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.
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."
Need to know
• Te Ara Moana - the seagoing pathway, between Omana and Waharau regional parks, southeast Auckland.
• For campsite bookings, contact Auckland Council, 09 366 2000.
Kayak and camping equipment hire, and transfers to and from the trail: Auckland Sea Kayaks
Te Ara Moana checklist
• Take a Te Ara Moana trail map
• Book campsites
• Check marine weather forecast and tides
• Check kayak, drain plug and equipment
• Wear a lifejacket at all times.
• Make sure you have adequate camping gear, food, clothing and drinking water
• Take two forms of communication (e.g. cell phone/VHF radio) in a watertight bag
• Tell someone your plans and when you're due back
• Check your kayak and equipment for plant and animal pests
Other regional park sea kayak camping experiences
Mahurangi Regional Park: Four waterfront campsites are available. Plenty of sheltered estuaries to explore by kayak, as well as more exposed coastline and islands,
Shakespear Regional Park: Te Haruhi Bay campground is a great base for kayaking outings along the Whangaparaoa Peninsula.
Wenderholm Regional Park: Schischka Campground is a large new campsite on the Puhoi River estuary which is great for families
Tawharanui Regional Park: Has a vehicle-base campsite for kayak day-trips along the bays and small harbours of Kawau Bay.
Whakanewha Regional Park, Waiheke: Kayak across to Waiheke Island from the mainland, take your kayak on the ferry, or hire a kayak on the island and take a guided trip.
Awhitu Regional Park: The campground is a great base for exploring the western Manukau.