New Zealand’s epic islands.

With the ocean playgrounds of the Hauraki Gulf, Bay of Islands and Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand is a diverse paradise best enjoyed on a superyacht charter

New Zealand. Discover a land like no other.

Tīkapa Moana (Hauraki Gulf)

Billy Connolly once joked that he went to New Zealand and there was nobody there. Obviously, the day the Scottish comedian visited, everyone was out on a boat, probably on Tīkapa Moana (Hauraki Gulf). If so, they had set off from Auckland, the perfect place to start your exploration of the Hauraki Gulf’s 50-plus islands.

Kawau Island is a 25-mile sail from Auckland, passing through the Tiritiri Matangi channel and past Moturekareka and Motuketekete Islands before entering the sheltered, clear waters of Kawau’s Bon Accord Harbour.

At the heart of Hauraki Gulf lies New Zealand's capital Auckland
At the heart of Hauraki Gulf lies New Zealand's capital Auckland

About 12 miles from Kawau Island, Tiritiri Matangi Island is a Jurassic Park for birds, many only just surviving extinction, but now thriving in their predator-free forest. At the honey baths, tuis, fantails, robins, bellbirds and saddlebacks flit in and out to take their turn in a pecking order that makes sense only to them.

Aotea (Great Barrier Island), 60 miles from Auckland, is defined by its isolation. The main entrance to Rarohara (Port Fitzroy) is Port Abercrombie, but threading a yacht through Man O’ War Passage instead is always a thrill. Great Barrier is the first island in the world to be designated a Dark-Sky Sanctuary. It’s also famed for its green-lipped mussels, while the fishing is excellent among the surrounding Broken Islands.

Close to Auckland, Waiheke Island is home to vineyards, olive groves, beautiful beaches and chic dining
Close to Auckland, Waiheke Island is home to vineyards, olive groves, beautiful beaches and chic dining

At Smokehouse Bay, accessible only by boat, you can smoke your catch and soak in a woodstove-heated bath. The décor is a simple, rustic structure on a tiny beach. The sea around the island teems with life. Snorkel among demoiselle, snapper, tarakihi and parrot fish, with conger eels poking out from rock crevices. Like the birds, the best way to observe them is to stay in one place.

Bay of Islands

Further up the east coast of the North Island is the Bay of Islands, a subtropical paradise. The settlement of Russell on the mainland is picture-book pretty. The Strand runs along the waterfront between the beach, pohutukawa trees and white-painted timber buildings of the 19th century.

Aerial view of the multitude of bays, coves and secret beaches
Aerial view of the multitude of bays, coves and secret beaches

Out in the bay, there are 144 islands, one of the most beautiful being Urupukapuka (top image), its open grasslands criss-crossed with bush trails. There is plenty to see: boats negotiating the passages between islands, rugged rock bays that have been bashed by waves for centuries on the seaward side, and tranquil coves on the sheltered side.

The Hole in the Rock at Motukokako
The Hole in the Rock at Motukokako

The Bay of Islands has distinctive landmarks: the Black Rocks slink low to the north; the Nine Pin is a triangle silhouetted on the horizon. Only the Hole in the Rock at Motukokako, also known as Piercy Island, allows boats to pass right through it.

To see beneath the water, Motuarohia, or Roberton, Island’s marine reserve has easy snorkelling among snapper, leatherjackets, spotties and coloured seaweeds. There are also two ships sunk as dive sites in the bay: the HMNZS Canterbury at Deep Water Cove near Cape Brett, and the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior, near the Cavalli Islands.

St Paul's Rock stands sentinel over Whangaroa Harbour
St Paul's Rock stands sentinel over Whangaroa Harbour

North of the Bay of Islands, the rocky cliffs of the mainland overlap to conceal the entrance to Whangaroa Harbour until final approach. Inside, it is so sheltered that it’s more like a lake than the sea. To kayak here is paradise as you paddle around the mangroves, explore the creeks at full tide or hover over rocky sea mounts watching for fish. No visit to Whangaroa Harbour is complete without a glass of New Zealand Chardonnay on the deck at Kingfish Lodge.

Marlborough Sounds

The South Islanders call their island ‘the mainland’, and they’re only half-joking. One of its best attributes is the Marlborough Sounds, as scenic as the Bay of Islands but more remote, sparsely populated and with a hint of something wild. Most homes are accessible only by boat, so the occasional jetties and boat sheds peek out from dense, dark-green bush into Tōtaranui (Queen Charlotte), Kenepuru and Te Hoiere (Pelorus) Sounds.

Commuting in Tōtaranui (Queen Charlotte) Sound is a more relaxed affair
Commuting in Tōtaranui (Queen Charlotte) Sound is a more relaxed affair

Dolphins often ride boats’ bow waves or play and feed in the Sounds. They may include the world’s rarest and smallest species, the Hector’s Dolphin. It’s easy to identify: even marine biologists describe its black dorsal fin as resembling one of Mickey Mouse’s ears.

For fine dining in the wilderness, book your seat at the Bay of Many Coves Resort or the less formal Punga Cove Resort. Both are located in the outer Queen Charlotte Sound, accessible only by sea and definitely far, far from the madding crowds.

Editorial

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