Auckland’s greatest asset is the island-studded Hauraki Gulf, a 70km-square patch of ocean to the northeast of the city. In Maori, Hauraki means “wind from the north” – though the gulf is somewhat sheltered from the prevailing winds and ocean swells by Great Barrier Island, creating benign conditions for Auckland’s legions of yachties. Most just sail or fish, but those who wish to strike land can visit some of the 47 islands, administered by the Department of Conservation, designated either for recreational use with full access, or as sanctuaries for endangered wildlife, requiring permits.
Auckland’s nearest island neighbour is Rangitoto, a flat cone of gnarled and twisted lava that dominates the harbourscape. The most populous of the gulf islands is Waiheke, increasingly a commuter suburb of Auckland, with sandy beaches and some quality wineries. Wine was definitely verboten at nearby Rotoroa Island, once a Salvation Army de-tox centre and now open for day visits.
Waiheke’s sophistication is a far cry from laidback Great Barrier Island, the largest hereabouts, with its sandy surf beaches, hilly tramping tracks and exceptional fishing. The Department of Conservation’s policy of allowing access to wildlife sanctuaries is wonderfully demonstrated at Tiritiri Matangi, where a day-trip gives visitors an unsurpassed opportunity to see some of the world’s rarest birds.