John & Pat Colquhoun Find Another Paddling Paradise
Auckland Harbour is quite different to Sydney Harbour; it sits within the Hauraki Gulf.
The Gulf is a huge stretch of water which is protected from the Pacific in the east by the Coromandel Peninsula, in the east by the mainland and in the west and north by Great Barrier Island.
This means hardly any swell, and on any windless morning it is like a giant lake. Around the Auckland area there are numerous islands, including Rangitoto (an extinct volcano) and many others which have been cleared for sheep, cattle and farming.
Waiheke Island is under transformation from a farm island to a satellite suburb of Auckland, with a fast ferry 30 minutes from downtown, and now has a population of around 8,000. The island is approximately 30 km long and up to 10 km wide, and sits north west to south east over its length. The southern end is substantially farming, with houses and wineries in the north west. There are some 20 wineries, some with very exclusive restaurants attached.
To the kayaking experience: Ross Barnett of Ross Adventures, has kayaks for hire next to the ferry terminal in Matiatia Harbour (email firstname.lastname@example.org). He has doubles, singles and sit-on-tops for hire. Pat and I paddle a fibreglass Dusky Bay in Sydney, and did not think much of the plastic option offered by Ross, until we saw the coastline! It varies from white sand to oyster-encrusted volcanic rocks, not a place for fibreglass.
Our intention was to circumnavigate the island, about 100 km (more if you go in and out of the bays). Ross had told us that the record was 6 hours in a hot-shot multi-sport boat, but we felt it was too big a paddle for us in one day, especially if we wanted to see the sights as we went.
Day One (3 hours)
We paddled from Matiatia Harbour around the north-western end, and onto the softer side of the island. The water life was fantastic, with white-fronted terns diving into schools of fish, and blue penguins (similar to our fairy penguins) all around us. To see deserted bays and deep water anchorages was beautiful. On we went to the main settlement at Oneroa—the beach is gently sloping and white sand. It is sheltered from the west, and during the Americas Cup we saw up to 100 boats anchored there for the night.
Past Oneroa we saw mansions nestled into valleys and on headlands, all with fantastic views (how the other half live!). Between beaches there are rocky headlands, and with calm weather we were able to run a few ‘gauntlets’, but were not brave enough to investigate sea caves.
On to Palm Beach for lunch, landing in a gentle half metre wave onto another sand beach, this time with lots of old pipi shells. As we grounded, we thought, “Thank goodness for plastic boats.” While we had packed our lunch, we found a small shop which would have been fine for a sandwich and coffee. It seems all the beaches have some facilities. Off the beach, and on to Onetangi, past two headlands which enabled us to do some more rockhopping. The beach again was white sand with shells, and about 2 km long. We landed in the middle of the beach, opposite which was the local pub, The Strand Bar, which turned out to be the perfect spot to wait for Ross to come and get us. For a fee, Ross will pick up and deliver, which opened up our prospects for day 2.
Day Two (7 hours)
This was our long paddle. We were delivered by Ross to a mangrove creek in the middle of nowhere, and told to paddle down the creek until we reached the coast. We were supplied with flares, maps and we always carry a compass and spare equipment. We wound our way through the mangroves, against the tide, as we wanted to hit the main channel at high water. Tides are around 3 metres, so a working knowledge of where they run and at what speed (up to 3 knots) is important. Just before we entered open water, we had been told to look for a shell bank lagoon, as it is a well-known bird site. It was very special for us, as keen bird watchers, to see five new species, however we could not afford to dally, as the tide waits for no man!
Once into the southern channel, it was wide enough not to feel the current, but the shore slipped past quickly. The change of tide brought a flurry of fish and bird activity—we hooked two kawai of about one kilo each, but did not land either, as we were using barbless hooks (easier to remove if you hook yourself!). We rounded a few islands in the passage, and felt a wonderful feeling of isolation. We could see the Coromandel Peninsula mountain range to the east, and as we came to Thumb Point, we could see the mountain range of Great Barrier Island in the distance. Cliffs along the shoreline were high and rugged, lots of sea caves, FANTASTIC.
We stopped at Thumb Point, the south eastern extremity of the island, on what had looked like a beach, but on arrival found boulders like footballs—thanks again for the plastic boat. We had lunch, enjoying the presence of neighbouring sheep.
The morning had been almost windless, in fact the America’s Cup boats did not race due to lack of wind, however as we rounded Thumb Point, we were into the eye of a 10 knot nor’wester. With 10 or more kilometres to go, the idea of taking detours into various bays was not as attractive as it had seemed, so we pushed on towards Onetangi. We were concerned that the 10 knot breeze may have become 20 or more, because it can blow up with extraordinary speed. We arrived at the beach at 4 pm, and you guessed it, straight to the Strand Bar, where after a phone call to Ross, the day was complete.
We did not manage our circumnavigation, but felt that 80% was all right.
In summary, a great place to paddle, a great island to visit.