Making a splash in summer watersport

By Dionne Christian

Waterskier Curtis Williams in action. Photo / Greg Bowker
Waterskier Curtis Williams in action. Photo / Greg Bowker

Dionne Christian jumps in head first to a whole host of aquatic pursuits and finds the water's fine

Idyllic - that's the only way to describe this particular Auckland day: blue sky, a gentle breeze and a cicada or two striking up a seasonal chorus.

If ever there was a day for skiving off and getting out on Auckland's harbours or rivers, this was it. Told to pick a handful of watery pursuits and try a couple out, I jumped in flippers and all. All I can say, is if I can have a go - and have fun - then anyone can!

Jetski fishing
First I headed to Half Moon Bay Marina, in east Auckland, where dozens of keen fishermen had converged after a day's fishing to see whose catch was the biggest. Forget about boats, cumbersome fishing rods or rubber waders; this is fishing with attitude.

Jetski fishing has gained popularity in recent years because it blends the thrill of bouncing across the waves on a personal water craft (PWC) with the more conservative pastime of fishing.

Kind of like killing two fish with one rod, you could say?

Exactly as the name suggests, you take a sleek, sporty and fast PWC so it remains all of those things but you add extras like rod holders, chilly-bins, fish finders and navigation lights so it becomes a fishing platform.

Enthusiasts say jet-skis are quieter and create less turbulence than outboard motor-powered boats, making them less likely to scare off fish; they're easier to manoeuvre and you can ride bigger swells more comfortably than in a mid-sized boat. Being smaller, fuel is cheaper and jet-skis are simple to clean, maintain, store and transport.

Given that ease, you can head out fishing for an hour or two which is perfect when you've got work and family commitments. If you want company, buy a two or three-seater ski and you can take a mate.

Jetskifishing packages (including the PWC) start at around $18,000 if you're starting from scratch or $12,000 for a reliable second-hand jet-ski and kit. Given that, you'd probably want to make sure jet-ski fishing is for you and well and truly suits your lifestyle. A day's rental will set you back about $300.

To find out more:
Jetskifishing 021-864-560 or www.jetskifishing.co.nz

Snorkelling
Who knew squid eggs looked so beautiful? Not me, until I headed north to Leigh and Goat Island Dive for a morning's snorkelling with the very knowledgeable Jenny Enderby.

Donning a diving mask, which covered my nose, an L-shaped tube (the snorkel), flippers and two wetsuits for warmth, I must have looked a bit like the Michelin Man. But who cares about looks when you can swim through clear water and get a good look at what lies beneath the waves?

I had snorkelled before. It was about 20 years ago overseas but when one of our party announced she'd seen a reef shark, I, and the rest of my travelling companions, just about walked - no, sprinted - on water and didn't dip a flipper back in.

Thankfully sharks are almost never spotted in the waters around the Goat Island Marine Reserve, which became the country's first marine reserve in 1975. Because of the "no take" policy that applies here, it means there's much for snorkellers and scuba divers to see.

You can witness the comings and goings of a number of fish including moray eels, snapper, and sting and eagle rays. The fish weren't the only thing that amazed me; I was stunned by the number of underwater plants. It really is a jungle down there and a beautiful one at that.

Though the two-hour Snorkel Experience involved a fair bit of swimming, it was relaxing, mesmerising and so enchanting that it felt almost effortless. At $65, the Goat Island Snorkel Dive experience, including hiring wetsuits, flippers, masks and snorkel, was money very well spent. Scuba dive packages start from $200.

To find out more:
Goat Island Dive, ph 0800 348 369 or see www.goatislanddive.co.nz

Windsurfing
A couple of days later, I was at the Raymond St Reserve in Pt Chevalier shooting the breeze with Pete Smith, of Auckland Windsurfing Ltd, and having my first windsurfing lesson.

