Sailing in New Zealand's Hauraki Gulf

After a successful brainwashing campaign, my husband has got me hooked on sailing. We took the big plunge last year and bought our first sailboat in New Zealand. We even plan on moving on to her in a few months to begin cruising full-time. That is some very effective brainwashing on his part!

 

This is what sailing in the Hauraki Gulf is all about - seeing islands like this one

 

We spent last summer sailing around the Hauraki Gulf and explored the many beautiful islands in the area, learning more about their history, the native animals and plant life, as well as the best places to anchor up. You can find more information about the Hauraki Gulf and its islands, as well as follow my journey from landlubber to salty sailor (without refrigeration or a hairdryer I might add!) on our blog – The Cynical Sailor. But here is some information about a few of my favourite islands, which might come in handy in case your partner also brainwashes you into buying a boat. You never know, it could happen to you too.

To put things into context, the Hauraki Gulf is huge. It covers more than 1.2 million hectares off the coast of Auckland and has been designated as a Marine Park. There are more than 50 islands and five marine reserves within the Hauraki Gulf. Many of the islands are public conservation land managed by the Department of Conservation and most of them are open to the public.

Kawau Island - Home of the Iconic Mansion House

Kawau Island is one of the largest islands in the Hauraki Gulf and is located about 40 kms north of Auckland. Kawau is home to the iconic Mansion House built by Sir George Grey. Sir George, the Governor of New Zealand, bought the island in 1862 as a private retreat, which he stocked with a variety of animals and plants including wallabies and peacocks. Most of the island is now privately owned, but some land has been set aside as a Department of Conservation historic reserve. Mansion House Bay is a great place to anchor up and explore the walking tracks, as well as see the remains of the mining activity that took place on the island during the 1800s. After you’re done exploring the reserve, sail over to Bon Accord Harbour and have a cold beer at the Kawau Island Yacht Club and watch the boats go by while the sun goes down. Highly recommended.

Rakino Island - Site of the "Great Ricardo's" Dream

Rakino Island is located 20 kms northeast of Auckland. A relatively small island, Rakino only has 16 permanent residents, 76 homes and numerous other tracts of land. With limited ferry service, it is fairly isolated and private, which is probably a big part of the attraction for the permanent residents and holiday home owners. The island is mostly pasture land with some pockets of pohutukawa trees (the beautiful Kiwi Christmas tree).

Rakino Island has an interesting back story. In 1963, the "Great Ricardo" (otherwise known as Dr. Maxwell Rickard) bought the island. The "Great Ricardo" was a psychologist, touring hypnotist and nightclub owner who hoped to turn the island into a utopian ideal complete with a clinic for "disturbed and nervous patients", an international orphanage, a refuge for unmarried mothers and homes for the elderly. Unfortunately, things didn’t pan out as he had hoped. He advertised in the newspaper for 100 men and women to donate all of their worldly goods for the "benefit of all" and come live on the island. No takers. He looked into getting the United Nations to recognize Rakino Island as an independent country. No go. By 1965, he gave up on his utopian vision, subdivided the land and sold it off. Success at last.

If you do find yourself sailing in the Hauraki Gulf, Rakino Island is well worth a visit. In addition to seeing the site of the Great Ricardo’s dream, you can also check out the world’s first solar powered telephone. And of course, there are lovely beaches and anchorages to enjoy as well.

Pakatoa and Rotoroa Islands - The Original "Island Retreats for Inebriates"

Pakatoa and Rotoroa Islands are located to the east of Waiheke Island. Pakatoa is a private island which is currently for sale (it could be yours for the rock bottom price of 32 million NZ dollars) and Rotoroa is a conservation park. Both islands have an interesting history as Salvation Army “island retreats for inebriates” during the 1900s. In 1906, the New Zealand Parliament passed the Habitual Drunkards Act and the Salvation Army stepped into help treat and reform drunkards. A center for male inebriates was initially set up on Pakatoa Island, but the island soon outgrew the population so they moved the facility to the neighboring Rotoroa Island. Operations continued there until 2005. A women’s facility was then established on Pakatoa Island and continued until 1942.

If you visit Rotoroa Island, you can learn more about the history of the Salvation Army’s presence on both islands, explore heritage buildings, check out the art exhibition and see the efforts that have been made to restore native plants to the island.

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