The processes that produce and maintain genetic structure in organisms operate at different timescales and on different life-history stages. In marine macroalgae, gene flow occurs through gamete/zygote dispersal and rafting by adult thalli. Population genetic patterns arise from this contemporary gene flow interacting with historical processes. We analyzed spatial patterns of mitochondrial DNA variation to investigate contemporary and historical dispersal patterns in the New Zealand endemic fucalean brown alga Carpophyllum maschalocarpum (Turner) Grev. Populations bounded by habitat discontinuities were often strongly differentiated from adjoining populations over scales of tens of kilometers and intrapopulation diversity was generally low, except for one region of northeast New Zealand (the Bay of Plenty). There was evidence of strong connectivity between the northern and eastern regions of New Zealand’s North Island and between the North and South Islands of New Zealand and the Chatham Islands (separated by 650 km of open ocean). Moderate haplotypic diversity was found in Chatham Islands populations, while other southern populations showed low diversity consistent with Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) retreat and subsequent recolonization. We suggest that ocean current patterns and prevailing westerly winds facilitate long-distance dispersal by floating adult thalli, decoupling genetic differentiation of Chatham Island populations from dispersal potential at the gamete/zygote stage. This study highlights the importance of encompassing the entire range of a species when inferring dispersal patterns from genetic differentiation, as realized dispersal distances can be contingent on local or regional oceanographic and historical processes.