We were driving through Whangamata, a cool and laid back surf town, when we saw a poster with a stunning view of an island called Whenuakura. We took a quick photo so we could look into it later, as we had accommodation booked for that night in Tauranga, almost 2 hours south.
An old dormant volcano
Later that day we did some research on Whenuakura Island and found out that it’s an old dormant volcano, the crater is filled with water and it is also known as ‘Donut Island’. The best part? You can enter it by water through a cave! There are companies offering guided kayak tours to the island, but we thought “Hey, if people can get there in a kayak, we can get there on our paddleboards, and it won’t cost us a thing!” The more we looked into it, the more we were convinced this was something we could not miss out on. We are always looking out for awesome spots for paddleboarding and this definitely looked like one.
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Donut Island is just off the coast of Whangamata
We decided to completely change our route and backtrack all the way to Whangamata to check out the island (and have another burger at Soul Burger). The day we picked for the trip turned out to be a really sunny but rather windy day. When we got to the beach from where we would start paddling we had a chat with a guy renting out kayaks. He said that wind, which was offshore, was already quite strong and would only pick up more, and advised to rent a kayak instead of going on paddleboards. We took this as an attempt to get us to rent from him, and grabbed our paddleboards. As we were getting ready for departure a lady from another kayak rental company said the same, and again it seemed she was just trying to sell, so we got into the water and off we went!
Entrance through a cave
The island lies about a kilometre off the coast, and with the wind in our backs it was a leisurely 30 minute paddle to reach the cave entrance of the island. The entrance looks like the dark mouth of a massive beast with rocks pointing down that resemble big sharp teeth. The scary looking entrance and the waves crashing onto the rocks surrounding it gave us a bit of an unsettling feeling, but as we went through the cave and got to the island’s hollow centre that feeling instantly turned into absolute bliss.
Through the open roof the light shines into the little lagoon where all you hear is the sound of singing birds and the soft splashing of the water. We spent about an hour inside just looking at the crystal clear water and listening to all the peaceful sounds of nature, wishing we could stay there forever, but the tide was going out and we had to head back.
Getting back to shore
As we came out of the cave we realised that the people urging us to get a kayak weren’t just trying to sell. The wind had picked up a lot and was trying to blow us into the open sea. After paddling into the wind for 15 minutes we had hardly moved away from the island and it felt like we were just paddling in place. It took us over an hour of paddling hard to reach the shore. Exhausted, but at the same time still pumped and amazed by the beauty of that little island we just came from, we went for a beer and a burger; we earned it!
Make sure you go in around high tide, as at low tide the rocks underwater emerge from the surface and being/going inside can be dangerous
You’re not allowed to step on land once you’re inside as it is a wildlife sanctuary and Maori sacred ground. Plus it is absolute paradise and it should stay this way!
If there’s a strong offshore wind, consider getting a kayak as paddling in a kayak is a lot easier than on a paddleboard. Unless of course you’re a seasoned paddler and love the thrill!
If you do get stuck paddling against the current or offshore winds, try paddling across instead of against. It’s far less tiring and you can’t beat nature!
Excited to go paddle to Donut Island yourself? Download our in-depth guide on how to get there so you can experience this piece of pristine paradise too, without making the same mistakes we did!
We are really glad that we decided to backtrack to Whangamata for our Donut Island adventure. This is one of our favourite experiences in New Zealand to date, we just should have prepared a little bit better. We really think this little gem deserves more attention and we’d like to help you explore it so we prepared a downloadable guide for you! Get it through the form above.
Like paddleboarding just as much as we do? We’ve put together a list of the best SUP spots in New Zealand!