Just offshore from New Plymouth is the stubble of an ancient but massive volcano much older than Mt Taranaki.

Formed 1.75 million years ago, soft rock has long since been eroded away leaving a group of low sea stacks and five islands that form Ngā Motu / Sugar Loaf Islands. They provide a unique semi-sheltered environment along an otherwise exposed coastline.

The subtidal marine habitats around the Ngā Motu/Sugar Loaf Islands include spectacular canyons, caves, rock faces with crevices and overhangs, large pinnacles, boulder fields and extensive sand flats.

The Ngā Motu/Sugar Loaf Islands are important for 19 species of seabirds, with approximately 10,000 seabirds nesting here. A breeding colony of New Zealand fur seals is there too. There are at least 89 species of fish, 33 species of encrusting sponges, 28 species of bryozoans and 9 nudibranchs.

A rare plant, Lepidium Cook’s scurvy grass, which was named because Captain James Cook fed it to his crew to ward off the fatal disease, remains secure on the islands.

A marine protected area comprises seabed, foreshore and water around the Islands. It backs onto the northern boundary of the Tapuae Marine Reserve.