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Walk, dive and fly Tuhua Island, New Zealand

Thursday, October 28, 2010
Jules Lund's latest New Zealand adventure was a flight from Tauranga on the North Island to Tuhua Island. It is administered by the Tuhua Trust on behalf of its traditional owners who refer to the island as Tuhua, the Maori name, rather than the European name of Mayor Island. It was created by volcanic eruptions more than 6000 years ago and is considered to be sacred. From above you can see layers of rock, forest and marine reserve, which has excellent diving.

It is very special to the Maori people, partly because of its nine varieties of black obsidian, a volcanic glass prized as a cutting tool. It was around well before steel and made people monetarily wealthy and rich in spirit.

Tuhua's volcanic history is particularly interesting is that it has had the full variety of eruption styles. Eruptions have included Hawaiian fire-fountaining, strombolian explosions, plinian falls and ignimbrite.

Shane Jeffcoat, a pilot with Aerius Helicopters, told Jules that in the 1970s a couple removed a piece of obsidian as a souvenir. They blamed a cycle of bad luck on the stone and sent it to Shane, asking him to return it to its rightful place. If you are given a piece by an owner your luck should be good.

They landed in Opo Bay and were greeted by Reon and Stephanie, two traditional owners, and the sound of a war trumpet. The trumpet has been used for generations to announce the arrival of visitors.

A 15-minute walk takes you to the giant pohutukawa tree which should be greeted before stories of the island's history are told.

From there they took a 90-minute walk to Devil's Staircase, the source of the obsidian. It was returned to the crater and with the correct procedure, it is hoped the couple's luck turned around.

The walk is suitable for moderate fitness, and there are stops along the way to have a snack and take in the marvellous views. Marked tracks lead to the lakes and through the forest.

The volcanic crater has two lakes — one is green due to algae and the other black because of fine particles of rock. They are known to the owners as Blood of Greenstone and Blood of Obsidian.

Long ago, pounamu, the greenstone, also highly valued, and tuhua, the obsidian, fought a battle for supremacy. Tuhua won and chased pounamu back to the South Island.

The Devil's Staircase was a stronghold where tribes defended the island. On part of the walk you need to wear a safety harness clipped to a steel rope. You're then free to climb down and up a series of steps. That particular part of the day is probably best left for those with more than average fitness and, of course, not afraid of heights!

Even if you decided to watch others take the climb you won't miss out on beautiful scenery. The island has been a wildlife refuge since 1953 and is a birdwatcher's paradise. There's also a marine reserve off the northern end.

Apart from Aerius passengers, only a few boats are permitted to land, so you really are seeing something special.

When Maori lived on the island and wanted to start a family, women would sit on Te Toka Hapu rock, so be warned.

The walk back to Opo Bay takes around 45 minutes and there's a picnic stop and a swim in summer.


Tuhua Island, an 18-minute flight from Tauranga on New Zealand's North Island.


Aerius Helicopters' four-hour tours from Tauranga to Tuhua Island are $450 per person. They depart at 8am and 1pm every day and include food and drinks. Not suitable for children under 12.

Air New Zealand has four ways to fly to New Zealand. Seat Only, for those travelling light, through to Works Deluxe, which gives lounge access and extra baggage allowance. Check their website for more details at

Seat-only, one-way fares to Tauranga via Auckland start from:

  • Melbourne $305
  • Sydney $316
  • Brisbane $364
  • Adelaide $410
  • Perth $605

Prices correct at October 28, 2010.

For further information

Air New Zealand
Ph: 132 476

Aerius Helicopters
Ph +64 7 5749108
Fax +64 7 5331838

Visas: Australian citizens do not require a visa to enter New Zealand.

Electricity: 230V at 50Hz using the same plugs as in Australia.

Time zone: GMT +12.

Currency: The New Zealand dollar.

International dialling code: +64.

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