Diana Clement takes to the harbour and finds Auckland a breeze to negotiate, thanks to the ferries.
Clement family adventures often begin with unexpected turns of events. Who could have expected that the act of my car blowing a cam belt somewhere in the backblocks of Helensville would lead to an odyssey to explore Auckland by water?
The AA towed said car to Pit Stop Westgate, where the mechanics worked wonders. The problem was how to get from Devonport to the end of the Northwestern Motorway to retrieve it.
"Catch the West Harbour ferry and I'll pick you up," Paul the mechanic suggested. In an instant a whole new way of exploring my city was revealed.
Harbours, harbours everywhere. Despite living in Auckland for two-thirds of my life, I had no idea that there was a West Harbour ferry service.
A somewhat bemused daughter was told: "We're off on an adventure" and we set out to downtown Auckland in search of Pier 3C.
Armed with to-die-for ice creams from Valentinos, we wandered on to the floating pontoon to await our boat.
"It's teensy," my daughter laughed when the ferry appeared, looking like a toy boat beneath the cruise liner docked at Princes Wharf.
However, it was not as teensy as I expected. People were loading bicycles on to the ferry, which opened a whole new world of possibilities to me. I've often wanted to cycle the back roads of Riverhead, Helensville and surrounding areas but have felt it's just too far to go. Not, however, if you start at West Harbour.
I've never seen the Chelsea Sugar Works or the cliffs and bush of Chatswood from the water and we ducked from side to side of the ferry to see which suburbs we could recognise.
Another realm of possibility struck me fair and square between the eyes when we finally glided into our berth at Westpark Marina - why not catch a ferry to dine on the waterfront in another part of the city? At West Harbour, the Marina Restaurant & Bar has a great-sounding brunch/lunch menu and Acoustic Sundays on the deck from 1pm-4.30pm.
Getting there: belaire.co.nz.
Half Moon Bay
The ferry ride from downtown Auckland to Half Moon Bay skirts Auckland's scenic eastern sea front, passing the bays from Okahu to St Heliers. It then turns into the Tamaki Estuary, docking at the Half Moon Bay Marina.
The 500-berth marina is beautiful, but not a tourist destination in its own right. Thanks, however, to a fine new boardwalk, it is an easy amble from the marina to Bucklands Beach, which screams out for children, togs, ice cream and picnics.
The entrance to the walkway is slightly hidden at the southeastern end of the marina, where it ducks behind the boatyards, before crossing the mudflats as it winds its way to the southern end of Bucklands Beach.
From there, it's a 10-minute walk north/northeast to the centre. The energetic can continue walking to Musick Point at the end of the peninsula.
There are two options for a caffeine break. Either stop at the basic Portacabin Oceans cafe at the marina, or hold on to that craving until you get to Bucklands Beach, where two cafes and the Barracuda Restaurant are within metres of each other.
Getting there: fullers.co.nz.
My apologies to the good folk of Pine Harbour but it was only when I started riding Auckland's lesser-known ferries that I realised that Pine Harbour and Gulf Harbour weren't the same place. Other Aucklanders I quizzed were equally stumped. For the record, it's at Beachlands, out east.
I should have known about Pine Harbour. It's an oasis of civilisation. The Pine Harbour Fresh Market offers French breads and pastries straight from the oven, charcuterie, fromage, fresh fish, quality produce, and much more at market prices. The market runs every Saturday, rain or shine. For other times, two eateries are at the marina itself: The Jolly Roger Pub and Pepperjacks Cafe, which has a children's play area and kids' menu.
Buses meet the ferries and will take you five minutes up the road to the entrance of the Omana Regional Park or 10 minutes to nearby Maraetai. Sadly, the ferries only run on weekdays, although a weekday school holiday visit is possible.
Getting there: pineharbour.co.nz.
At Whangaparaoa's eastern end is the furthest of Auckland's mainland commuter wharves. It's popular with boaties and golf enthusiasts alike as two golf courses are within walking distance of the marina.
Unlike some of the commuter services, the weekend service runs at more civilised hours than the weekday because the 360 Discovery Cruises Tiritiri Matangi service from Auckland also offers fares to and from Gulf Harbour.
Energetic visitors would be advised to bring a bicycle with them to Gulf Harbour and cycle to the newly reopened Shakespear Regional Park, which is less than 5km away. Less intrepid visitors can have brunch or lunch at Ripples Cafe at the marina and marvel at the stingrays and other sea life going about their business in the crystal-clear waters.
The trip to Auckland takes 50 minutes, which as a fellow passenger pointed out is faster than driving and, at $28.10 return for an adult, stacks up quite well against the cost of fuel for using a car.
The route gives a grandstand view of Auckland's northern bays and, as we rounded North Head, a reminder of just how beautiful Devonport and its surrounding suburbs are from the water.
Getting there: gulf-harbour.co.nz.
The commuter wharves at Birkenhead and Northcote Pt are both well located for tourists. It is possible also to catch a ferry to one and walk or cycle to the other for the return. Talking cafes first, both have some good eateries nearby. Sausalito Cafe next to the Bridgeway Cinema is a favourite, The Engine Room across the road is renowned as one of Auckland's best, and the little Cafe Bonjour at 143 Queen St offers authentic pastries. Nearer to the Birkenhead Wharf is the Hinemoa Street Organic Cafe.
The other thing to do is to walk up from Northcote Pt through Little Shoal Bay Reserve and Le Roys Bush, then down to Hinemoa Park, where you catch a return ferry from the Birkenhead wharf.
Getting there: fullers.co.nz.
As a local I was surprised to find that Discovery 360 runs a hop-on, hop-off service which, for $11 return, drops off passengers three times a day at Torpedo Bay, the trendy end of Devonport. The return trip is on any Fullers Ferry leaving the Devonport wharf, 15 minutes' walk back along the waterfront.
At the Torpedo Bay wharf is the Royal New Zealand Navy Museum and the Torpedo Bay Cafe, one of the few absolute waterfront cafes on the North Shore. It's a hop, skip and a jump from the wharf to walk up historic North Head, where you can explore its tunnels and marvel at the view.
If you can find it, a hidden walkway runs around the base of North Head, entered through a tunnel from the Torpedo Bay end.
This track offers, in the writer's opinion, the most picturesque few hundred metres of coastal walkway within the city limits of Auckland.
To get there, turn right at the entrance on Takarunga Road, and skirt the perimeter fence before dropping down through a tunnel to the walkway. It finishes at the southern end of Cheltenham Beach.
Getting there: 360discovery.co.nz.
Devonport's tourism charms are well known. Nearby are two of Auckland's lesser-known ferry wharves: Stanley Bay and Bayswater. There isn't much to do or see at Stanley Bay, except for swim out to the pontoon, wander over to the navy's Ngataringa Sports Complex or meander along Calliope Rd to central Devonport.
A day-trip to Bayswater, however, could include a windsurfing lesson at Bayswater Wind Sports, which is just outside the ferry terminal.
Or, like many of these wharves, it is possible to do a spot of fishing. The annual Tom Tiddler Kids' Fishing Competition at Bayswater is hugely popular.
Getting there: fullers.co.nz.By Diana Clement Email Diana