Open main menu

The Hen and Chicken Islands (usually known collectively as the Hen and Chickens) lie to the east of the North Auckland Peninsula off the coast of northern New Zealand. They lie 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) east of Bream Head and 40 kilometres (25 mi) south-east of Whangarei.[1]

Hen and Chicken Islands
Bream Bay panorama.jpg
In the distance, from left to right: the Chickens, Hen Island, Sail Rock
Coordinates35°56′S 174°44′E / 35.933°S 174.733°E / -35.933; 174.733Coordinates: 35°56′S 174°44′E / 35.933°S 174.733°E / -35.933; 174.733
New Zealand
The Puka tree is a distinctive part of the flora of the islands



These islands were named by Captain James Cook, who first sighted them on 25 November 1769.[2] It has been suggested that the name was inspired by an old name for the star cluster usually known as the Pleiades (and called Matariki by the Māori).

Originally owned by the Māori Ngā Puhi iwi, they were sold to the New Zealand Government in 1883.[3] The islands were made a scenic reserve in 1908 owing to the rarity of their flora and fauna, and became a wildlife refuge in 1953. Hen Island had actually passed from Māori hands a few years earlier, being bought by Thomas Outhwaite in 1872.[3]:91 It was bequeathed to the nation by his daughter Isa Outhwaite in 1927, and it too was named as a scenic reserve.[3]:91[4]

In June 1940, the Canadian-Australasian Royal Mail Ship RMS Niagara sank off the islands after hitting a mine.[5] Most of the cargo, which included gold bullion, was later salvaged.


The islands are noted for their bird life, with colonies of seabirds as well as forest birds which have become scarce or extinct on the mainland. The islands have been identified as an Important Bird Area, by BirdLife International because they are home to a breeding population of about 500 pairs of Pycroft's petrels.[6][7]

The islandsEdit

Hen Island, or Māori: Taranga, lies 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) to the southwest from the rest of the archipelago. It is also considerably larger than the Chicken Islands, or Marotiri, which comprise a chain of six small islands running north-west to south-east to the north of Hen Island. The chain consists of Wareware and Muriwhenua Islands (together called North West Chicken), Mauitaha (West Chicken), Lady Alice Island or Motu Muka (Big Chicken), Whatupuke (Middle Chicken), and Coppermine Island (Eastern Chicken).

Taranga (Hen) IslandEdit

Taranga is the largest island by some considerable margin, totalling 4.7 km2 (2 sq mi). Long and thin, it has a length of 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) and an average width of less than 1,000 metres (1,094 yd). A remnant of a four-million-year-old volcano, the island is dominated by a rocky ridge reaching to about 417 metres (1,368 ft) at its highest point, called The Pinnacles. Sail Rock, a stack, rises from the ocean 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) to the south of Hen Island,[8] and is a prominent navigational point for yachts.[9]

By the late 1800s, Hen Island was the only place in New Zealand with a surviving population of North Island saddleback. The once common species of forest bird found in the North Island, was decimated by the human introduction of mammalian predators, such as rats and stoats. In the 1960s translocations of saddleback from Hen Island to other island sanctuaries around New Zealand began.[10][11]

Wareware and MuriwhenuaEdit

Two small rocky islands with a combined area of 3 ha (7.4 acres).


This 20 ha (49 acres), rugged, scrub-covered rock lies 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) to the south of Muriwhenua. It rises to 125 metres (410 ft).

The New Zealand Department of Conservation and the Ngati Wai iwi have entered into partnership to set up a sanctuary for the Polynesian rat, or kiore, on the islands Mauitaha and Araara. A spokesman for Ngati Wai said the kiore heritage will be protected as the movement of the kiore through the Pacific paralleled the migration of the New Zealand Maori. A spokesman for the Department of Conservation said the Department's policy change from eradication would assist scientific research.

