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Day trips

Matiu/Somes island, day trip from Wellington — what to do

  • 4 minutes

Wellington, North Island

How many people have been to Soames Island?

An inviting picturesque island bang smack in the middle of the harbour invites the question, what happened there? A great video of the island makes you want to lace up your tramping boots and immediately go over to visit.

Traveling on Matiu / Somes Island Wellington, New Zealand
Traveling on Matiu / Somes Island


A great place to visit with a ferry ride across the harbour setting the scene. You are in an arena where nature is in charge and life is governed by the weather, the sea and the seasons. The area has a chequered history as a quarantine station, a prisoner of war camp both in World War I and World War II and a military defence position.

Earliest human occupation is evident with midden sites, discarded tools and artefacts which are either displayed in the Visitor Centre or on loan to Te Papa. The island was named Matiu by Kupe, after the Europeans settled here, the island was renamed Somes Island after Joseph Somes. In 1997, the island became officially known as Matiu-Somes Island.

Since the nineteenth century the island has had a quarantine station. Suspected cases of diseases like typhoid, smallpox and scarlet fever were compelled to stop there. Near the jetty on the eastern side of the island lies the remains of a fumigation shed where those suspected of infection were cleansed with noxious gases. After World War II the island became the principal quarantine station for animals until the late 1960’s. The island’s animal quarantine past is further explained at Matiu Somes Island website.

Matiu Somes Island aerial view, New Zealand
Matiu Somes Island
Matiu Somes Island views, New Zealand
Matiu Somes Island views

The lighthouse has illuminated the harbour since 1900. Up until 1924, there were lightkeepers living on the island. Today the lighthouse still functions although it is automated. The island is managed by the Department of Conservation with an onsite ranger and volunteers ensuring the island is predator free. The island became rat-free in the 1980s and is now home to the world’s smallest penguin, weta, geckos, tuatara, and a whole host of birds such as parakeets, robins relocated from Kapiti Island.

Today the island has over 20,000 visitors a year. The history, the predator free status with a thriving eco-system and an island home to unique birds and wildlife draws people to spend a day on the island. The Department of Conservation has plans  for a deck for tuatara viewing, more interpretation panels to find genuine anti-aircraft guns to restore the four concrete gun emplacements on the summit.


1. Whare Kiaora welcomes visitors, inspects bags and equipment for unwanted pests and welcomes people to the island.

The initial stop is the Visitor Centre where the island’s history is part of an interpretative display. There are no fees other than your ferry tickets.

2. The island is 25 hectares and covered in bush.

Your afternoon on the island is enough time to walk the loop track around the island.

Top of lighthouse on Matiu Somes Island overlooking harbour, Somes Island, New Zealand
Top of lighthouse on Matiu Somes Island overlooking harbour

3. You can stay overnight relaxing into the peace and quiet of an island solitude.

4. The sheep on Matiu Island are a selfie moment for visitors who have not got close encough for sheep themed selfies.

According to the Stuff article the sheep  provide the resident Department of Conservation rangers with a food source and lawn- mowing services.

5. Walk the island loop view the lighthouse, the anti-aircraft gun emplacements and observe the bird life.

Anti-aircraft gun emplacements on Matiu / Somes Island, over looking Wellington harbour on a beautiful day, Wellington, New Zealand
Anti-aircraft gun emplacements on Matiu / Somes Island

6. Perhaps the intrepid will take a dip in the sea it is likely to be cool even in summer.

The beach is five minutes from the ferry wharf. The beach is a pebbled and the water shallow. A great spot for your picnic lunch even if you don’t take a dip.

7. Find the weta hotel on the loop track.

Note there are few sections where there are cliff top drops so supervise children. Most of the walk is reasonably flat with minimal elevation.

8. Volunteering On Somes Island you can apply online and the DOC workers on the island will be more than happy to put you to work keeping the island in good condition for future visitors. You can find the application form DOC website.


The Department of Conservation website has a description of accommodation options with online booking facilities. Campgrounds 12 spaces for camping, you’re welcome to pitch your tent in the sheep paddoicl near the visitor center. It is an unpowered campground. A lodge: The three bedroom lodge on the island is available for up to eight people to sleep in at night. You’ll need to book online in advance, and be sure to check what is and isn’t allowed in advance.

Close up of a kiwi bird a flightless bird endemic to New Zealand.
Matiu Somes Island kiwi


East by West Ferry service. Timetables and Fares.

Somes Island is serviced by East by West ferries. The majority of ferry services between Days Bay and Queens Wharf (near Te Papa) don’t stop off at Somes Island so be sure to plan which ferries you’ll catch before you make plans to visit Somes Island.

Wellington Harbour with Matiu Island in background, New Zealand
Wellington Harbour with Matiu Island in background

The ferry from Queens Wharf to Somes Island takes 25 minutes. Here are the instructions from the official Matiu website, “You can get to Matiu/Somes Island on the scheduled ferry service (external site) which runs between Queens Wharf and Days Bay seven days a week, and from Seatoun on Saturday and Sundays.

We highly recommend groups of more than 20 people, and those staying overnight, book a place on the ferry. In severe weather conditions one or both ferries can be cancelled.

If you arrive by private boat or kayak see the Matiu/Somes Island by boat information.


  • There are no places to purchase food and drink. Carry supplies for the day. You are allowed to bring wrapped food onto the island. There is drinking water and toilets at the visitor centre.
  • ‘Somes Island quarantine station’, Somes Island quarantine station, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 19-Jul-2019)
  • The ‘enemy in our midst’ By: Andrew Francis – Historian
  • Tiny island’s past explored article Stuff online news service

For more ideas about things to do in Wellington check out our Wellington travel guide. And need travel information for your Wellington stay, click on Wellington frequently asked questions about travel, holidays and getting around.


The journey is worth it.


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