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A playground right on our doorstep

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Whether it be a quiet picnic on the beach or one of many island tours, the Hauraki Gulf provides much entertainment. File photo / Brett Phibbs
Whether it be a quiet picnic on the beach or one of many island tours, the Hauraki Gulf provides much entertainment. File photo / Brett Phibbs

What a fantastic asset the Hauraki Gulf is. And how lucky we are to have it on the doorstep of our biggest city. But what a pity we don't make more use of its marvellous recreational potential.

Just think: 4000sq km of (reasonably) sheltered waters, still surprisingly rich with marine life, more than 50 beautiful islands, hundreds of kilometres of superb coastline full of quiet coves and glorious beaches and, perhaps best of all, most of it remarkably accessible.

Of course the Gulf is a particular paradise for boaties. But the great thing is that even if you don't have a boat you can explore most of it by car or on foot, by bus or ferry. And I'm not sure how widely that is appreciated.

Most people now seem to be aware of the attractions of Waiheke, its beaches supplemented by superb wine and food, and the historic seaside suburb of Devonport, with its bookshops, art galleries, antique stores and cafes.

But there are several more equally wonderful places you can get to by public transport.

There's Rangitoto with its volcanic crater, caves and pohutukawa forest; Tiritiri Matangi, its forest cover replanted by volunteers, now alive with re-introduced birds; Motutapu and Motuihe, both ringed by beautiful beaches and now also being restored by volunteers; Rakino, dotted with baches whose owners try to keep its tranquil beauty a secret; Kawau, offering a unique mix of native bush and exotic plants, family baches and Sir George Grey's Mansion House; and Great Barrier Island, with its fiercely independent locals, teeming seas and spectacular walks.

If you haven't visited these places - or haven't been there recently - you're missing out. A couple of weeks ago I went to Motuihe for the first time in, oh, 50 years and it was even better than I remembered.

If you're in the same boat - no pun intended - now is a good time to remedy the situation. Over the next couple of months Fullers, who operate most of the ferry services on the Gulf, are offering Herald Travel readers the chance to get up to 50 per cent off fares from Auckland to Waiheke, Rangitoto or Coromandel town (Discount vouchers only available in the Herald Travel print edition).

Fullers are also running a few special cruises which will provide the chance to view islands like Little Barrier, Motuketekete, Motukareka, Motuora and the Noises where ferries don't usually go. And Auckland City is organising free guided walks on Waiheke.

There's a certain irony in all this because it is being done to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park which - along with the associated Hauraki Gulf Forum - has scarcely impinged on the public consciousness.

But forget that the reason for the cheap fares is a non-event. Take advantage anyway. Get out and make the most of this fabulous marine playground.

- NZ Herald

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