Lady Alice IslandEdit

Named after Lady Alice Fergusson (wife of Governor General Sir Charles Fergusson), it is the largest of the five Chickens and is of particular significance because of its flora and fauna. The island covers 1.4 km2 (0.54 sq mi) and is surrounded by rocky reefs. It was occupied by Māori until the 1820s, and was used as a base for fishermen in the 1890s. Cattle were introduced at about this time, but were removed in the 1920s.


Formerly known as Whakahau this island is composed of a large eastern section and a peninsula to the southwest. The coast of the peninsula forms one of the chain's main land features, a 300-metre (328 yd) wide bay (Starfish Bay). The island covers 1 km2 (0.39 sq mi), and is steep, rising to 234 metres (768 ft).

Coppermine IslandEdit

Coppermine island covers an area of 75 ha (190 acres). It is composed of two sections joined by a short isthmus. As the name suggests, there are copper deposits on the island, but attempts at mining them in 1849 and 1898 proved unprofitable.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ McLauchlan, G. (1984). Bateman New Zealand Encyclopedia. David Bateman Limited. p. 253. ISBN 978-0-908610-21-1. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  2. ^ University of Auckland. Field Club (1978). Tane. Auckland University Field Club. p. 51. Retrieved 11 July 2018. The Hen and Chickens Islands were named by Captain James Cook on 25 November, 1769, because they looked like a brooding hen and her chickens (Wharton 1893). The last Maoris to occupy the island are said to have left in 1821 ...
  3. ^ a b c The New Zealand Guide. Wise's directories. H. Wise. 1952. p. 91. Retrieved 11 July 2018. HEN AND CHICKEN ISLANDS A group of islands off Bream Bay and Whangarei Heads, named by Captain Cook when he ... by the Ngatiwai section of the Ngapuhi Maori who sold them to the Government who by notice in N.Z. Gazette 1883 ...
  4. ^ New Zealand Law Society; Cooke, R.B. (1969). Portrait of a Profession: The Centennial Book of the New Zealand Law Society. A.H. & A.W. Reed. p. 207. Retrieved 11 July 2018. ... The Hen and Chicken Islands eventually passed to the nation under the will of his daughter, Isa Outhwaite, as a bird sanctuary. Another signatory ...
  5. ^ Pigott, P. (2010). Sailing Seven Seas: A History of the Canadian Pacific Line. Dundurn. p. 144. ISBN 978-1-4597-1325-3. Retrieved 11 July 2018. On June 18 at 3:30 a.m., as it set off from Auckland, the Niagara struck a mine in Hauraki Gulf between Hen and Chicken Islands. The minefield of 162 mines had been laid seven days before by the German surface raider Orion. The ship ...
  6. ^ BirdLife International. (2012). Important Bird Areas factsheet: Hen and Chicken Islands. Downloaded from on 4 February 2012.
  7. ^ Mayr, E. (1999). Systematics and the Origin of Species, from the Viewpoint of a Zoologist. Harvard University Press. p. 235. ISBN 978-0-674-86250-0. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  8. ^ New Zealand journal of botany. New Zealand journal of botany. 1972. p. 556. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  9. ^ Vaughan, R. (2010). The Mereleigh Record Club Tour of New Zealand. The Mereleigh Record Club. Strategic Book Publishing & Rights Agency (SBPRA). p. 212. ISBN 978-1-60976-230-8. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  10. ^ Ruarus, Sylvia; Paquette, Sebastien; Hale, Katrina; Ritchie, Peter (April 2011). "Genetic diversity and population viability in translocated North Island saddleback ( Philesturnus rufusater ) populations at Zealandia Karori Sanctuary and Kapiti Island" (PDF). New Zealand Journal of Ecology. 35 (3): 220–228. Retrieved 30 June 2013.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  11. ^ Galbreath, R. (1993). Working for wildlife: a history of the New Zealand Wildlife Service. Bridget Williams Books. pp. 89 ff. ISBN 978-0-908912-43-8. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  • Wise's New Zealand guide: A gazetteer of New Zealand (4th ed.) (1969) Dunedin: H. Wise & Co. (N.Z.) Ltd.

External linksEdit