There are many parts of Auckland worth exploring at sea level, discovers Kirsten Warner.
There is still a coastline within half an hour's drive of Auckland City that most people never go to.
That's the joy of kayaking - take a simple paddle north from Long Bay and within minutes you can be at Granny's Bay, a little beach that's otherwise only accessible on foot. For children this adds a sense of adventure, but keeps it easy.
The beauty of Long Bay is its all-tides access. Waiting on the sand are two sea kayaks - instructor Jane Brockies has a sleek double Barracuda for this novice and herself, and trainee instructor Allan Mears has his beautiful new Skua single.
I've done the occasional paddle in borrowed kayaks, fallen out getting into one jumpy sea kayak, and ended up seasick after paddling a plastic kayak on open coast, but Jane assures me this will be a lot more enjoyable.
She checks my clothing - my top half is okay (polyprop top and merino jumper) but if I get dunked, polar fleece pants will get waterlogged and cold. She's brought me polyprop leggings and a lightweight paddling jacket, as well as a buoyancy aid. She and Allan are in neoprene boots and pants, thermals, strap-on sunglasses and hats with a back flap.
They've already checked the weather forecast and tides. Jane radios "Zulu mike sierra" to the Auckland Coastguard.
These guys are well-prepared for emergencies, with a first aid kit, emergency locator beacon, VHF radio, temporary shelter, spare clothes, food, flares, torch, cellphone and spare oars.
In no time, we're away from it all and alone with the wonderful sea, passing striped yellow cliffs, rolling hills and stop first at Granny's Bay then Pohutukawa Bay. We glide along at 3.2 knots (Allan has a GPS). I'm glad to be in the front seat with a knowledgeable guide.
The sou-westerly punches in at the junction of the Okura and Weiti Rivers. Stillwater is a lovely settlement spilling down steep bush. There is a feeling of remoteness as we cross towards the solitary red barn of the 1850s-era Dacre Cottage at long sandy Karepiro Bay - again, accessible only on foot (3 hours return) via the Okura Bush Walkway.
The dark shadow of a stingray ripples past on the sandy bottom - last time Jane was here, dolphins were hunting them. The channel is deep but the estuary shallow, which makes for extra-safe family paddling.
We stop at Granny's Bay. My companions describe numerous short trips close to Auckland. "It's just lovely pottering around, taking a flask of tea to have somewhere nice and quiet," Jane says.
"There's a lot on your doorstep, it's an unused resource," says Allan.
"Which is great for us!" adds Jane.
Sit-on-top kayaks cost a few hundred dollars new; sea kayaks costs from $2500, plus associated gear. But after the initial investment, the only cost is petrol for the car to get you to and from the water.
Allan fishes by kayak up and down the coast, apart from the Long Bay-Okura Marine Reserve.
Jane is an instructor for Yakity Yak Club, started because hundreds of people were buying kayaks and then not using them.
Off Long Bay, Allan practices rolling his kayak, righting it, climbing back on and pumping it out, and I realise again just how useful some basic training would be.
Jane radios the Coastguard that we're back. Civilisation means a coffee on the terrace of the beachfront Long Bay restaurant (the ice-cream kiosk opens at Labour Weekend).
We bask in that relaxed feeling induced by solitude - in an hour and a half on the water, we saw only one other kayaker.
Canoe & Kayak Ltd rent kayaks from $60 a day or $30 for Yakity Yak Club members. Check them out at 20 Constellation Dr, Mairangi Bay, ph (09) 479 1002, 021 925 489, or go to canoeandkayak.co.nz for a programme of trips with trained leaders, skills courses, and a weekly paddle.By Kirsten Warner