Goat Island Marine Reserve: A Haven for Underwater Life

View of Goat Island, Cr-Goat Island Marine Reserve

View of Goat Island, Credit-Goat Island Marine Reserve

Marine reserves provide a place where the intrinsic balance of the habitats and its occupants can be observed for educational and recreational purposes alike. New Zealand’s first marine reserve is located near Warkworth, approximately 90 minutes north of Auckland. Its official name is Cape Rodney to Okakari Point Marine Reserve but is often referred to as either Goat Islandor Leigh Marine Reserve. The reserve extends five kilometres along the shoreline and extends out to encompass around 500 hectares.

Today there are over 30 marine reserves in New Zealand which help to provide a barrier between humans as predators and their natural habitats, preventing further decline in populations and encouraging renewal.

History of Goat Island

Goat Island is a cultural site for Ngati Manuhiri, and is known to them as Hawere-a-Maki. Hawere is situated approximately 140 metres from the shoreline and is just over 9 hectares. The island is covered in pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) trees which is a sight to behold during the summer period when the beautiful red flowers are in full bloom.

This small island offers a refuge for nesting birds, and while it is safe to walk around the intertidal rocks it is not recommended that you enter the bush. The life here is fragile and can easily be destroyed by even the most careful visitor.

The name Goat Island was applied to any island that had no freshwater as goats were considered to be the only animal that could survive on such an island. There is no record of goats being left on this island as a possible food source for survivors from sunken ships, but surprisingly there was a record of pigs being abandoned here. These pigs are said to have escaped the island by swimming to the beach.

Activities at Goat Island

More than 100,000 visitors take advantage of this marine reserve as there are so many options available to visitors of all ages and all fitness levels. Given its location the weather remains calm for most of the year. But if you want to get the most out of your trip the best time to visit is late summer to early autumn. It is then that underwater visibility can stretch more than 15 metres and the water reaches comfortable temperatures of up to 22oC.

Unlike an aquarium, a marine reserve encourages you to dive straight in to the water to see the underwater environment in its natural state. Come face to face with a live snapper over 10kg or a school of vibrant blue maomao with a spattering of jack mackerel swimming as one. And when it is time to relax why not climb onto the Glass Bottom boat and take a tour. It is an excellent way to stay connected and you can just sit back and enjoy the view, both under and on top of the water. Whether you are Scuba diving, snorkelling, kayaking or enjoying a trip out on the Glass Bottom Boat there is plenty to see.

What Can You Expect to See Under the Water?

Goat Island provides a snippet into a world that can rarely be viewed in such an intimate manner. Take an identification guide with you and give name to the plethora of seaweeds, invertebrates, shellfish, anemones, fish, dolphins, eels, rays, sea cucumbers, octopuses, squids, star fish, and nudibranchs, that you can witness for yourself.

There are many different environments below the surface; from rocky shores to seaweed forests, from sandy bottoms to deep reefs. Each habitat has its own unique sea creatures just waiting to be discovered.

And for the more experienced divers don’t just limit yourself to day time fun; grab your gear, throw in a torch and see the underwater world in a whole new light. Literally. There is a range of accommodation options open to you to make this happen.

Whether you come for education or recreation, Goat Island Marine Reserve has something to offer for every one of all ages and sizes. It offers a rare insight into a world that needs to be seen to be appreciated. And thanks to its protected status it will be there for generations to come.

“Whatungarongaro he tangata Toitu te Whanau.”

Man passes on, but the land remains.

Maori Proverb


Enderby, J., Enderby, T., 1998, Goat Island Marine Reserve, Leigh, New Zealand, Jenny and Tony Enderby

Doc.govt.nz, CapeRodneyto Okakari Point Marine Reserve (Goat Island)

Doc.govt.nz, Marine Reserves and Other Protected Areas

Leighbythesea.co. nz, Leigh By The Sea


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