Three Kings Islands / Manawatāwhi

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Three Kings Islands)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Three Kings Islands
Manawatāwhi or Ngā Motu Karaka
Three Kings Islands is located in New Zealand
Three Kings Islands
Three Kings Islands
Coordinates34°09′14″S 172°8′24″E / 34.15389°S 172.14000°E / -34.15389; 172.14000Coordinates: 34°09′14″S 172°8′24″E / 34.15389°S 172.14000°E / -34.15389; 172.14000
Total islands13
Area6.85 km2 (2.64 sq mi)
Highest elevation295 m (968 ft)

The Three Kings Islands (Māori: Manawatāwhi) are a group of 13 uninhabited islands about 55 kilometres (34 mi) northwest of Cape Reinga, New Zealand, where the South Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea converge. They measure 6.85 km2 (2.64 sq mi) in area.[1] The islands are on a submarine plateau, the Three Kings Bank, and are separated from the New Zealand mainland by an 8 km wide, 200 to 300 m deep submarine trough. Therefore, despite relative proximity to the mainland, the islands are listed with the New Zealand Outlying Islands. The islands are an immediate part of New Zealand, but not part of any region or district, but instead Area Outside Territorial Authority, like all the other outlying islands except the Solander Islands.


The Waterfall, Tasman Bay, southern east coast of Great Island

Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman bestowed the name Drie Koningen Eyland (Three Kings Island) on 6 January 1643, three weeks after he became the first European known to have seen New Zealand. Tasman anchored at the islands when searching for water. As it was the Twelfth Night feast of the Epiphany, the day the biblical three kings known as the wise men visited Christ the child, he named the main island accordingly. Tasman also named a prominent cape Cape Maria van Diemen, after the wife of Anthony van Diemen, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). These are the only two geographic features in New Zealand to retain the names given to them by Abel Tasman. Tasman found the islands to be inhabited by Māori, but since 1840 they have been uninhabited. The Māori population probably never exceeded 100.

Engraving of a sketch by Tasman's crew member Isaac Gilsemans showing the islands from the north-west


Map including the Three Kings Islands (top left) (DMA, 1972)
Satellite photograph of the islands by NASA

The Three Kings group falls into two subgroups with four main inhospitable islands and a number of smaller rocks on a submarine plateau called King Bank which rises out of extremely deep water. There are no beaches.[2] The surrounding sea has very clear visibility and contains teeming fish life, attracting hundreds of divers. Another attraction is the wreck of the Elingamite which foundered there on 9 November 1902.

King Group[edit]

Great Island[edit]

With 4.04 km2 Great Island or King Island, is by far the largest. A northeastern peninsula, with an area of about 1 km2, is almost cut off by a 200 m wide but more than 80 m high isthmus formed by North West Bay and South East Bay. The island reaches an elevation of 295 m in the western part, while the peninsula is up to 184 m high near its western cliffs.

Three Kings Islands; looking north with South East Bay to the right

North East Island[edit]

Official name Oromaki / North East Island, about 1 km northeast of Great Island, is 0.10 km2 in size and reaches a height of 111 m.

Farmers Rocks[edit]

Farmers Rocks, 0.8 km east of Great Island, are 5 metres high and just a few hundred square metres in size.

Southwest Group[edit]

South West Island[edit]

Official name Moekawa / South West Island, at 0.38 km2, is the second largest of the Three Kings Islands and is 207 m high. It is about 4.5 km southwest of Great island.

The Princes Islands[edit]

The Princes Islands are seven small islets and numerous rocks with a total area of about 0.2 km2, start 600 m west of South West Island and stretch about 1.8 km east–west. The north-eastern islet is the highest at 106 m. The smallest islet is Rosemary Rock.

West Island[edit]

Ōhau / West Island viewed from the west

Official name Ōhau / West Island, at 0.16 km2 the third largest island, is 500 m southwest of the westernmost of the Princes Islands. It is 177 m high. The island plays an important part in the traditional Māori belief that the spirits of dead Māori return to their Pacific homeland of Hawaiki. Near Cape Reinga on the mainland, sometimes translated as the underworld, is a gnarled Pōhutukawa tree reputed to be more than 800 years old. The spirits are believed to journey to the tree and down its roots into the sea bed. They are said to surface again on Ohau and say a last farewell to New Zealand before going on to Hawaiki.

Flora and fauna[edit]


In 1945, G. T. S. Baylis made a remarkable discovery on the Three Kings Islands, when he found the last remaining specimen anywhere of a tree which is now called Pennantia baylisiana, a kaikomako. It was recognised internationally as the world's rarest and thus most endangered tree. Extremely careful propagation in New Zealand has resulted in the species being reliably established, but it continues to be carefully monitored. The islands were made a wildlife sanctuary in 1995. Other plants endemic to the islands include Tecomanthe speciosa and Elingamita johnsonii.


The Three Kings have extremely high levels of endemism, even compared to other isolated islands. About 35% of its beetle species are found nowhere else, and there are six endemic genera: Gourlayia (Carabidae), Heterodoxa and Pseudopisalia (both Staphylinidae), Partystona and Zomedes (both Tenebrionidae) and Tribasileus (Anthribidae). There are probably another seven undescribed endemic genera.[3]

Nature reserve[edit]

Three Kings Island is a nature reserve administered by the Department of Conservation. Rats and mice were never introduced to the Three Kings, although goats were introduced to Great Island and caused significant damage to the vegetation and soil.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Data Table - Protected Areas - LINZ Data Service (recorded area 684.7281 ha)". Land Information New Zealand. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  2. ^ Judd, Warren (1996). "The clifftop world of the Three Kings". New Zealand Geographic (29). Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  3. ^ a b Marris, John W. M. (2001). Beetles of conservation interest from the Three Kings Islands: a report submitted to the Department of Conservation, Northland Conservancy. Lincoln: Ecology and Entomology Group, Lincoln University. hdl:10182/2996.

External links[edit]