The view up the channel to Doubtless Bay from the deck of our solid cutter anchored at Mangonui in Northland looked a little stormy through the shafts of sunlight, but nothing she couldn‘t handle.|
So instead of spending a day reading or strolling around the quaint, seaside village, we raised the anchor, stowed everything away and set off for Houhora under shortened sail. The wind rose, and the ocean swells rolled beneath us. As we headed across the broad sweep of the bay, bands of showers rushed across the sky, and seabirds appeared from nowhere, flying fast and low, just above the waves. Our yacht revelled in the conditions, sending the spindrift flying as her bow plunged and lifted in a steady rhythm.
The six of us were dry and warm, and right on dusk the green and red markers at the entrance to the narrow channel at Houhora appeared to guide us up to our anchorage. After shaking off our wet weather gear, we gathered below for hot soup and muffins. The sail was exciting and dramatic, and accessible to anyone with a sense of adventure.
New Zealand‘s outstanding natural coastline and waterways will prompt even the most staunch landlubber to venture onto the water. There is variety in abundance, from peaceful coves to wide expanses of beach, from majestic fiords to sheltered harbours, and from glassy calm to towering ocean swells.
Little is offlimits and the variety of experiences on offer is startling. There is sailing, Windsurfing, powerboating, kayaking, surfing, boogie boarding, waterskiing, whitewater rafting and sledging, scuba diving and snorkelling, and of course jetboating.
Sea kayakers are a common sight around parts of the coast, especially the Hauraki Gulf and the northern tip of the South Island, the Bay of Islands and the Coromandel Peninsula, their blades glinting in the sun as they paddle solo or in tandem.
Surfers take a more individual stance, choosing which one of the set of waves they will take their chances on, then standing upright as the wave sucks them into its grasp and surges towards the beach. In the shallows, the boogie boarders, young and old, take equal delight in riding the wavelets in the few seconds before they disappear.
The jetboat is a New Zealand invention first developed by Bill Hamilton in 1957 as a way of navigating shallow, swiftflowing rivers by pumping water through an impeller and out the rear of the boat in a powerful jetstream. Experienced commercial jetboat drivers blast up rivers and across lakes at high speeds, powering past hazards and rocks and through rapids with only centimetres to spare, then executing 360degree spins guaranteed to drench those on board.
Rafting that same white water at a slower pace is equally exciting, with everyone paddling together to manouevre the sometimes awkward rubber raft downstream. In a more recent innovation, whitewater sledging, riders lie on special boards and steer through rapids by kicking their fins and leaning into the waves. Rivers are graded from one to six, with six being unraftable and four creating enough adrenalin to satisfy most.
Below the waves everything appears calm and silent, as fish and plant life flow with the currents and tides. Even absolute beginners can enjoy snorkelling at marine reserves such as Goat Island, north of Auckland, where simply paddling along the surface of the water with goggles and fins and looking downwards brings a stunning variety of life into view.
The Bay of Islands, the Hauraki Gulf and the Marlborough Sounds are the more obvious diving locations, but there are many more deepwater possibilities. Jacques Cousteau rated the Poor Knights, a group of islands off the northeastern coast of the North Island, among the top diving spots in the world. Subtropical currents carry fish from the Coral Sea, cliffs, archways and tunnels attract a wide variety of sponges and other colourful marine vegetation, and manta rays are common.
Each activity has an element of excitement involved, and that is part of the thrill. Those who want to extend themselves find they can always push a little further, while the rest of us relish the moment and enjoy the freedom of New Zealand‘s easily accessible coasts and waterways.