There’s no reason to be bored in the Auckland region. Greg Dixon takes a look at 10 of the top offerings nature provides
Drink in the view
A day on Rotoroa
For more than 100 years, little Rotoroa Island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf has been an island apart - off-limits to all but the boozehounds who were sent there to dry out at the Salvation Army's rehab centre. Today, they and their carers are gone and Rotoroa is the gulf's newest conservation estate - and a jolly fine day out for the family. At just 82ha, the island is large enough for a bit of a walk, but small enough not to get lost. There are three swimming beaches and places for picnics and barbecues. For those wanting to explore the history of the island there is an exhibition centre and the jail were the souses sobered up, as well as an 1860s schoolhouse, an old buttery and a chapel. There is also boutique accommodation in three cool, retro holiday homes. Return ferry tickets from Auckland to the island are $49 for adults, $29 for children or $127 for a family of two adults and two children. For more information, go to rotoroa.org.nz or call 0800 76 86 76.
Art of the Gulf
Headland: Sculpture in the Gulf, Waiheke Island
Billed as the country's premier contemporary outdoor sculpture festival, this offers a combination of 30 new, large-scale sculptures from established and emerging artists exhibited against a backdrop of amazing coastal views along a spectacular 2.5km walkway. This year marks the 10th anniversary and, to celebrate this milestone, the organisers have a much expanded Waiheke "experience" awaiting visitors with the introduction of a new Pavilion at Matiatia Bay. This year the artists include Christian Nicolson, Fatu Feu'u and Gregor Kregar. Headland is open daily from 8.30am from January 25 to February 17. For more information, visit sculptureonthegulf.co.nz
A real tweet
The dawn chorus on Tiritiri Matangi
A visit to Tiritiri Matangi - the name means "tossed by the wind" - is a must for Aucklanders (and visitors to the region) with a passion for our bird life, and for fine short walks with some of the best views in Auckland. Tiri, which is an open sanctuary managed by the Department of Conservation, is home to a dozen of our endangered birds, including the takahe and the kokako, and a typical day trip will almost certainly mean hearing or seeing them. An overnight stay at the DoC-operated bunkhouse means an even greater treat, it is as close as you'll get to hearing the country's pre-20th century dawn chorus. For information on travelling to Tiri (Wednesday to Sunday) go to 360discovery.co.nz and to book beds in the bunkhouse (places are limited, so reserve well in advance) go to doc.govt.nz/tiritiribunkhouse
Snorkelling at Cape Rodney-Okakari Point Marine Reserve
More commonly known as the Goat Island or Leigh Marine Reserve, the 547 ha of protected shore and sea between Cape Rodney to Okakari Point became New Zealand's first marine reserve in 1975 and is as near as you'll come to visiting pre-human New Zealand waters. As the Department of Conservation notes, nowhere else on this coast teems with such a profusion of sea life - and the best way to see it is with a snorkel and flippers. If you don't have your own, there are places to hire them. Or, if you're a bit iffy about getting in the water, you can take a glass-bottom boat trip or visit the University of Auckland's Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre. For information on activities in and around the reserve, go to leighbythesea.co.nz. To find out more about the discovery centre, see goatislandmarine.co.nz
A Hunua Ranges walk
When Aucklanders think "bush walk", they typically think of the Waitakere Ranges. However, the rugged, beautiful Hunua Ranges just south-east of the city, are the region's largest forested landscape, encompassing more than 14,000 hectares of native forest. The park itself features tramping tracks, mountain biking, amazing scenery, fishing, swimming pools and waterfalls. The ranges are also home to Auckland's only mainland population of one of its rarest birds, the kokako, and a refuge for the native Hochstetter's frog (pepeke). The most popular track is the Hunua Falls loop track, which takes less than an hour. However, for those who want something a little more challenging there is the Wairoa Loop Track, which takes around three hours and offers a good mix of bush and views, though it is only for those with a reasonable level of fitness and experience. For maps, directions and more information go to regionalparks.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/hunuaranges
Kaitarakihi Bay, secret beach
Forget the West Coast. Forget the crowded sands of Takapuna or Narrow Neck. If you're looking for a quieter spot to splash about with the kids, then Kaitarakihi Beach at the north-western end of Manukau Harbour is the place you need to be. Lying quietly between Cornwallis and Huia, Kaitarakihi has a sandy beach, grassy reserve and, if you're after fine views of the Manukau Heads, only a short walk from the Spragg Memorial. The bay is not as tidal as some of the nearby beaches, which means good swimming most of the time. Its proximity to the Heads also means the water is clear and clean. And don't fret that it's too far from a good feed at the end of a long hot day: Kaitarakihi is only five minutes' drive from coffee, icecreams and fish 'n' chips at the Huia Beach Store & Cafe. To get there, turn left into Kaitarakihi Rd off Huia Rd, just after Cornwallis Rd. The beach is accessed through a gate, which closes at 9pm during the daylight saving period.
Whale of a time
Dolphin and whale spotting in the Hauraki Gulf
Did you know that more than 25 of the 37 Southern Hemisphere marine mammals have been identified in this Hauraki Gulf marine park, making up almost a third of the world's species? Take a gulf cruise with Auckland's Whale and Dolphin Safari and (based on the company's past success) you'll have 90 per cent chance of seeing dolphins and 75 per cent chance of seeing a whale. During the four-and-a-half hour cruise, which includes commentary about the culture and history of the marine park, you might see common dolphins, Bryde's whales, orca and bottlenose dolphins, as well as huge variety of birds and fish.
Adults pay $160, children $105, and families of four (two adults, two children) $399. A portion of your fare contributes to marine mammal research and conservation. For further information see explorenz.co.nz/Whale-Dolphin-Safari
See their garden grow
Eden Gardens, Epsom
Nothing, but nothing is as restful as a quiet walk around a lovely garden. For those looking for something less overwhelming than the wonderful Auckland Botanic Gardens, try the Eden Gardens in Epsom. The 2.2ha award-winning garden on the side of Mt Eden includes perennials, vireyas, camellias, bromeliads and native New Zealand plants as well waterfalls, rock formations, resident native birds and fabulous city and harbour views.
And, whether it takes you all day or just an hour, you should definitely visit Bloom Cafe for a cup of tea and something homemade.
Adults $8, seniors $6, children under 12 free. See edengarden.co.nz for opening times and location.
Strawberry fields forever
Berry picking with the family
An old-school treat for all the family, BYO icecream optional. There are strawberry growers around the Auckland region. We suggest the Phil Greig Strawberry Gardens, 464 State Highway 16, Kumeu. Ph (09) 412 7329.By Greg Dixon Email Greg