New Zealand: Cruising the Bay of Islands

  |  Gorp.com

New Zealand is the only charter destination in the world where you can sail in the morning and ski in the afternoon. It is also perhaps the most distant cruising ground accessible to the bareboater—14 hours flying time from the west coast of the United States. But the country that awaits you at the other end more than compensates for the long hours aloft.
From Auckland, the first stop on most cruises is the old whaling town of Russell, a short sail away. Take time to visit the museum and the church, which is the oldest in New Zealand. Across the water lies Waitangi, New Zealand's most important historical site. The Treaty House and Maori meeting house are national monuments well worth a visit.
The Bay of Islands, also easily accessible via an Auckland launch, offers everything from uninhabited islands to small coves hemmed in by steep hills. You can sail around Cape Brett to Whangamumu Harbor, which was a whaling station until the 1930s. But the highlight of your charter is a visit to Kerikeri, where missionary Samuel Marsden founded a mission station in 1819. The stone mission store still stands beside a quiet pool reached by a long, tidal channel. High overhead broods the great pa (fortified village) of the Maori chief Hongi Hika. Spend a day here, touring the mission and the pa.
The Bay of Islands is a compact cruising ground, so much so that Kerikeri Inlet is only seven miles from Russell. Few charter areas offer such variety in so small a compass, with so many unique sights and fine beaches close at hand.
Practically Speaking
You will want to spend a minimum of two weeks in New Zealand, at least one of them ashore (you shouldn't miss the sights of the South Island), the remainder afloat. Most charterers land at Auckland, spend a day there, rent a car, then drive three and a half hours north to the Bay of Islands. You can sail from Auckland or take a week-long coastal charter, but we strongly recommend starting in the Bay of Islands your first time around. The charter base, located at the village of Opua, has a good selection of yachts in the 27- to 40-foot range.
The anchorage off Russell can be uncomfortable, so you are best off sailing into the sheltered waters in the Bay of Islands itself. You beat out into the prevailing winds and anchor in any one of six coves in nearby Manawaora Bay.

Published: 8 Jul 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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