Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve

Department of Conservation —  15/09/2019

Marine reserves are one of New Zealand Aotearoa’s special protected places where ecosystems are left to thrive naturally, and this Conservation Week we’re checking out Te Tapuwae o Rongokako on the East Coast.

Te Tapuwae o Rongokako is about 16 km north of Gisborne and can be accessed at Pouawa by heading up State Highway 35 and turning towards the sea at a side road. The Department of Conservation (DOC) looks after the reserve, with advice and assistance from the Marine Reserve Committee and Friends of Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve Charitable Trust.

The reserve is open for everyone to come and enjoy, whether you’re into swimming, snorkelling, strolling, nature-spotting, or a bit of sunbathing. Kids can earn a Kiwi Guardians adventure medal – download the map before you go.  Just remember – no fishing or foraging. Reserves are protected by law to help preserve these places for everyone.

Sunrise off Gisborne ft Tuamotu Island. Photo: Laura Honey

Eight marine habitats in just 2,450 hectares.

The reserve protects 2,450 ha of coastline and its marine life. And this is no ordinary reserve. It has eight different marine habitats, including an inshore reef, rocky intertidal platforms and sediment flats. Each of these different habitat types is home to different species, all forming their own unique ecosystems.

Spectacled triplefin. Photo: Jamie Quirk

A fish with spectacles.

If you decide to go snorkelling, you might just see a cream-coloured fish that seems to be wearing dark spectacles (or, some have argued, an eyemask). The spectacled triplefin is found only in New Zealand waters, including this reserve. When males put on their breeding colours they look like our infamous All Blacks.

Some of the other species that live here include kina, dotterels, sponges, marine snails and crayfish.

Named after a giant.

The footprint of a giant, Rongokako, can be found in the rocks of the reserve, close to the shore. Rongokako was an ancestor from the East Coast tradition, famed for his athleticism and dexterity. He left the footprints behind when he was striding along the eastern seaboard of the North Island, as giants are wont to do. And, of course, this ancestor gives the marine reserve its name.

You can read more about Rongokako here.

Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve. Photo: Laura Honey

Protection, science and education.

Marine reserves are essential because they provide an area where marine habitats and life can live undisturbed. Everything found in the reserve, from the fish to the seaweed to the rocks, is protected. Retaining the natural state of a marine environment helps to ensure we can maintain the biodiversity of our ocean.

It also creates a special place that can be enjoyed by everyone, where people can come to experience the New Zealand coastline without alteration. It also provides an important place for scientists to gather information about our marine environments and for educating future generations.

In Te Tapuwae o Rongokako, baited underwater video cameras help gather scientific research. Fish are attracted to the baits and then captured on camera, allowing us to gather information about species and population numbers over time. There are also annual crayfish surveys.

Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve. Photo: Jamie Quirk

Twenty years of sanctuary!

The marine reserve was established in 1999, after DOC and Ngati Konohi (the local iwi) made a joint application after years of working towards establishing a reserve.

On November 16th, this marine reserve will celebrate its 20th birthday. Preparations for this big celebration have already started, with the Marine Reserve Committee organising a native planting that was well-attended by Whangara School. There will be a big event on the day and plenty happening in the build-up.

There’s also a photo competition launching soon – so head over to Te Tapuwae o Rongokako and start snapping some pics!


Marine reserves like Te Tapuwae o Rongokako are protected under the the Marine Reserves Act 1971. All plant and animal life, alive or dead, within marine reserves, is totally protected. Protection also includes reefs and the seafloor.

Find out more information about marine reserves on the DOC website.