Whether it's cruising a secluded bay or inlet, exploring uninhabited islands, or sailing in harbors and on lakes, New Zealanders have got boating down to a fine art. Of course, Auckland is famous for its excessive boat tally, but you'll find this passion reflected everywhere (except perhaps on the South Island's West Coast). The Marlborough Sounds are another big boating haven, as are the Bay of Plenty and Northland. Anytime between December and April, you'll find Kiwis taking to the water in some kind of seaworthy vehicle.
Canoeing & Kayaking
The prime kayaking spot is Abel Tasman National Park, where boats appear to float in midair because the water is so clear. Sea kayaking is also popular in the Bay of Islands, in Hauraki Gulf, around Coromandel Peninsula, in Marlborough Sounds, in Milford Sound, and around Banks Peninsula and Otago Peninsula.
Try to book your adventures with members of SKOANZ, the Sea Kayak Operators Association of New Zealand (tel. 027/452-9255; www.skoanz.org.nz), who must adhere to a code of practice covering safety, service, guides, and environment.
In Northland, you'll find reliable operators at Coastal Kayakers, Paihia (tel. 09/402-8105; fax 09/403-8550; www.coastalkayakers.co.nz), which explores the outer islands with lagoons, rock caves, and sandy beaches. You can have canoe adventures with Canoe Safaris, Ohakune (tel. 06/385-9237; fax 06/385-8758; www.canoesafaris.co.nz). It has 5-day expeditions in rugged Whanganui National Park from late October to mid-April.
In Abel Tasman National Park, Abel Tasman Kayaks (tel. 0800/732-529 in NZ; fax 03/527-8032; www.abeltasmankayaks.co.nz) has been guiding tours since 1986.
For an adrenaline rush, try jet-boating - which is possible along most major rivers throughout the country.
Given the running of the 1999-2000 and the 2002-03 America's Cup Challenge in Auckland, it's a bit of an understatement to say that sailing is popular here. For the warmest, balmiest, most subtropical experiences, head for Northland, Auckland, and the Bay of Plenty; there's plenty of excellent sailing farther south, too.
For bareboat and skippered charters, contact Moorings Rainbow Yacht Charters, P.O. Box 8327, Symonds Street, Auckland (tel. 09/378-0719; fax 09/378-0931; www.tongatapu.net) or Royal Akarana Yacht Club, Auckland (tel. 09/524-9945; fax 09/520-1380; www.rayc.org.nz), which charges from NZ$400 for various sailing courses. In Marlborough Sounds, try Compass Charters, 20 Beach Rd., Waikawa (tel. 03/573-8332; fax 03/573-8587; www.compass-charters.co.nz), offering budget to luxury yacht and launch charters.
Pride of Auckland (tel. 09/359-5987; www.prideofauckland.com) has four 15m (50-ft.) yachts available for daily scheduled and charter cruises for all ages and abilities, and tall ship Soren Larsen (tel. 09/817-8799; www.sorenlarsen.co.nz) is the tall ship that starred in the BBC's The Onedin Line television series in the late 1970s. It has a rich history and is available for day sailings and holiday cruises in New Zealand and the South Pacific.
For general information on sailing, contact Yachting New Zealand (tel. 09/361-1471; fax 09/360-2246; www.yachtingnz.org.nz).
The challenging Wairoa, Mohaka, and Kaituna rivers are popular on the North Island; in the south, you'll find action on the Shotover, Kawarau, and Rangitata rivers. You can do this year-round - wet suits and warm clothing are required in winter, though. Operators give instruction, supply equipment, and arrange transfers to and from launch points.
Rapid Sensations, Taupo (tel. 0800/353-435 in NZ; fax 07/378-7904; www.rapids.co.nz), takes 3-day trips on the upper Mohaka River. If you want an all-out 9 days of crazy fun, contact Ultimate Descents, Motueka (tel. 0800/748-377 in NZ; fax 03/523-9811; www.rivers.co.nz), which exposes you to the serious thrills of the Buller, Karamea, and Clarence rivers on the top of the South Island.