My grandmother used to say I had salt water in my veins. I'm not sure that is true, but I know that being on or near the ocean is essential to my wellbeing, which is why I'm so happy the Bay of Islands in my hometown.
For me the Bay of Islands is all about the water, the bays, the channels, the inlets, the beaches, and the harbours. There is nothing like sitting on the back of a boat or on a local headland watching the sun slip quietly down below the horizon after a day on, beside, or in the water.
You can get out on the water in the Bay of Islands for a little as $1. Just jump on the Ōpua-Ōkiato car ferry as a foot passenger and you get a boat ride across the Veronica Channel. If you are a keen walker you can complete the Ōkiato to Russell walk, catch another ferry back to Paihia ($13 per adult) then walk from Paihia back to your starting point at the Ōpua car ferry ramp. Two boat rides and a day's walking beside the sea, all for less than $15.
There are around 140 islands in the Bay of Islands. Motuarohia (Roberton), Moturua, Okahu, Waewaetorea and Urupukapuka Islands in the eastern part of the bay all have extensive public conservation land. There are fabulous walking tracks and the local conservation group Project Island Song has done a fantastic job eradicating pests and replanting. Walking around you will likely see some of our precious native birds including the saddleback (tīeke), bellbird (korimako) and the NZ robin (toutouwai), as well as some of our more familiar feathered friends the tūī and fantail (tīrairaka).
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There are plenty of ways to get out to these islands, from the excellent ferry services provided by Fullers Great Sights and Explore NZ to the many fantastic day charters such as the exciting sailing aboard the 33' Barefoot Sailing catamaran. Though summer is the most popular time for visitors, if you are serious about enjoying the tranquillity of the islands, getting out in autumn and winter offers a wonderful experience.
If you are a boat owner, you're probably already familiar with the great marine services businesses in Ōpua. Burnsco or Cater Marine have all the boat bits you'll need. Other local companies provide sailmaking, boat building, marine engines, with major refits and new boats being built here in Ōpua. Even though the country is "closed", we have plenty of wonderful international yachties living here, as the NZ Government has generously extended their visitor visas during the pandemic, providing an international vibe in the marina.
If you are a boat owner wannabe you can wander around the marinas, drool over some of the beautiful craft tied up, then stop at the Marina Cafe for a great coffee and snack. If it is around lunchtime their Asian fusion menu is a real gourmet delight. Later in the day the Ōpua Cruising Club will be open, and visitors are welcome. They have great prices on drinks and the boaties' platter from the kitchen sustains the most ravenous adventurer.
When all this water and boating activity inspires you to learn to sail, you can take an adventure holiday where you learn to sail, then get to sail the boat by yourselves. Set aside a week and we can turn you into a competent sailor, successfully navigating the calm waters, sheltered anchorages, numerous secluded bays, and stunning scenery, in one of the best cruising destinations in the world. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
Julie Kidman co-owns and operates Great Escape Sailing in the Bay of Islands.