Maritime New Zealand says its identified a number of ships that have sailed past islands off Cape Reinga in the days before an oil spill in the area.
Earlier this week a local fisherman reported seeing oil on a seabird and his crayfish pot buoy around Three Kings Islands, or Manawa-tawhi.
Maritime New Zealand, Department of Conservation, the Defence Force and Ngāti Kuri are working together to determine the origin and extent of the spill.
Bruce Barton of Maritime New Zealand said no oil was seen in a recent aerial reconnaissance and bad weather had been hindering access to the islands.
He said while this would help minimise the impact of any spill, it would make it difficult to trace its origins.
But Mr Barton said crews would continue to patch together more information.
"Investigators are looking into it and we've identified a number of ships that have sailed past the Three Kings in the few days before the reported incident and that's where it is at the moment," he said.
Meanwhile Ngāti Kuri Trust Board chairman Harry Burkhardt said it would be difficult to get oil spill cleaning equipment to islands off the top of the country if it was needed.
"There's no close oil spill clean up equipment," he said.
"Even without understanding the scale of it, we know that the ability to clean that up is not in our purview."