Looking out to sea from an island, in the foreground to the right is a lighthouse on the edge of a cliff.

The Ultimate Matiu/Somes Island Day-Tripping Guide

by Jonny Marc Baker
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Nestled just inside of Wellington Harbour, Matiu/Somes Island is a fantastic place to spend some time whilst in Wellington.  If you’re looking for something a little different to the usual Wellington itineraries, then this is a great option that will take no more than half a day.

There are two ways to get to Matiu/Somes Island, both ways require travel by boat as it is located in the middle of the harbour. 

The way most people travel to the island is via the East by West ferry.  The ferry connects Queens Wharf in central Wellington to Days Bay located in Lower Hutt.  The ferry makes daily stops to the island but not all services will stop at Matiu, so make sure you catch one that will take you there.  You can check the timetable and fares here. 

If you’re travelling from central Wellington, you will have to purchase your tickets from the ticket office at Queens Wharf.  Make sure you get to the office early enough on the day, as during the summer, the tickets can sell out in advance.  If you want to travel from Days Bay you can buy your tickets on board as there is not a ticket office in Days Bay.

If you’re feeling extra adventurous you can arrive at Matiu/Somes Island by Kayak or by private boat.  There are however some rules on where you can land on the island, which you can check out here.

The approach to the island as viewed from the water on a ferry.
The view from the ferry when arriving to the island.

How Much Does Matiu/Somes Island Cost?

The best part of Matiu/Somes Island is that, apart from the transport to the island, it doesn’t cost a cent to visit.  At the time of writing this article an adult’s return ticket on the ferry was $25, which is not too bad considering how expensive activities in New Zealand can be.

What to Know About When You Arrive?

When you land at the wharf you will be welcomed by the rangers that look after the island.  Before you are allowed to roam freely around the island, the rangers will take you through a brief biosecurity check.  The island is pest free so in order to protect the wildlife, these checks are carried out on every visitor.  Don’t worry though it only takes approximately 10 minutes.

The check consists of a bag check for any rodents or insects that may have hitched a ride over with you.  You also have to make sure you don’t have any soil or seeds attached to your gear and footwear – if you do there are brushes you can use to remove these.  As well as these checks the rangers explain a little about the island and will provide you with a map so you can navigate the tracks.

A wooden carved Tomokanga or entranceway stands strong at the entrance of Matiu/Somes island.
This Tomokanga or entranceway is what you are greeted with when you arrive on the island.

What Is There to Do On Matiu/Somes Island?

Now that we have got a few of the logistics of visiting the island out the way, it’s time for the fun part, what there is to do.

Explore the Walking Tracks

There are a few walking tracks on the island, the best is certainly the loop track that circles around the coastline.  The track offers spectacular views of Wellington Harbour, which is absolutely stunning on a beautiful day.

As well as the picture perfect views, you might be lucky enough to see some of the island’s wildlife.  The island is home to a few different types of gecko, tuatara, weta and little blue penguins can also be found here.  If you like bird watching, the island supports breeding populations of reef heron, spotted shag, variable oystercatcher and southern black-backed gull.

My favourite part of the loop track was the cool little lighthouse that is located on the north side of the island.  There has been a lighthouse on Matiu/Somes Island, guiding ships safely across Wellington Harbour, since 1866.  The lighthouse that is currently on the island was built in 1900 and is still in use to this day.   From the side of the island the lighthouse is located, you also get an amazing view looking back to central Wellington city that is worthy of a few photos.

A lighthouse can be seen with the ocean in the background. In the foreground the leaves of some shrubbery appears out of focus.
The beautiful lighthouse photographed from the loop track.

Discover the Rich History of the Island

Matiu/Somes Island has a very rich and interesting history that goes all the way back to the earliest times of Māori settlement in the harbour.  The island is said to get its Māori name after Kupe, a legendary figure in Māori history, named the island after his niece, Matiu.

As well as the Māori history, you can learn about Mokopuna Island, aka Leper Island.  Uncover the stories of the people that were held in internment camps on the island during both World Wars.  Discover historic quarantine buildings and explore the gun emplacements constructed during World War II.  You can also take a moment at a monument that commemorates those that died while being confined on the island in quarantine.

Guided Walks

If you want the full Matiu/Somes Island experience then you can book a guided walk around the island.  This is a great way to learn about the history of the island and will increase your chances of finding some rare wildlife.  The walks are $10 per adult and $2 per child and can be booked at the DOC Wellington Visitor Centre.  You can find more information about these guided walks at the Department of Conservation website.

When Is the Best Time to Go?

To guarantee you have a great time at Matiu, make sure you go on a calm sunny day.  Not only will the ferry ride be a lot more pleasant, but so will your time on the island.  Also it’s best to go early to try and beat the crowds, especially during the summer.

From the top of Matiu/Somes Island a lighthouse is visible at the bottom of the island. In the distance you can see the city of Wellington.
The view from the top of the island is stunning. In the distance Wellington city is visible.

What to Bring With You?

Although Matiu/Somes Island will only take up half your day, it’s important to make sure you are well prepared.  There is nowhere to get any food or water on the island so it’s essential that you take some with you.  I would recommend taking a packed lunch as there are many picnic tables scattered around the island that offer some great views.

If you love taking photos, make sure to pack your camera as you will have the chance to take lots of great photos on the island.  Also, just as a precaution, I would make sure you pack some sort of coat.  The majority of the island is exposed to wind so even on sunny days it can get a little chilly at times.

You Can Also Stay Overnight

If you fancied staying for longer than a day you can also stay overnight on Matiu/Somes Island.  You can choose to either camp, or book to stay in Education House, which used to be part of the quarantine station on the island.  You can book both of these options on the Department of Conservation website

If you want more information about camping on the island you can find it here.  If you’re looking for information on staying at Education House, you can find that here.

So that’s Matiu/Somes Island for you.  Whether you’re looking for something a little different to the usual Wellington activities or just fancy getting away from the city for a few hours, Matiu is perfect.  If you’ve visited the island before, I’d love to hear what you thought of it, let me know in the comments section below.

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Matiu/Somes Island is a great place to visit while you're in Wellington. To learn more about this great day-tripping location click here.

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