Dec 15 2020 All Articles

Boating paradise: 12 of New Zealand's best boating hot spots

Boating paradise: 12 of New Zealand's best boating hot spots

A story about the top boating destinations in New Zealand could never be a short one. We are spoilt for choices in this idyllic, island nation of ours. Copious kilometres of coastline (15,000, apparently) ache to be explored, and their endless bays, coves, capes, harbours, sounds, fjords and straits await discovery, Add to that all the freshwater opportunities on hand and it’s little wonder that the Kiwi lifestyle is synonymous with enjoying water-related activities.

So, where to go? The good news is that New Zealanders don’t have to travel far to find a great boating spot. We’re never far from water and each region offers a range of fresh and saltwater boating delights. Here we summarise just 12 of the best from Northland to Otago, with plenty in between. 

To make it easy, check out the Discover Boating website that includes heaps of handy boating information on everything from boat ramps and marinas to fishing and diving spots, and more.

So much to cover. Let’s dive right in and start at the top (of the North Island).

1. Bay of Islands, Northland

Mention boating to any Kiwi and chances are the Bay of Islands will be front of mind … and with good reason. This maritime playground is known for its calm, temperate waters and sheltered coves, its sensational scenery, fascinating history and excellent fishing. It’s a top boating destination, dotted with many islands (like 144 of them – yes, that many!) around which are a plethora of snorkelling, diving and fishing spots.

You may have to share the wonder. Chances are pods of dolphins may wish to ‘intrude’ upon your boating adventures. The rich marine life also attracts orcas and whales. Diving and snorkelling for scallops and crayfish is a fruitful endeavour, while the fishing here is world-class.

It’s worth exploring the islands themselves. The three mentioned below provide a taste of the opportunities available:

  • Set sail from Paihia, Russell or Kerikeri and enjoy the walking tracks on the largest island, Urupukapuka, which is pest-free and a great place to relax or enjoy water sports. There’s even a café and bar in Otehei Bay
  • Moturua Island, meanwhile, is where archaeological sites, former naval barracks, and thriving native bird life can be found. There’s also the chance to visit Captain Cook's anchorage
  • Motuarohia (Robertson) Island is pest-free too and home to the brown Kiwi. Beautiful lagoons await at this destination.

The Bay of Islands is also where the internationally recognised Poor Knights Islands can be found. This marine and nature reserve is abundantly populated with unique and incredibly varied plant, animal and fish life.

2. Hauraki Gulf, Auckland

Those living in New Zealand’s most populated city don’t have to go far to find a glorious harbour. The Hauraki Gulf, right on Auckland’s doorstep, comprises 50-plus islands offering calm sandy beaches, rugged landscapes, areas dedicated to wildlife conservation, and 500 sheltered island anchorages.

If venturing beyond the inner harbour is on your radar, then Waiheke Island is a popular and easy-to-access destination. It’s a favourite of many, with its vineyards, galleries, cafes, boutiques, relaxed vibe and many anchorages to pull into.

A boating excursion to Kawau Island or Great Barrier Island on the outer edge of the gulf is well worth considering. The Barrier, for example, is known for its diving and fishing, birdlife, bushwalks and beautiful beaches, and there's even a hot thermal spring (Kaitoke) to soak in. Keep an eye out for whales, dolphins and blue penguins on your gulf travels.

Tip: cast a line in the Motuihe channel – a famous local fishing spot.

3. The Bay of Plenty

Mt Maunganui and Ōhope beaches are oft voted the country’s best.  These east coast beauties have plenty to attract those who like to be out on the water. The sunny Bay of Plenty boasts harbours to provide shelter, sandy beaches and great fishing.

Islands to venture out to include Tūhua/Mayor Island and Mōtītī Island near Tauranga. Down the coast there’s the pest-free oasis of Moutohorā/Whale Island near Ōhope.

4. The Waikato River

For a move from the salt to the fresh water, head inland to the Waikato River. This mighty river (New Zealand’s longest) is perfect for small boats and those who enjoy kayaking, water skiing or exploring.

5. Rotorua Lakes

The possibilities are plentiful when it comes to boating, watersports and fishing in and around Rotorua thanks to more than a dozen major volcanic lakes. The better known ones include Lake Rotorua itself, Tarawera, Rotoiti, Okareka and the picturesque Blue Lake. The latter (named for its rich colour) is popular with families thanks to excellent camping grounds, picnic areas and walking tracks.

