Author: Will Hay
Summer is starting to shine through across Aotearoa so it’s no better time to think about where to set off from shore this season. Fortunately, there’s almost endless miles of coastline and inland waters to take your pick from, but we’ve gone and handpicked seven of New Zealand's most enticing boating destinations you shouldn’t miss this year. Each locale offers a unique blend of boating beauty, scenic wonders, and cultural experiences, making them the top choices for those seeking the ultimate summer adventure. So ready the sails, prepare the fishing gear, or launch the ski, and get ready to explore these gems!
Bay of Islands
While this list is in no particular order, the Bay of Islands tops many a few due to the boating paradise it offers. Being in the winterless north the climate is usually favourable for a day on the water and there is no chance of boredom with the 144 islands and secluded coves that lends its name.
Due to the proximity of the islands to the mainland it’s perfect for day tripping and multi day adventures alike. With a favourable weather window many sailors’ arms has been twisted into extending a few nights more just to explore what’s on offer. And while you’re here you almost certainly won’t be alone with the abundance of marine life that habit the region. It’s not uncommon to share an anchorage with pods of dolphins or even orca cruising by, and don’t forget the fishing tackle as this is one of the best fishing spots in NZ.
Top spot: A trip to the BOI isn’t complete without a stop off at Urupukapuka island. This pest free island hosts a number of archaeological sites and kilometres of walking tracks that provide an elevated view of the Bay of Islands. There’s even a campsite, and a licensed café, what’s not to love!
With over 1500km of often remote coastline only accessible by the water, the Marlborough Sounds is a simply magical spot to cruise or sail through. Situated at the top of the South Island the sounds are made up of a network of picturesque waterways, coves and inlets, and like the Bay of Islands, you’ll never tire attempting to explore them all.
Summer is an ideal time to visit, as the region's sunny weather is perfect for leisurely kayaking, paddleboarding, and wine and dine cruises from many of the popular mainland harbours such as Picton, Waikawa or Havelock. Those keen to explore further out will see you cruising through one of four Sounds, either Pelorous, Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru or Mahau each with an endless number of bays and inlets to navigate.
Top Spot: Pelorus Sound is famous for its green shell mussels so is one place not to miss if seafood is on the agenda. The Pelorus Mail Boat Cruise is a great way to explore the sounds and learn about its history under guided comfort. You’ll no doubt see some friendly bottlenose dolphins or seals while helping deliver the mail to the local residents!
If freshwater fun is on the agenda, you can’t go past Rotorua’s lakes as a top spot this summer. While famous for its geothermal activity, there’s over 10 distinct lakes to explore (note only some are permitted for powerboating, please check beforehand) which all offer something of interest.
Lake Rotoiti and Tarawera boast thermal pools accessible by boat which is a welcome find after a day of wakeboarding or biscuiting, so grab an Airbnb for the weekend, load up the boat with the water-skis and seek out your favourite lake this summer!
A bonus to exploring the central north island is getting to venture onto the mighty Waikato River. There’s several popular launching spots along the banks that offer a handy entry and if you venture far enough along the river you will no doubt come across some amazing geothermal activity. Just be careful near the banks as these waters can get very hot!
While most try to escape the city during the holiday season, its coastline and waters that make up the inner and outer Hauraki Gulf is a hotspot with numerous islands and go-to fishing spots. It's a top boating destination this summer thanks to its accessibility, vast number of boat ramps and abundant adventures on offer. The inner Gulf is home to the popular islands such as Waiheke, Kawau and Rangitoto, and if you have the means to venture further Great Barrier Island is a must visit. Outside of the 50 odd islands that call the Gulf home, the coastline is just as compelling for fishers with many a top catch caught off the rocks.
Top Spot: This year take a trip over to Kawau Island and on the way stop off at Beehive Island on the south western side. This tiny island will make you feel like you’ve instantly set foot in a remote tropical paradise, just watch the tides as the rocky shelf exposes itself on the low.
Renowned for its dramatic fiords, waterfalls, and unique marine life, this magical region along the West Coast promises an unparalleled sailing adventure. The two famous sounds, Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound emerge as veritable wonders and it’s hard to resist exploring these by boat if you can muster the decent hike in from the main roads.
Fiordland's allure extends beyond its breathtaking landscapes, drawing boaties and divers year after year. Surrounded by breathtaking waterfalls, huge cliff faces and dense native rainforests, a submerged yet crystal clear wonderland awaits. Frequent encounters with dolphins & seals amplify the awe-inspiring experience. Boating in New Zealand finds its epitome in Fiordland, where the possibilities are not just endless but truly extraordinary.
Bay of Plenty
They don’t call it the Bay of Plenty for nothing and for boats of all shapes and sizes there’s more than enough to do around this region. The coastal gem of Mount Maunganui and the surrounding waters of Matakana Island offer a boating paradise like no other. The sheltered harbour waters beckon you to explore the harbour and further out along the island against the backdrop of the iconic Mount Maunganui.
Tauranga offers a number of well-maintained all-tide ramps which makes boating a breeze in the region. For yachties this is a great starting point to begin a weekend sail out to more distant spots such as up north to Slipper Island or the Great Mercury Islands in the Coromandel. Further south Maketu, Whakatane and Ohope deliver epic fishing as they provide close entry into the Bay of Plenty waters.
Top Spot: If you find a decent weather window, make a plan to head out to Tuhua/Mayor Island off the North Eastern coast of Mt Maunganui. You’ll need prior permission to land on this collapsed volcano but the waters around it offer some insane fishing especially as the warmer currents push hungry game fish into the region.
Boating doesn’t get more insta-worthy than in the Central Otago region, especially at places like Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, Lake Wanaka, or Lake Hawea with snow capped mountains providing the most idyllic backdrop in the early summer season. Often visited in the winter due to the ‘winter wonderland’ vibe the area offers, the summer months really turn on as the warmer weather and longer days make the lakes super enticing.
If you don’t have access to your own boat or ski you won’t miss out with many on water excursions such as the TSS Earnslaw steamship on Lake Whakatipu, or for the more adventurous, jetboating up the shotover canyons as you blast past the vertical rock walls sometimes only centimetres away!
Top Spot: Lake Wanaka is a must visit especially by jetski as you can explore the northern parts including taking a lap around Mou Waho a little island in the middle of the lake with its own mini lake (Arethusa Pool) inside!
Whether you seek adventure, relaxation, or a bit of both, these top boating paradises are a sure hit this summer. So, find a new spot, load up the boat and get exploring this season!