and that children are well-supervised.
Staying on Motukawanui Island
The Department of Conservation maintains a hut in Waiiti Bay on Motukawanui Island with bunk-bed style accommodation. Bookings are essential.
While the accommodation may not be the most glamorous, you will be hard pressed to find better scenery or more beautiful surrounds.
Because Motukawanui Island is a nature reserve you can’t bring dogs with you or light any fires. You must also bring all rubbish off the island with you. You must stay in the DoC hut as camping is not allowed.
What can you see on Motukawanui Island?
The animals that make Motukawanui Island their home are the real drawcards. During the day, listen out for, and spot tui, grey warbler and kingfisher. Looking out to the water you might see blue penguin, reef heron or fur seals.
After dark, you can hear the cry of the morepork or if you’re really lucky, a brown kiwi.
Motukawanui Island is an important breeding ground for endangered species like the kiwi and the New Zealand dotterel. It’s vital when visiting the island to protect it’s predator free status and to help keep it clean and green so these animals continue to survive.
Get out and enjoy Matauri Bay
There’s so much to see in the Bay of Islands. If you want to get out of Pahia or Kerikeri and explore, in less than an hour you can be on the doorstep of one of the best views and one of the best beaches in all of New Zealand. Make your next adventure to Matauri Bay.