Why stay on land when there is so much to see underwater? I've never fancied myself in a wet suit, but I can see the advantages if you plan to explore the magnificent marine environment off the Tutukaka Coast and the Poor Knights Islands (1 hr. offshore by boat). Tutukaka, 30 minutes from Whangarei, is the gateway to the Poor Knights Island Marine Reserve where crystal-clear waters near the edge of the continental shelf are bathed in subtropical currents. Sheer cliff faces, sea caves, tunnels, and archways are teeming with a range of sealift, including subtropical fish not usually found in New Zealand waters. The new attraction here is the artificial reef now forming on the recently scuttled ex-naval ship Tui.
The reserve was rated as one of the top 10 diving spots in the world by Jacques Yves Cousteau and is strictly controlled by the Department of Conservation with regard to fishing zones and restricted areas; make sure you go fishing or diving with a licensed operator. The main operator is Dive! Tutukaka, The Poor Knights Dive Centre, RD3, Whangarei (& 0800/288-882 in NZ, or 09/434-3867; www.diving.co.nz), which offers a full range of snorkeling and diving options. Its staff members know all the best places—there are over 100 to choose from. Some of the team are also award-winning underwater photographers, so if that's what gets your heart ticking, you're in the right place. They have the largest dedicated dive charter fleet in New Zealand, accompanied by fully qualified dive guides and dive masters.
If this all seems lovely but a bit too tame, up the adrenaline stakes by leaping into an aluminum mesh cage with Dive With Sharks (& 0800/846-653 in NZ, or 09/434-3233; www.oceanfilm.net). You'll come face to face with the blue shark and the mako, closest cousin to the great white. Make sure you have your own diving gear, dive certification, an underwater camera, and a bit of extra attitude! The full day costs about NZ$175 (US$96).
and other exotic wildlife. Tours are NZ$15 (US$8.25) for adults, NZ$8 (US$4.40) for children.
You'll find a nice little cluster of activities in the Sandspit and Matakana areas just a few minutes out of Warkworth. There are several crafts outlets, among them Morris & James Country Pottery & Cafe £($($, 48 Tongue Farm Rd., Matakana (& 09/422-7116; www.morrisandjames.co.nz), makers of quality terra-cotta and glazed pots, tiles, platters, and decorative ceramics; it's open daily with guided pottery tours Monday through Friday at 11:30am. The pièce de resistance is Heron's Flight Vineyard & Cafe , 49 Sharp's Rd., Matakana (& 09/422-7915; www.heronsflight.co.nz), where you'll find fine wines, good coffee, and food; you can stroll among grapes, figs, roses, and olives.
No trip to this area is complete without a cruise or ferry ride from Sandspit Wharf to Kawau Island . Sir George Grey, an early governor of New Zealand, built the Mansion House 150 years ago. It's now restored and open for visits, and on the grounds you'll find the descendants of his "Australian imports": wallabies, kookaburras, and rosellas. Kawau Kat Cruises (& 0800/ 888-006 in NZ, or 09/425-8006; www.kawaukat.co.nz) offers a fun outing on the Royal Mail Run , which leaves the wharf each day at 10:30am and visits all the bays and Mansion House. It costs NZ$40 (US$22) for adults, NZ$15 (US$8.25) for children, and NZ$90 (US$50) for a family.
The other major attraction is Goat Island Marine Reserve dfri?, 4km (2/2 miles) northeast of Leigh and about 40 minutes from Warkworth. It was established in 1975 as New Zealand's first marine reserve and is a mecca for divers.
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