There are thermal pools, accessible by boats, nestled on the shores of some lakes – check out Lake Rotoiti, for example.

6. Lake Taupō

Described as the Big Daddy of New Zealand Lakes, this lake is plenty big enough to accommodate boatloads of action. Jet boats or skis, scenic cruises, swimming, kayaking, fishing, sailing, parasailing… it’s all go on Taupō’s typically calm waters. Venture along the lake front to see the famous Maori rock carvings created in the 1970s to protect the lake from further volcanic activity. Along the lake's shores you may encounter the odd hot spring. The south end of the lake also includes popular holiday spots.

7. Wellington

Being dubbed New Zealand’s “Windy City” isn’t usually such a great thing, but our capital city often has winds that boatie’s consider favourable and duly use to their advantage. The city is built around a clear, wide harbour and offers plenty of boating activity.

8. Marlborough Sounds

Boating options are endless in this scenic part of the north-eastern tip of the South Island. There’s more than 1500km of coastline to explore, offering what’s considered some of the best sailing in the country. Picton, Havelock and Waikawa are the three main harbours to depart from. Cruising the picture-perfect Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru and Pelorus Sounds is a visual delight. Chances are, bottlenose and hectors dolphins, king shags, blue penguins and fur seals may also catch your eye.

Refer to the Marlborough Sounds Cruise Guide interactive app and website for information regarding marinas, anchorages, boat ramps, moorings, facilities etc in this boating mecca.

9. Abel Tasman National Park

Just on the other side of Marlborough is the spectacular Nelson-Tasman region with its golden beaches, crystal clear and clean waters and abundance of wildlife, from fur seals and dolphins to whales, herons and penguins.  Abel Tasman National Park is reputed to be one of New Zealand's most incredible places to experience by sea. Located in one of the sunniest places in the country, it offers boaties a chance to find their own secluded bay to pull into for the day.  Torrent Bay is arguably the pick of boat anchorages in this wonderland.

You may wish to pay some attention to Tonga Island Marine Reserve - a protected area  next to the Abel Tasman National Park that offers spectacular snorkelling opportunities. Here an attractive pink algae coats much of the rocks and the area and it’s a rich feeding ground for countless fish species.

Want to go further afield? Head out to d’Urville Island, population about 50, where you can stop for a meal and a drink and a spot of mountain biking or hunting, and rest your head.

10. Canterbury

From braided rivers to wide expanses of ocean, and lakes too, there is much on offer in terms of boating destinations within the Canterbury region.

Locals will encourage a visit to Akaroa Peninsular for wildlife encounters, vibrant blue waters, towering coastal cliffs, and a history lesson incorporating French settlers. If your boat is made for fishing and you’re after a success story, the Rakaia River beckons. It’s allegedly the best fly-fishing spot in the country.

11. Central Otago's lakes

Central Otago is about so much more than massive sheep stations and vineyards. Think pristine, aquamarine alpine lakes and you’re on the way to grasping the enchantment of this area from a boating point of view. These lakes have been described as offering “an embarrassment of riches”. Lake Wakatipu at Queenstown, Lake Wanaka, Lake Hawea are amongst the better known ones (note: you need a licence to fish these lakes). Don’t bypass destinations such as Twizel and Ōhau, and other stunners, in the neighbouring MacKenzie Basin.

12. Fiordland

Mention Fiordland and “majestic” comes to mind.  This magical part of the country, with its spectacular fiords of the South Island’s West Coast offers what’s described as a one-of-a-kind sailing adventure. Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound are incredible places to visit and enjoy on a boat.

It’s no surprise that Fiordland’s unique landscapes attract a number of sailors and divers every year, attracted to the inky blue waters, soaring waterfalls, ancient rainforests and underwater wonderland.

Sheltered coves, hidden waterfalls, dolphins, seals and the occasional whale just add to the wow. Talk boating in New Zealand and, as you can see, the opportunities are endless and incredible.

Looking for the right cover on the water in New Zealand?

No matter where you're boating in New Zealand, Mariner Insurance is here to support you. We have been offering Kiwis specialist marine insurance in New Zealand for over a decade with cover for all types of boats and watercraft. Just talk to us about what you’re doing on the water, and we can tailor one of our insurance policies to fit.