Your Money and careers writer for the NZ Herald

Mahurangi Harbour: Catch of the day by kayak

Fresh air, exercise, great scenery and dinner potentially waiting on the line. Diana Clement goes kayak fishing.

If you're lucky, this is the kind of catch you could land on a kayak fishing trip with Time Unlimited. Photo / Alex Wallace Photography Limited
If you're lucky, this is the kind of catch you could land on a kayak fishing trip with Time Unlimited. Photo / Alex Wallace Photography Limited

Water, water everywhere. Yet it's all too easy to live in Auckland and never to get out on the ocean.

So when the email arrived suggesting I go kayak fishing with Time Unlimited Tours how could I turn down the chance to get up close and personal with one of our harbours?

A few weeks later, armed with a hat and sun lotion - Time provides everything else - I set off on my adventure, which on the day in question began at Mahurangi Regional Park, with transport provided from Takapuna.

One of the reasons tour operator Neill (pronounced Nail) Sperath chooses the Mahurangi Harbour for kayak fishing is that it's sheltered as well as being stunning coastline, which he describes as "Abel Tasman without the crowds".

With more adventurous guests he'll often go further afield.

Before heading out for the day, my biggest fear, thanks to a Facebook friend, was of a huge shark or marlin towing me all the way to Tonga. Fortunately, as I discovered before we paddled out, the lines are designed to break if you hook anything larger than 6kg.

Neill takes safety seriously and looked a bit like a sea-borne Rambo with all his technology strapped to his chest, including a cellphone, GPS, personal locator beacon, VHF radio, and flares.

The day is part educational and after our fears were set to rest we got a quick lesson in how to prepare for a kayak fishing expedition as we unloaded and prepared the kayaks at Tarawa Bay (also known as Sullivan's Bay).

The route we took first crossed the harbour and headed for Mahurangi East - which is accessible by boat only - passing Dairy Bay and then calling in at the pohutukawa lovers' paradise of Big Bay to prepare bait and have a bite to eat.

Time's clients are often experienced at fishing. On the day I went out three of us - all Kiwis - had virtually never fished in our lives. Neill took it in his stride and chopped the bait when we raised a collective eyebrow at the sight of the ooze coming from the squid's stomach.

One of the great aspects of kayak fishing is that you don't need to be super-fit. In total we kayaked about five kilometres, which isn't excessive.

For a semi-fit person, albeit with little upper body strength, the Viking sea kayaks are not difficult to propel. In fact they glide through the water with great speed.

As dusk started to fall (we'd fished to the last light) the shore seemed hundreds of metres away, yet was reached relatively quickly.

Unlike a kayak tour, where you may be paddling long distances, fishing requires that you drop anchor. The reality is that the day is part kayaking, part fishing, part scenery, part bird watching, part relaxation.

On leaving Big Bay we paddled out to a nearby headland to begin our fishing. This was one of Neill's secret fishing spots and the fish were biting, but not stupid enough to get snared in the hook.

Neill prefers to fish reasonably close to land but in areas not frequented by boats. After Big Bay, we fished off Dairy Bay, and then paddled to Te Haupa Island (Saddle Island) for a late lunch/early dinner of Wild Wheat sandwiches, hot tea, coffee or soup, and other treats.

The beauty of the beaches we visited is that they're uninhabited bar one ARC bach, and the water surrounding them is crystal clear. As we paddled up to Te Haupa Island, the only thing to be seen other than lumbering pohutukawa was the green and yellow DOC signpost that lets you know you've arrived somewhere special.

The other diversion while we were fishing was the birdlife. Gannets are common. One decided to pop up beside my kayak at one point, but took one look at me and changed its mind.

Penguin and dolphins are also a common sight - although not on the day we went.

Our final fishing spot - the most successful for the day - was off Pudding Island, a small rock off Otarawao Bay.

There the snapper were biting and my novice friends were landing fish almost as fast as they could bait their hooks and drop them back down.

Although we didn't catch any, Time's guests often fish up kahawai and trevally as well as a number of other species. The most unusual catch was a mullet, which decided to jump into someone's kayak at one point.

Neill, whose business has a Qualmark Enviro Gold award, is environmentally minded and ensured anything landed that was less than legal size was quickly sent back from whence it came.

It was just the tourism operator's luck that the journalist was the only guest who failed to land a fish from her rod - although the long line hooked a number of snapper and I didn't go hungry.

Kayak fishing is a growing sport in New Zealand. But the gear's not cheap, which makes a tour such as Time's a great way to experience the activity without having to buy the trailer and paraphernalia.

The company also offers personalised Auckland tours, kite fishing, wilderness walking, kayaking, and marae stays.


* Time Unlimited Tours, Ph (09) 446 6677.

* Full-day kayak fishing: $295 per person including lunch, snacks and drinks.

- NZ Herald

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