Islands in the gulf - view of Omaru Bay with Ponui Island in the background from Waiheke Island. © Steve Clancy

Auckland's islands: marine playground

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Auckland is known as the City of Sails, and this is largely because it has some of the world’s best cruising waters on its doorstep.

The Hauraki Gulf is an unparalleled marine playground, studded with over 50 islands, each with its own natural and historical features to discover and explore.

Rangitoto Island is an icon of Auckland, and few Aucklanders have not made the pilgrimage across the shipping channel by ferry, private boat or sea kayak to admire the gulf from its 259-metre summit. Some once kept baches near the ferry landing at Islington Bay, and many of these survive, nestled on the flinty shoreline among the regenerating bush, which includes the world’s largest pōhutukawa forest.

Across a causeway from the ferry wharf at Rangitoto is Motutapu, and just across the channel – a few minutes longer on the ferry – is Motuihe, once the site of a children’s health camp and now a popular picnic destination.

Beyond the gateway formed by Motutapu and Motuihe is the long, low outline of Waiheke Island, which nowadays is a cross between an Auckland suburb – albeit a bohemian one – and a premium holiday resort.

Vineyards, olive groves, cafés, restaurants and art galleries sit alongside its stunning ocean beaches, making Waiheke a treat for day-trippers and holiday-makers alike.

Tiritiri Matangi Island, a one-hour ferry ride from downtown Auckland, has become an internationally recognised conservation success story. It has been cleared of introduced predators and planted with more than 300,000 native trees. Visitors can see and interact with 11 threatened, native bird species (including the extremely rare takahē) and the tuatara.

Kawau Island is among the most popular destinations for Auckland’s vast pleasure boat fleet. It boasts excellent anchorages in all weathers and a wealth of locations of historical interest – including the collection of exotic flora and fauna with which Governor George Grey surrounded his gracious home in Mansion House Bay.

A visit to Great Barrier Island is like stepping back to the New Zealand of 20 years ago.

The hinterland of the two main settlements at Port Fitzroy and Tryphena is rugged and beautiful, with some of the region’s best beaches and more than 100 kilometres of well-maintained tracks for trampers. The view from the island’s highest point, the 627-metre Mount Hobson, is not won without a certain amount of struggle, but it’s magic – all the islands of the gulf scattered jewel-like between you and Auckland’s Sky Tower, 90 kilometres distant as the kererū flies.

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