The largest of three islands in Wellington Habour, Matiu / Somes Island has a surprising amount of history to accompany it’s natural beauty. It can be reached by a scenic 25 minute journey from the Wellington CBD with East by West Ferries, and it’s 25 hectares can be easily explored in half a day.
Heading out on a perfect Wellington winter’s day, with blue skies and little wind, the hills surrounding the harbour were stunning.
As is the island from the water.
The main wharf is on the north-east of the island, and after disembarking a friendly DOC warden will give you an introduction to the island, and more importantly get you to check your bags for any stowaways. After a huge amount of effort the island is now pest free, and home to many rare native animals including birds, skinks, geckos, tuatara, and the world’s smallest penguin, though you’ll be lucky to see any of them. I’ve visited twice and not seen any, with the tracks keeping you wisely away from most of their habitats.
A beautiful carved waharoa welcomes visitors to Matiu, it’s original name, regained officially in 1997.
Just south of the wharf are the remains of a degaussing station, used in WW2 to reduce the remnant magnetic field from ships, to prevent them from setting off magnetic mines.
From the wharf a small road winds up the hill, with great views.
Just off the road is a monument to those who died on Matiu / Somes Island. For many years it was used to quarantine immigrants suspected to be carrying infectious diseases, and during WW1 and WW2 Germans, Italians and Japanese were imprisoned on the island.
50m beyond the northern tip of Matiu / Somes Island is the 200m long Mokopuna Island. It is now a bird reserve but in 1904 it was home for months to a Chinese man diagnosed with leprosy, who slept in a cave, and died on the island.
The main loop track offers wonderful views for much of the way round, including of Te Papa O Tara or Shag Rock.
The lighthouse dates from 1900, and replaced the first harbour light in New Zealand, built in 1866.
The southern lookout offers yet more lovely harbour views.
The central, highest part of the island, is home to five gun emplacements built in 1942 but never used.
From here you can see across the entire island, including a surprising number of buildings.
Most of these date from before 1995 when the island was used to quarantine animals coming into New Zealand to ensure that they weren’t bringing infectious diseases with them.
One building has been converted into a small museum / visitor centre.
There are a few colourful pieces of artwork. Two buildings are bookable holiday accommodation for 8-10 people, and there is a camp site with space for up to 6 tents. Watching the sunset and sunrise from the island is very tempting, though camping in Wellington is definitely more of a summer activity.
To finish with where the ferry goes to after Matiu / Somes Island, the beautiful Days Bay in Eastbourne, which in summer is usually packed but it was empty in June.