The Auckland region is paradise for sea kayakers. With so many little islands, bays and coves, we're spoiled for choice.
This weekend is the start of Parks Week, so I went out with Nic Mead of Auckland Sea Kayaks to explore two of Auckland's newest - one waterbased, one on land. Sections of Te Ara Moana - the sea-going pathway around Auckland's south-eastern coast - were opened last summer to kayakers. And next weekend, after many delays, the final piece of the jigsaw, Waitawa Regional Park opens. Our little flotilla departed on the most idyllic day from Umupuia Beach, (42km from central Auckland). There was barely a breeze, the sky above us was blue as can be and not a soul, or a sail, in sight. Hugging the coast, we paddled around Duder Regional Park's Whakakaiwhara Point, feeling rather smug that the rest of the world was surely going about its much less pleasurable business. The paddling the entire 15km way was easy, but still we stopped here and there to admire some of the Auckland Council's newest seaside treasures.
Our first stop at Te Wharau (Malua Bay) campsite, gave us the chance to admire the facilities and the spanking new signs outlining the bird life we might encounter. Briefly we disturbed an intimate picnic for two, a happy couple enjoying the beach. Unlike us, they had walked for 40 minutes for their slice of isolation. Leaving them (and four sweet, yet strangely incongruous-looking geese) to it, we continued on our way, cutting across Wairoa Bay to Waitawa Regional Park's Mataitai Bay, which is due to open to the public next weekend (see box for details).
The park is accessible by road (follow signs from Clevedon, the turn off is just before Tapapakanga Regional park). A tribal homeland for Ngati Paoa and Ngai Tai, the park has the best example of a headland pa in the Auckland region, largely unchanged from when it was last occupied. This patch of pebbly beach used to be the Orica Mining Services' dynamite factory and, although the explosives people have upped sticks, this patch of coast is still the bomb, consisting now of an attractive ablutions block and numerous picnic tables. This place will be day-tripper heaven, especially as the planting grows.
All the while, as we paddled, I towed my trolling line, hoping to pick up a fish - optimistically I'd packed lemons, garlic and tin foil, just in case I got lucky.
Rounding the bend, the final little leg, we landed at Waitawa Bay campground, a sweet little cove that consists of a decent stretch of springy grass for pitching tents, a cooking shelter, running water (boil for three minutes before drinking) and a toilet. Everything you need, nothing more, nothing less and just $4-$6 a night for million-dollar views.
With dusk not far from falling, the kahawai breathed a sigh of relief as we made camp: they'll live another day. We enjoyed a pre-dinner swim, watching the sun settle behind the hills and Kawakawa Bay glowing rosily next door.
Back on land, warm and dry (bar the generous sheen of bug spray) Nic presented us with sirloin steak, two impressive salads, artisan bread, even a glass of wine, plus carrot cake for pudding.
When you're in the wild, anything tastes good, but the sort of food Nic whips up would've impressed diners on Ponsonby Rd. The food, the company and the soundtrack of night birds calling to one another, it really was hard to top.
Having kayaked all over the world, Nic reckons the paddling in New Zealand is as good as you'll find anywhere. "Te Ara Moana Trail is a magnificent asset for the Auckland region, it's safe, easy and accessible for people of all abilities. And the great thing about kayaking is the amount of gear you can take. We've brought a lot of stuff you'd never take tramping and it couldn't have been easier. And it's not like you can get here by car."
"It's going to get harder to purchase this kind of land, to maintain the 'New Zealand lifestyle' people expect right on the city fringes ... and here it is.
"We're so fortunate to have a council that's had the foresight to invest in an area like this - they've gone and done something really special."
The next morning, wanting to postpone our departure, we took a pre-breakfast stroll to the top of the hill to where the pa would've been, and the views were outstanding, the water a smooth sheet of glass reflecting Waiheke and Coromandel back to us.
But eventually it was time to return to civilisation and we paddled the short distance to Kawakawa Bay.
The beachfront dairy was a welcome blue beacon, the Tip Top sign insisting icecream was the way to round this trip off.
As for the fishing, I'm sad to say I didn't catch anything, apart from the kayaking bug - and I'll continue to paddle with lemons and garlic, just in case I get lucky.
Need to know
Te Ara Moana Trail: regionalparks.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz
Also known as the Sea Going Pathway, this wonderful 51km waterway can be enjoyed for a single day or over five nights. Comparable to Abel Tasman and so close to Auckland.
Auckland Sea Kayaks: aucklandseakayaks.co.nz
Hire the gear from Nic, from boats to head torches, or take a guided tour, which rather simplifies things. Dry hire or the works, they accommodate all needs.
Waitawa Regional Park Public Open Days
Saturday and Sunday, March 8 and 9, 8.30am-6pm
Mataitai Bay (approximately 53km from central Auckland, 13 km east of Clevedon, on Clevedon-Kawakawa Rd).
Purchased in 2004, it is the first regional park to open since Auckland Council was established. Visitors can walk, swim, kayak, mountain bike, horse ride and fish at the park. Restoration work has already started on regenerating native bush and wetland areas and tackling weeds. Celebrate the opening with disc golf, kite flying, pony rides and guided walks.
Bring walking shoes, drinking water and a picnic or cash for food stalls. Entrance to the park is by shuttle from the gate, so please do not bring dogs and large items such as kayaks, fishing rods and large chilly bins.
From March 10, the park is open from 6am-9pm (daylight saving) and 6am-7pm (non-daylight saving). regionalparks.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz