There's a reason Auckland is known as the "City of Sails": with the beautiful Hauraki Gulf right on their doorstep, locals and visitors can't seem to get enough of this aquatic playground. The Gulf is generously speckled with emerald islands from the sizeable Great Barrier Island, guarding Auckland from the open sea, to volcanic Rangitoto at the mouth of the Waitemata Harbour. There is plenty to do in the Gulf, whether you prefer to put your feet up with a fishing line in view or feel the sea breeze whip past on a high-speed jet boat.
Before you set foot on solid ground, explore the sparkling blue waters of the Gulf with a range of on-the-water activities. Join a Whale and Dolphin Safari and venture offshore to see pods of mammals at work and play in their natural habitat – keep an eye out for sea birds in flight and blue penguins scouring the seas for lunch too. When your own meal time rolls around, consider popping over to Waiheke Island, where fruitful farmlands and vineyards have earned it a reputation as a gourmand's paradise.
Steeped in natural splendour, a handful of Hauraki Gulf islands such as Tiritiri Matangi have been transformed into wildlife sanctuaries and conversation zones. Guided walks are available and are especially popular for bird watchers – native and endangered species provide the perfect accompanying music for your wilderness stroll. Expand your mind further with a harbour cruise: fleets depart from mainland Auckland with knowledgeable crew on board to fill you in on the history and unique facets of the Gulf.
If you'd rather take the helm yourself, book an America's Cup sailing experience and live the action of the prestigious yachting regatta – there's no experience necessary, so you can still come aboard and channel your inner yachtie. Keeping with all things nautical, consider a customised kayak tour and explore secluded sandy shores that are only accessible by boat. Kayaking has a long history in the Gulf and many tours offer the option of following the Te Ara Moana, a seagoing route traditionally paddled by local Maori between coastal communities, for a unique cultural journey.