Tonga Island is a very small island in Tasman Bay, off the northern coast of the South Island of New Zealand. It lies within the Abel Tasman National Park. The island has a flourishing seal colony, and is surrounded by the Tonga Island Marine Reserve, which was inaugurated in 1993. The island is accessible by water taxi or kayak.
Tonga Island Marine Reserve runs alongside one of New Zealand’s most popular national parks, the Abel Tasman. A thriving local tourist industry supports all the marine activities, and visitors can easily combine land and sea adventures in their holiday.
The area is renowned for its golden sand beaches, intimate coves, and excellent summer weather. There is a New Zealand fur seal colony on Tonga Island.
The clear warm waters of the reserve make it incredibly popular with kayakers and swimmers, and trampers on the coastal track will sometimes pop into the water with a snorkel to cool off. Underwater visitors will see tumbled rock and bedrock reefs, inhabited by numerous grazing invertebrates, with sandy-bottoms extending beyond.
Kayakers will often see little blue penguins along this coast and may occasionally be rewarded with an encounter with a pod of dolphins. Because many local estuaries are also protected, visitors may see some of New Zealand’s rarer shorebirds.
Significant increases in the abundance and size of marine species in Tasman Bay marine reserves confirm their conservation benefits. Research shows that 20 years after the Tonga Island Marine Reserve was created, there are more than seven times as many crayfish and 40 times as many blue cod over 30 centimetres.
Plan & prepare
Getting there by sea
The nearest boat ramp is at Totaranui, 5 km north of Awaroa Head. There are others at Tarakohe near Takaka, and at Kaiteriteri and Marahau in the south.
Water users should be wary of unmarked reefs and tidal changes. Sea conditions are often calm in winter but stiff sea breezes occur daily in summer and there is little shelter to be found along rocky sections of the coastline during storms.
Getting there by land
Foot access to the reserve is along the coast track from the north or the south. The nearest car park, at Awaroa, is 33 km from Takaka. Allow a full day for a return trip from the car park to Tonga Quarry. Before setting out, check the tide tables because it is only safe to cross Awaroa Inlet within one hour 30 minutes before low tide and two hours after. Onetahuti estuary can only be crossed safely three hours either side of low tide.
From Awaroa Hut, head east to the mouth of Venture Creek and climb up to Tonga Saddle. From here there is an easy descent to Onetahuti Beach – your first contact with the marine reserve. Tonga Island lies directly offshore from here.
The Abel Tasman coast is well served by bus, boat and kayaking companies. Information on their services is available at i-SITE visitor centres in Motueka, Takaka and Nelson.