Windsurfing has been around for a while, but it waned in popularity in the 1990s when, says Pete, it became too hi-tech. It's now enjoying a revival thanks to the advent of wider and lighter boards better suited to newbie windsurfers.

Nor does it hurt that New Zealand windsurfer Tom Ashley won a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics, capturing the attention of younger surf and skater types.

Put simply, windsurfing is surfing using a sail. Most windsurfers want the buzz of planing across the waves at speed on a high performance craft they can take home on the roof of their car and store in the garage.

It wasn't as hard as I imagined to stand up on the board, turn and manipulate the sail. Then again, I was on dry land and practising on a pivoting simulator because the cowardy custard in me wasn't quite ready to take to the water.

While Pete promises to get absolute beginners on the water and windsurfing in an hour, he recommends two two-hour lessons ($180) enabling newbies who want to get serious about windsurfing to be able to sail where they want to go, turn in both directions and gain an understanding of the sport, safety conditions and equipment. That price also includes equipment hire plus an extra one-hour practise session at the end of each lesson.

To find out more:
Auckland Windsurfing Ltd, ph 0274 845010 or see www.aucklandwindsurfing.co.nz

River kayaking
I've long harboured romantic notions about kayaking, but given my lack of ability feared I'd end up up the creek without a paddle, quite literally. Not so when I joined Sarah Corson, owner and guide of Track & Trail NZ in Clevedon, for the guided two-hour 6km Wairoa River Trail kayaking trip.

Sitting on a double on-top kayak, paddle in hand, I went to work. With Sarah's help - okay, I admit she did most of the paddling - I left Clevedon and paddled past farmland, polo grounds and stands of native bush.

The Wairoa starts in the Hunua Ranges, turns northwards and tumbles over the Hunua Falls and then heads northeast at Clevedon to flow into the Hauraki Gulf. Before it was dammed to create the Wairoa Dam, the river was higher and wider which was just as well because for decades it was the only way into and out of Clevedon village.

As well as the flora and fauna, there were sights to see which offer clues to the Wairoa's historical and cultural significance - a mini-shipwreck, duckshooters' maimai and the remains of wooden wharves and mooring posts from the days when this river was the gateway to a bustling farming trading post.

Today there are around 80 boats moored on the river, which continues to offer relatively easy access to the Hauraki Gulf. Because the Wairoa is safe, calm and not too deep, it is an ideal spot for beginner kayakers, families and for the more experienced paddlers wanting somewhere to train. Track and Trail's Wairoa River trip is fully guided to accommodate a wide range of people. Prices start at $99 per person and up to 22 people can enjoy each River Trail outing.

To find out more:
Track & Trail ph: 0800TRAILNZ or see www.trackandtrail.co.nz

Waterskiing
It was another fine day when I wandered down to the Auckland Water Ski Club (AWSC) at Orakei Basin. I'm told had I been here at 7am, I would have found a number of keen skiers getting their daily adrenalin rush before heading to work.

Talk to anyone who waterskis and they'll admit it's an addictive pastime because - and here's that word again - of the speed as you stand on skis being pulled along behind a boat.

Top skiers can reach speeds of up to 80kph, but for beginners and intermediate skiers, a more sedate 40- 45kph is about right.

Waterskiers usually start in a crouching position and are pulled up out of the water as the boat they're being towed by accelerates. It requires good balance and a certain amount of core strength to hold on.

As well as the skier and the boat driver, a third person comes along for the ride to act as a spotter and keep the driver informed if the skier falls. It's not, then, a sport you can do solo but it is an activity with a number of variations.

Slalom skiing, trick skiing, jumps and barefoot skiing, as well as wakeboarding, are all offered at the AWSC, which started in 1954. The club provides members with the use of a tournament ski boat and driver from Wednesday to Sunday year round and can help beginners find their feet, so to speak. Some of NZ's best skiers are often milling around down there and love to jump in the boat and help out eager new skiers!

To find out more:
Auckland Water Ski Club ph: 520-1530 or see www.awsc.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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