Danielle Wright takes her husband, Gavin, on a wedding anniversary date night to remember: sea kayaking to Rangitoto
To our left, a blue penguin pops its head out of the water and bobs in the shining waters in between St Heliers and Rangitoto. It appears and disappears as we watch a handful of white-fronted terns diving for their dinner nearby.
Apart from the wildlife, we have the ocean to ourselves as we paddle in a group of five double kayaks across the Tamaki Strait with Sea Kayaking Adventures' Nic Mead. There's an interesting mix of people, including Cantabrians, Norwegians and a Slovenian.
"Sometimes we're blessed with visits from dolphins and about twice a year we're entertained by a pod of orcas," says Nic, as he leads us on our journey, stopping now and then to give our arms a rest and discuss the history of the landmarks we're passing.
"In Milford Sound there are two large sea kayaking companies with hundreds of kayakers each day and 16 cruise boats to contend with, as well as ferries. Here we just have one ferry on the way over," explains Nic as we paddle past Brown's Island with a few bumps from the Fuller's ferry from Waiheke.
Apart from the birdlife, there are also plenty of fish here since the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park was established in 2000, putting an end to commercial fishing in these waters. Joe Harrison, paddling on another kayak, has a fishing line trailing behind him as he rows. He catches two in quick succession and I see plenty of jumping fish in the shallow water in front of quaint baches as we arrive.
Nic knows the area very well, which he should, starting with celebrating his first birthday on Motuihe Island and now showing hundreds of people around the Hauraki Gulf each year. Luckily for us, he also once owned a cafe in Norway.
He arranges a snack of savoury muffins, green or black tea and Kokako organic fair trade coffee, as well as apricots and oat bars to stock up on for the walk to the summit. It's a lot more than the soggy biscuit and cup of tea some tourist operators provide.
As we walk past the blackened scoria wastelands, we notice that seabird noises are not replaced by land birds, which Nic says is because the trees are not as established as on other islands in the Gulf.
"On a rainy morning, steam rises from the scoria and it looks jurassic," says Nic, as we walk to the summit in time for the sunset.
We make it just in time to watch a fierce orange sun peek under dark clouds as it heads to bed; we hope our children are doing the same back home.
A handful of lights twinkle on the mainland and the wind is gentle and warm as the moon gets brighter and the sun disappears.
The view and atmosphere is worthy of our sore arms and legs as we talk about Bean Rock and the Rangitoto beacon in its red and white splendour, once providing a constant lullaby of light for North Shore children.
With headlamps on, we head back down to our base, with Nic running off first so our dinner of chicken and garlic risotto with shaved parmesan and artisan bread is waiting for us, nice and warm, as we reach the bottom of the volcano.
Knowing we have passed the halfway mark, the group is in high spirits. If you've ever walked to the Greenfields at the Glastonbury Festival in England, you'll know that funny feeling of stumbling around in the dark with a group of strangers happily chatting away in anticipation of your destination, albeit with headlamps on.
As we make it to the bottom, the city lights are in full glow.
It's dark on the island, apart from one bach still lit up with thousands of Christmas lights. The tiny lights on the kayak flags lead us back to Nic, huddled over a Korean barbecue, serving up bowls of delicious risotto on top of a blue and white checked tablecloth. Some restaurant!
"Nic, you should win a Michelin outdoor cooking star," says Abbie Bull, who took her 60-year-old parents on the night kayak a few weeks ago and is back for another trip.
"How about Nic's outdoor cooking programme," says Lisa Custers, from Norway.
As we push our kayaks back into the water, I know it sounds corny, but I look at the sky and see a shooting star, the first I've seen in 20 years. I'm privately pretty pleased; though frivolously waste the wish.
Going on a night kayak can seem daunting, but, the thought of being on a dark ocean is more terrifying than actually being on one - and, don't tell anyone, but it's really not that hard for non-sporty types; if I can do it, so can you.
It's around midnight when we get home from a memorable anniversary, having had better conversation together as we paddled in sync than we would have had sitting opposite each other at a fancy restaurant.
If I could rate the experience out of 10, it would be a 10 - simply brilliant.
Rangitoto sunset/night kayaking takes place every Thursday and Friday night until the end of daylight savings. Pick-up is 4pm at Auckland Ferry Building with a return about 11pm. Price is $195 per person and includes all equipment and full catering.
Phone 0800 999 089 or visit aucklandseakayaks.co.nz.