Aquatic adventures

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Kayaking Abel Tasman National Park

For most of us, summer holidays aren’t holidays unless they involve some kind of beach-related fun. If you’re staying at a bach over Christmas, there’s a good chance you’ll be spending time at the beach, or by a river.

And if you’re lucky, there’ll be a couple of kayaks or a boat in the garage or maybe some snorkelling gear.

We’re lucky here in New Zealand that just about anywhere you stay there are opportunities for kayaking – off city beaches, down rivers, on lakes and inlets. And if you don’t own a kayak, you can rent them by the hour or for several days.

If you’re after more than a leisurely paddle, you can pack up a kayak and take off for days at a time – which is what most people who holiday in Abel Tasman National Park will be doing. You can turn it into an adrenalin rush and go white water kayaking on a fast-moving river. Or combine it with a fishing trip. And if you want to enjoy fish without catching them, a snorkelling adventure.

We’re pretty spoiled for snorkelling opportunities as well. It may not be quite as spectacular as the tropics, due to the cooler water causing plankton to rise to the surface, making the water appear murky (it’s nothing to do with pollution) but it’s a great way to get up close to wildlife.

If you prefer to keep your feet dry, though, there’s always a boat cruise – on a lake, down a river, out onto the ocean. Whatever water activity you pick, make sure you read our water safety guide, and stay safe this summer.

Our pick of snorkelling holidays

North Island - Goat Island Marine Reserve

Goat Island Marine Reserve, just north of Auckland, is a fantastic introduction to snorkelling. In 1975, several hundred hectares of sea surrounding Goat Island was declared New Zealand’s first marine reserve.

In the years since then, aquatic life has regenerated to such a degree that it is now possible to get a glimpse of what the Gulf would have been like underwater before European settlement, coastal development and overfishing.

Marine life abounds, including corals, crustaceans, seaweed, snapper, barracuda, gurnard and kahawai. The Glass Bottom Boat operates from Goat Island Marine Reserve and allows visitors to view the marine life with full commentary (and without getting wet!). Take the 45 minute trip around the island, or a 30 minute tour of the inner reef area. In warmer weather you can get closer to the action by swimming or snorkelling around the reef on your own accord.

Where to stay: Rodney District

South Island - Marlborough Sounds

Marlborough is the ideal place to snorkel the rocky shorelines and reefs, home to a range of underwater life. Diving for succulent scallops, mussels and paua is also a popular pastime in the Sounds. Diving attractions include marine reserves for the eco-conscious, wrecks to explore including the famous Mikhail Lermontov, abundant marine life for photography or diving. Diving instructors and equipment are available for half and full day dives.

Where to stay: Marlborough

Our pick of kayaking holidays

North Island - Canoeing the Whanganui River

The Whanganui River offers visitors the ability to take a remote and adventurous journey of discovery and understanding. It combines elements of both Maori and early European history with a recreational adventure along its journey. A river journey by canoe through this remote scenic river valley is one of this country’s most life-changing adventures.

Canoe tour operators offer tours of varying lengths, with either guided tours or freedom hire available. The rapids offer a variety of challenges yet the river is still considered suitable for beginners.

Local Maori operators add a cultural perspective to their guided tours, sharing their korero (stories) and taonga (treasures) and marae (traditional Maori villages). While canoeing visitors can enjoy the views of tree ferns and rare native plants clinging to the steep riverbanks and morning mist clings to the surface of the water from dawn, rising slowly with the light of day.

Where to stay: Central Plateau, Wanganui

South Island - Kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park

If you haven’t heard of the Abel Tasman National Park you really do need to get out more! New Zealand’s smallest and only coastal National Park is also the most visited, and with good reason. Voted number 5 in the national 101 Must Do’s, the Abel Tasman is a haven of golden sands, lush flora, and sheltered lagoons and coves. You can pop in for a day by foot or water, or the entire length of the park can be walked and/or kayaked in 3-5 days.

The park can also be experienced via water taxi, catamaran and launch, as well as by helicopter and charter aircraft – you might say the sky’s the limit! There are four main gateways to the park: Marahau and Kaiteriteri at the southern end, reached by road from Nelson and Motueka. The two northern entrances are at Totaranui and Wainui, reached by road from Takaka in Golden Bay. Regular and on-demand bus services provide access to both points, with many tour operators providing transport free to those taking guided tours.

Where to stay: Nelson/Golden Bay

Our pick of boat cruises

North Island - The R Tucker Thompson

With the wind behind her, the “Tucker” is one of Bay of Island’s most eco-friendly vessels so you’ll know that your carbon footprint has been kept to a minimum. The ship is operated as a not-for profit charitable trust with profits from day sail activities being used to support youth sail training programmes over the New Zealand winter.

You’ll be able to get involved with sailing the ship, help set the sails, ride on the bowsprit, climb the rigging, or alternatively you can simply relax while our crew does the work. The ship is spacious and comfortable and the friendly crew makes it a memorable and personal experience.

Where to stay: Bay of Islands

South Island - The TSS Earnslaw

She’s over ninety years old and looks as good as the day she was launched. The pure lake waters and clean alpine air have treated Queenstown’s ‘Lady of the Lake’ very well.

It was October 1912 when TSS Earnslaw made her maiden voyage from Kingston to Queenstown on beautiful Lake Wakatipu, and she has been delighting passengers ever since.

As the last remaining coal-fired passenger vessel operating in the southern hemisphere, TSS Earnslaw re-captures the elegance of turn-of-the-century travel.

Cruises on the TSS Earnslaw depart regularly all year round. You’ll find plenty of time to explore the steamer’s decks and bridge and look down into the engine room where stokers feed the pounding marine steam engines a tonne of coal every hour.

Where to stay: Queenstown Lakes

More info - Tourism New Zealand Kayaking and Canoeing pages - AA Travel kayaking and canoeing - snorkelling without fear - AA Travel snorkelling activities

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A guide to water safety
A paddle down the Whanganui River

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Kayaking Kayaking's a wonderful way to get to know new places
Snorkelling You never know what wildlife you'll encounter on a snorkelling trip
Sailing Sailing, old-world style, but without the hard work required on your part
Piwa perched