Monday, March 29, 2010

Hauraki Gulf Islands

Before we leave Auckland and head for the Coromandel, you’ll have one last chance to get out on the water and explore one or two islands in New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf.  From the Ferry Berth at Quay and Hobson Streets in Auckland, you can look east to the Hauraki Gulf. Auckland has more boats per person than any city in the world. If you’ve watched America’s Cup sailing in New Zealand, those yachts were in the Hauraki Gulf. The Hauraki Gulf has 47 or 50 islands– depending on who’s counting. Many are reserves for day trips. Some offer snorkeling and diving sites. The inner islands are easy to reach and you can picnic, camp, or just poke around. The outer islands are mainly closed nature reserves for endangered bird species.

Little Barrier Island
From Shakespear Regional Park
Photo By: Kush Images

Great Barrier Island, 90 km northeast of Auckland is the largest island in the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park. This partly forested island on the edge of the park has a population of 1100 in settlements around the coast. Residents provide their own power with generators. On Great Barrier Island you’ll find walks on good tracks, rare birds, long white surf beaches, fishing, and diving– there are two wreck dives. Port Abercrombie, Port FitzRoy, and Whangaparapara are sheltered anchorages. If you want to stay a while, there are holiday lodges, motels, camp grounds and Department of Conservation (DOC) huts. Ferries depart for the island several times weekly. You can cruise the coastline or take a bus trip on a metal road from Port FitzRoy to Tryphena. You can also fly to Great Barrier Island.

Kayaks in the Gulf
Photo By: Schist Happens

Only 35 minutes by ferry from Auckland, Waiheke, the second largest island in the Hauraki Gulf has a population of 7000. Waiheke means cascading waters. There are waterfalls in the Whakanewha Regional Park near Rocky Bay. From the “Stony Batter” where a maze of tunnels and concrete gun emplacements were built for defense by the army during World War II, you have a view of the southern end of the Hauraki Gulf. Waiheka has 22 vineyards, swimming beaches, and restaurants. You’ll also find sea kayaking, golf, diving, a large sea cave on Gannet Rock, a museum and a Forest and Bird reserve at Onetangi. If you’re staying over, you’ll find a variety of accommodations from resorts to backpackers lodging.

Oyster Catcher
Photo By: Kush Images

Rangitoto, a circular island visible from most parts of the mainland, appeared around 700 years ago during a series of volcanic eruptions.Connected to Motutapu Island by a causeway, Rangitoto has many species of plants and trees including the largest pohutukawa forest in the world. There are no overnight accommodations on Rangitoto. Adjoining Motutapu is a farmed reserve in the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park.

If you’re looking for more salt water or wildlife, turn right off SH1 at Silverdale about 30 km’s north of Auckland, then head out to Shakespear Regional Park at the end of Whangaparoa Peninsula. Tiritiri Matangi Island, off the tip of the peninsula, has the oldest lighthouse in the Gulf. A bird sanctuary with five walking tracks, the public can visit free. Ferry service runs from Gulf Harbour on the peninsula– the ferry also runs from Auckland. The island has steep cliffs and one sandy beach. Tiritiri Matangi means wind tossing about, so dress wisely.

Copper Mine Chimney
Photo By: Dunk the Funk

If you’re not in hurry, travel a little farther north and spend a day on Kawau Island– catch a small boat from Sandspit Wharf. The Maori lived on Kawau at one time. In the 1840’s a manganese mine was established. Later copper was discovered and the partial ruins of the old copper mine are still on the island.

In 1862 Sir George Grey, one of New Zealand’s first governors, bought the island and turned the mine manager’s home into a mansion He also imported many plants and animals– including five species of wallabies. The wallabies still roam the island damaging the native vegetation. Ten percent of the island, including the Mansion House, are owned by the Department of Conservation (DOC). There are many native birds including wekas, bellbirds and Kiwis. If you’d like to spend a quiet night, bachs, holiday flats and bed and breakfast accommodations are available. Most are located on the water. The majority of the island has no roads. Book ahead in the summer season as this is a popular tourist area.

Mansion House of Kawau
Photo By: Dunk the Funk

If you charter a sailboat in Auckland, you’ll probably visit the Kawau Island Yacht Club. Although not necessarily travel on the cheap, the cost of chartering drops if you share cost with others, do your own cooking, and either you or a friend has the skills to captain. The two best places to charter and cruise in New Zealand are the Hauraki Gulf and the smaller Bay of Islands in Northland. The Moorings has been in business many years and has a great reputation. I’ve chartered from them several times and always liked their service. Hauraki Gulf sailing is more open and challenging than the Bay of Islands. The Moorings doesn’t want you or their expensive yacht on a reef or at the bottom of the Gulf. They’ll check out your skills before turning you loose from their dock.

Yachts at Kawau Island
Photo By: Uweduesing

 There are many more islands north of Kawau Island and south off the Coromandel. Close to Auckland, they’re easy to visit if you have only a short time in New Zealand and want to dive, fish, sample a little Kiwi history, or just poke around on a lonely beach.

Lyn Harris

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