The remains of an ancient volcano sit at the northern end of Tapuae Marine Reserve, visible as a series of islands and rocks (their steep sides continue deep down beneath the water). The waters here cover a craggy labyrinth of pinnacles, canyons and caves. Their shelter provides a habitat for around 400 species of fish (especially around Seal Rock). These landforms are also encrusted with the usual reef species of sponges and shellfish, and colonies of bryozoans – tiny animals that build skeletons resembling coral.
The southern part of the reserve is typical of the wild Taranaki coast – reef, mud and sand below, and black sand beaches above. About a third of the area is rocky reef, mostly cobble and boulder platforms. These scattered reefs shelter many species of marine animals and plants.
Visitors may see New Zealand fur seals, as well as humpback, pilot and southern right whales, and orcas.