Take as as many days as you like to kayak around the sheltered bays of Auckland, says Sarah Ell

You don't have to go to the Abel Tasman National Park to enjoy sea-kayak camping along a beautiful stretch of sheltered coastline. Just 45 minutes from the central city is Te Ara Moana - the Seagoing Pathway, a multi-day self-guided sea kayak trail promoted by Auckland Council.

The trail links five of the regional parks on the southeastern coast, from Omana near Maraetai down to Waharau on the Firth of Thames. Several of the network of campsites can only be accessed by water, offering a unique wilderness experience close to the city. Cruising along a largely undeveloped shoreline, picnicking and camping on parkland, you can feel like you're a thousand miles from civilisation.

Though navigating this coastline in a plastic canoe might be a relatively new thing, waka have been utilising the area for hundreds of years. Te Ara Moana is one of many routes traditionally used by Maori to move around the Hauraki Gulf and Firth of Thames, and this heritage is visible at many of the sites along the trail, especially at the Duder and Waitawa regional parks.

Southern parks ranger Mags Ramsey says you don't have to be an experienced paddler to enjoy it; the trail mostly hugs the coastline and it is sheltered from Auckland's predominant southwesterly winds. Help, if required, is never far away: there are Auckland Council staff stationed at the parks and the trail is never far from the road between parks.

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The trail is designed to be done over five days, with overnight stops at the Duder, Waitawa, Tawhitokino and Tapapakanga regional parks, but the distances aren't huge and Ramsey says it can be done in just two or three days.

It's around 11 km paddling from Omana to Duder, then another 14 km to Waitawa, then 10 km on to Tawhitokino, 10 km further to Tapapakanga and another 8 km to the finish at Waharau.

"The number of campgrounds mean you can do it really fast or really slow, according to time and weather and paddling ability," says Ramsey.

You can also do sections of the trail as day trips, with all the parks except Tawhitokino accessible by road, or use the seafront campgrounds as bases to explore the nearby islands of the Tamaki Strait.

Ramsey's favourite spot on the trail is Tawhitokino, a small park only usually accessible on foot at low tide.

"It's a lovely sandy beach with no road access, with old pohutukawa along it -it's just stunning."

While you don't need to book the trail as such, potential kayakers need to book into the campsites through Auckland Council, and of course leave notice of their intentions - tell someone where and when you're going, and when to expect you back.

"One of the things about kayaking is you have to be flexible, as the weather can change," Ramsey says.

Nic Mead of Auckland Sea Kayaks, which has the council concession to rents boats and gear to paddlers on the trail, says the trail is growing in popularity but he's "super-surprised" more people haven't tried it.

Mead, who has kayaked all over the world, says the trail's close proximity to the city makes it a fantastic resource.

"It's a coastline that people otherwise don't often go to. It's like paddling the Abel Tasman without having to go all that distance - it's an absolute gem."

Te Ara Moana. Photo / Supplied
Te Ara Moana. Photo / Supplied