How to paddle or kayak to Donut Island, Whangamata, New Zealand
Whenuakura Wildlife Sanctuary, or Donut Island as it is more commonly known as, is one of a group of islands just off the coast of Whangamata on the Coromandel Peninsula.
Whenuakura Island is an old dormant volcano. Due to erosion the crater filled up with water, making it look like a donut from above and giving it the nickname Donut Island.
It is a short and extremely rewarding paddle to this ring-shaped island. As you enter through the cave, inside you’ll find a beautiful blue lagoon.
Where is Donut Island?
Donut Island lies just off the coast of Whangamata, on the south-east side of the Coromandel Peninsula.
The Coromandel Peninsula is mainly famous for Cathedral Cove (definitely go see this too!) and Hot Water Beach but Donut Island is still largely unknown to the bigger public, giving you a great opportunity to still see it in its pristine, uncrowded state!
Whangamata is a small but cool and laid back surf town. During the winter months there isn’t much there, but in the summer months the whole town comes alive and there is lots to do. Loads of cool bars, eateries (try Soul Burger!), and of course the beach, the surf and Donut Island!
Whangamata is a great place to spend a day or two while exploring the Coromandel Peninsula, and Donut Island should be on the top of your to-do in your New Zealand North Island itinerary.
Getting to Whangamata & Donut Island
From Auckland: It is 159 km from Auckland to Donut Island, and takes 2,5 hours
From Tauranga: It is 90 km from Tauranga to Donut Island, and takes 1,5 hours
From Whitianga: It is 75 km from Whitianga to Donut Island, and takes 1 hour
Where to stay in Whangamata
If you want to soak up more of the chill Whangamata beach vibe, go surfing, or explore the area, then consider staying in Whangamata for the night. Depending on the tides, it might be a good idea to spend the night before you paddle to Donut Island in Whangamata already, so you can start paddling nice and early. Below we’ve listed some accommodation options that we highly recommend.
How to get to Donut Island
Where is the starting point for Donut Island?
The clossest access to Donut Island is from the beach in front of the Island View Reserve in Whangamata. While this is not the shortest direct line to the island, it is the shortest way to the entrance, which faces the South-Eastern side of the island.
Park at the spot marked ‘Overnight Campervan Parking’ on Google maps. The beach just behind this parking lot is where you’ll want to start paddling from.
Donut Island Whangamata map
How Long is the paddle to Donut Island?
The distance to Donut island is about 1 kilometer from the shore. Depending on the wind and the current it can take anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes to get there.
Be mindful because winds and currents can turn quickly. Take this into account when checking tidal times and make sure you prepare well.
Put the stuff you want to take with you but that can’t get wet, like your phone or camera to take photo’s with, in a dry bag. If you don’t have a dry bag yet, we recommend to buy this Earth Pack Dry Bag. It is durable, easy to carry, and most importantly; will keep your gear perfectly dry.
How do you enter Donut Island?
There is only one entrance to Donut Island - through a cave on the South-Eastern side of the island.
As you approach the Island you will have to paddle around a small rocky formation that obstructs the entrance and hides it from view from the coast. From this angle the cave will appear small bu as you get in it will quickly expand and open up into the blue lagoon at the inside of the island
What’s it like inside Donut Island?
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. Jumping in the calm water inside Donut Island is pure bliss!
While swimming in Donut Island is perfectly fine, the island itself is tapu, maori sacret grounds and you’re not allowed to step foot on land. On top of that, the island is also a wildlife sanctuary and your presence on land could disturb the animals.
About our visit to Whenuakura
We were driving through Whangamata when we saw a poster with a stunning view of the Whenuakura Wildlife Sanctuary, but we didn’t know what it was yet. We took a quick photo so we could look into it later, as we had to make our way to Tauranga that night, which is almost 2 hours south.
Later that day we did some research on Whenuakura Island and found out that it’s an old dormant volcano, the crater filled up with water.
The best part? You can enter Donut island by water through a cave!
We decided to completely change our route and backtrack all the way to Whangamata to check out Donut Island (and have another burger at Soul Burger Whangamata).
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.
Getting ready for our Whenuakura Wildlife Sanctuary
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!
Paddling to the island was easy
On the way there we had the wind in our backs, making it 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.
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 was hard!
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!
Excited to go paddle to Donut Island yourself? Download our in-depth guide on how to to Donut Island and experience this piece of pristine paradise, without making the same mistakes we did!
If you don’t have your own paddleboard, we recommend renting a kayak. Kayaks are a lot faster and easier to handle than paddleboards.
We only made it there and back on our paddleboards because we’re pretty seasoned paddleboarders. In retrospect we should have rented kayaks considering the strong wind and current but chances are, you’ll have much better conditions than we did. Just don’t dismiss the kayak rental guys like we did ;)
Also consider doing a Whenuakura island kayak tour instead of the self-guided option if you’re new to this or don’t feel comfortable on open waters. Not only is it safer if you’re not an experienced kayakker yet, but it is also fun to go with a group and your local guide will tell you everything about the Whenuakura Island and even takes you to the nearby islands. You can book your kayak tour here.
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 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.