Ecologist's pilgrimage to Goat Island Marine Reserve – New Zealand

altGoat Island is an hour's pleasant drive from Auckland. Large road signs make finding the reserve easy, and stand as testament to its popularity and value to the local community. The road passes through the pleasant country towns of Warkworth, Matakana and Leigh, then descends steeply from the hills to a sheltered seaside cove where the traveller is met by pleasant views of the shoreline bluffs, beach and Goat Island, lying just a few hundred metres offshore. The carpark facilities are immaculate, with grassed areas and tables for picnics, artistic and tasteful information boards and ultra modern and clean toilets and change rooms, another reflection of the value the local community places on this reserve.

The tide was falling so the ‘mission’ started with a walk along the shore and a rock-pool ramble. It was a beautiful sunny day and I soon learnt that the grey volcanic sands of the beach get really really hot for bare feet! I'd wondered why everyone was sitting up under the trees. My friend, Kevin, and I took a short walk up the road to the Marine Discovery Centre, part of the Leigh Marine Research Station, overlooking Goat Island. Educational altcentres face an uphill battle, trying to provide something for everyone. In this case we could not expect complete satisfaction for a marine biologist and a visitor from Malaysia with English as a fifth language, but at NZ$10 each I expected something more than was on offer. The good news is that the displays were not dumbed down, the touch tank was good, and some displays were unique in my experience, such as the undersea sound tunnel and the deep sea ROV video in the floor, but I have to state that it was a bit of a ramble with no consistency between the displays. The staff were great though and, as one told us, the real place to see things was outside in the reserve – so that is where we went.

We donned fins and masks and swam out from the beach. This is a beginners and experienced snorkeller’s paradise – easy beach access with lots reef outcrops, gutters with seaweed and ... lots of inquisitive snapper. In Australia, the snapper are diver shy and very rarely seen, even though they are relatively abundant. At Goat Island they followed you everywhere. I soon found out they hate to be followed though, the best approach being to take a deep breath and to sit in a hole or gutter and wait for them to start milling around. They are a very impressive fish, with iridescent blue spots. alt

With the water a pleasant 19 degrees, no wetsuit was worn, though sunscreen should have been (ouch!). The reserve is well set up to cater for all types of visitors. The beach is sheltered, making it safe for families with small children.  Hire facilities offer snorkelling and kayaking equipment. A glass bottom boat also operates from the beach but was idle during our visit due to reduced underwater visibility. We hired a kayak and had pleasant hour paddling and drifting around the island, weaving between a multitude of snorkellers and SCUBA divers.

The Goat Island reserve was everything I have long read about – a great place to visit offering opportunities to enjoy natural surroundings and to see marine life in an area unaffected by fishing and other human pressures.

Latest News

Contact Us

Phone/Fax: +61 3 9376 2397