Meet the wildlife of the Hauraki Gulf

Cruise Auckland's beautiful Hauraki Gulf and you could encounter some of the local inhabitants...

The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park covers an area of 1.2 million hectares including deep blue waters full of marine life, more than 50 island havens with sandy beaches and native bush. Let’s take a look at what could be lurking in the undergrowth, perched in a tree, frolicking in the water or flying above you during your overnight cruise!

Marine mammals

Dolphins and whales are frequent visitors to the Hauraki Gulf, with more than 22 species having been recorded in its waters. Common and bottlenose dolphins visit its sheltered waters, while the Gulf is home to the largest population of Bryde’s whales in New Zealand. These large baleen whales reach up to 14.5 metres long and weigh 40 tonnes.

Orca are also frequent visitors and can sometimes be seen close to shore, feeding for stingrays and eagle rays. Pilot whales, sei and minke whales can also be seen on occasion, and humpback whales pop in on their way south for the summer or north in winter.

The local New Zealand fur seal population is also rebounding after being decimated in previous centuries. Most seals spotted close to shore are usually weaners (young seals) who are exploring to find food sources.


The Hauraki Gulf is the largest snapper fishery in New Zealand. The spawning area stretches between Waiheke Island and the Coromandel Peninsula to the east. In its nutrient-rich waters we have everything from flying fish to sunfish.

In New Zealand waters we have 112 species of sharks and rays, including great white sharks, bronze whalers, hammerhead, mako and carpet sharks, as well as stingrays, eagle rays and manta rays. However, most of these species are found in deeper waters (more than 200m) – not the sheltered island beaches where we stop for a swim!


As you cruise through the Hauraki Gulf you’re sure to see seabirds, beating their powerful wings as they swoop over the ocean and dive to feed on the fish below the surface. Seabirds you might see in the Hauraki Gulf include the Australasian gannet with its distinctive yellow head, members of the petrel family including black, grey-faced and black-winged varieties, shearwaters, terns and tiny fairy prions, common seagulls, the pied shag or cormorant. Little blue penguins can also be seen bobbing in the waves in between dives.

On the Hauraki Gulf islands you can see some of New Zealand’s rarest birds, particularly on Little Barrier and Tiritiri Matangi which are wildlife sanctuaries. The Department of Conservation is working to make more islands in the Hauraki Gulf pest-free so native and endangered birds and reptiles can thrive. Some birds, like the saddleback or tieke are particularly vulnerable to rats and other predators as they nest at ground level.

Kiwi live on a number of Hauraki Gulf Islands including Motuihe, Motutapu, Rotoroa, Pakatoa, Tiritiri Matangi, Motuora and Little Barrier Islands. As they are nocturnal, you’re not likely to see kiwi during a cruise – but you might spot their footprints on the beach on Motuihe!

On Tiritiri Matangi you can find everything from bellbirds and tiny North island robins (toutouwai) to the large flightless takahe.


Motuihe is home to a fascinating and ancient creature: the New Zealand tuatara, lizard-like reptiles that are the last survivors of an order that thrived when dinosaurs walked the earth. There are 60 tuatara on Motuihe, all released in recent years, and visitors can sometimes see them sunbathing during the day.

Other reptiles you might spot on islands in the Hauraki Gulf include smaller New Zealand lizard species like the Pacific gecko.

Hauraki Blue Cruises is proud to be licensed by DOC and the Auckland Council to visit pest-free conservation islands in the Hauraki Gulf. Find out more about visiting the Treasure Islands with us on an overnight cruise.

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