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Maitu Somes Island, Wellington Overview

The Matiu-Somes island is the perfect place for a nature lover to spend some time away from the city amid rich flora and fauna. Located off the coast of the city of Wellington, the island is easily accessible by ferry, boat or kayak. If you are sporty, don’t hesitate to hire a kayak from the city and kayak in the beautiful waters around the island. A ferry ride will take around 20 minutes, and about 2 to 3 hours should be more than enough to explore the island.

The island boasts a flourishing population of blue penguins, North Island robins, and parakeets. A historical site of significance, human and animal quarantine stations are also present here, and most are standing to this day. You may anchor, swim, snorkel, and dive around the island without disturbing the rocks nearby. Pets are also not allowed on the island. Ensure you carry enough sunblock and enthusiasm for a trip to the island!
You could go up the 19th-century lighthouse and capture some beautiful bay views or go around the former military station. Or, you could walk around the island and look at some rare and endangered species housed there.

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The island was named Matiu, in the Maori language, by Kupe more than a 1000 years ago. It was then inhabited by the local tribes, though not permanently. They would retreat to the island in times of battle or external threat. However, once it came under European control, it was renamed Somes Island, after Joseph Somes, the New Zealand Company’s deputy-governor. A lighthouse was built on the island’s southwestern end in the year 1866, and was the first harbour light in the whole country. Over the years, the island has served multiple purposes, some of which include a human and an animal quarantine station, an internment camp, and a military defence position.

The island opened to the public in 1995, and is now a conservation location for native flora and fauna. Rodents were successfully wiped off the planet, and they now have strict policy against letting animals from the mainland onto the island.

Places to See

There are few places you should definitely see while you’re on the island. They are:
  • The Lighthouse – This was erected in 1865, along with a 6 room lighthouse keeper’s house, and was the second lighthouse in the bay. The structure that stands today is the original structure, and is still used to help ships navigate.
  • Human Quarantine station – New Zealand was keen on keeping away diseases such as smallpox and scarlet fever since it is an island nation. Whenever ships sailed to the island, everyone on board was kept in a quarantine station. Today, only half the barracks remain.
  • Animal Quarantine station – The residents also wanted to make sure that incoming cattle doesn’t disease the existing livestock, and hence established a quarantine for them too.
  • Military history – During WW1 and WW2, the barracks were used as prisons, and around 300 prisoners were housed here. Many structures can be seen to this day.

Flora and Fauna

The island is now a scientific reserve, and is predator and rodent-free. The blue penguin thrives here, as do several species of shag, the spotted skink, and the silver gull. Rare and endangered species of plants can also be found on the island, and are preserved by the volunteers and employees. The authorities also re-introduced several local species, such as the red-crowned parakeets and several species of weta.

Matiu-Somes is also home to six species of native reptiles, such as the common skink, spotted skink, copper skink, and common gecko. Forest geckos were also introduced in 2006. North Island robins were also introduced to the island, and bred for the first time, which suggests that the ecosystem was suitable for their flourishing.


  • Make sure you carry your own food and water, as there are no such facilities available on the island.
  • No pets or animals are allowed on the island in an effort to preserve the natural biodiversity.
  • Carry sunscreen and enough sunblock, and a garbage bag as you’re not allowed to leave your waste behind on the island.
  • There are washroom facilities available.

How To Reach Matiu Somes Island

There are multiple ways in which you can get to the Matiu Somes Island. Some of them are:

  • Ferry – You can get to the island using the scheduled ferry service which runs between Queens Wharf and Days Bay every day, and from Seatoun on Saturday and Sunday. A return ticket to the island costs around $25 per adult, $13 per child; they offer family passes as well. The ferry line WHF stops here.
  • Kayak/Boat – You could also kayak or boat to this serene island, but make sure you check your vessel for rodents! There are multiple facilities available to hire kayaks for the day in the city of Wellington. You have to make sure that you carry a map with you, because kayaks are allowed entry into the island only from near the northern wharf.

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