We have used comparative phylogenetic analysis to infer the age and biogeographical origins of the Three Kings Islands insect fauna, an archipelago only 56 km off the northern tip of New Zealand. We densely sampled six insect lineages (five Coleoptera, Brachynopus latus, Brachynopus scutellaris, Tarphiomimus spp., Epistranus lawsoni, and Syrphetodes spp., and one Phasmatodea, Pseudoclitarchus sentus) throughout New Zealand and sequenced mitochondrial DNA to assess phylogenetic relationships and determine ages of haplotype lineages on the Three Kings Islands. We recovered two biogeographical patterns. The first pattern was seen in three taxa, B. latus, Syrphetodes spp., and E. lawsoni, which had sister group relationships between the Three Kings and the adjacent North Cape region at the very northern tip of New Zealand. The second pattern, inferred in P. sentus, B. scutellaris, and Tarphiomimus spp., was where Three Kings lineages had sister groups that were widespread throughout most or all of New Zealand. The divergence dates, estimated using a range of previously estimated substitution rates, ranged from as old as 24 Mya in B. scutellaris to as young as 2.24 Mya in Tarphiomimus. These results are consistent with continual emergent land on the Three Kings Ridge since at least the Miocene and a lack of land connections between the Three Kings Islands and mainland New Zealand during Pleistocene sea-level lowering. © 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, 108, 361–377.