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Being a group of narrow islands, with almost 10,000km of coastline, New Zealand offers unparalleled opportunities for ocean sports, while the many lakes and rivers provide another arena for recreation in and on the water.
Increasingly popular, canoeing and kayaking are practised both on rivers and lakes and in sheltered ocean waters. Several commercial operators offer tours, with all necessities provided. Acquiring the basic skills of paddling and safe exiting from a canoe, and wearing a life-jacket at all times, will make canoeing a safe and enjoyable sport. The most popular canoeing river is the Whanganui.
High mountains make fast rivers. There are three varieties of rafting in New Zealand: "blue water", on calm stretches of river for sightseeing purposes; "black water", through underground caves in Waitomo (Waikato), Nelson, Marlborough or the West Coast of the South Island; and the main form,"white water", down the rapids of New Zealand's many rivers. A number of commercial operators provide anything from a brief adrenalin-pumping descent of a couple of rapids to rafting and camping expeditions lasting several days and taking in a large part of the length of some of the longer rivers. Spring and summer are the most popular times, though the sport is available year-round. South Island rafting rivers are centred around Queenstown. If your operator is a member of the New Zealand River Guides' Association, this indicates that they comply with the high standards set by this voluntary association.
Jet boats were invented to operate on the often shallow and difficult rivers of the South Island, and have been a resounding success. The Shotover, Kawarau and Dart rivers in the South Island are the most famous jet boating localities with the Whanganui, Waikato and Whakatane rivers in the North.
Jet skiing is a fast-growing watersport and jet skis are available for hire near most of New Zealand's popular recreational water areas. Hire companies operate throughout the summer months and some offer overnight tours. Contact your nearest visitor information centre for details.
Any beach exposed to the open sea will offer surfable waves in the right weather conditions, though the North Island's west coast, especially around Auckland, is the best-known surfing area. Piha, Raglan, New Plymouth and Wellington can all be surfed year-round, as can Ahipara-Ninety Mile Beach.
Northland has surfing on both coasts. Many East Coast beaches have uncrowded surf. A number of locations in the Coromandel and the Bay of Plenty, especially the famous Mt Maunganui, are also popular surf beaches. There is hardly a beach in Eastland north of Gisborne which cannot be surfed. Surfing in the South Island is mainly a summer sport; Kaikoura, Christchurch and Dunedin are the east coast localities, and although some locals surf on the West Coast the rough weather renders conditions unpredictable. Fitness, the ability to swim well, and the common sense not to surf alone are the main safety factors.
On many lakes and beaches colourful sails may be seen on any day with light winds as boardriders catch the breezes. A wet suit and a buoyancy vest are advisable when windsurfing; any good swimmer who can lift the sail should then be safe windsurfing, although beginners should practise in an onshore breeze, so getting back is easier than getting out. The New Zealand Windsurfing Association has an instruction scheme.
Scuba diving, skin diving and snorkelling can be enjoyed around much of the New Zealand coast, by people adequately trained in the use of their equipment and in safety procedures. The clear waters are ideal and are close to accommodation. The warmer seas in the north are especially suited to divers; the Three Kings Islands north of North Cape, the spectacular Poor Knights Marine Reserve off Whangarei (bathed by a tropical current off Australia's Great Barrier Reef and heavily populated with cave-dwelling and ocean-dwelling marine life), the Bay of Islands Maritime and Historic Park (see Northland), and Goat Island near Warkworth (see Rodney) are all particularly popular. The latter three are protected, but in many locations spear fishing is permitted.
Auckland's Hauraki Gulf, with many interesting wrecks at Great Barrier, and the Coromandel Peninsula and Bay of Plenty offer more fine diving.
The Sugarloaf Islands Marine Park (off Back Beach in New Plymouth), the Wellington coast, the Marlborough Sounds, Banks Peninsula, the Otago Peninsula, Stewart Island and the unusual waters of Fiordland, with their protected black coral, each have unique attractions.
Two major wrecks easily visited by divers are the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in the Cavalli Islands (Bay of Islands), and the world's largest easily accessible wreck, the Russian cruise ship Mikhail Lermontov, in the Marlborough Sounds.
The Hauraki Gulf (Auckland), Port Nicholson (Wellington), Lyttelton Harbour (Christchurch) and Otago Harbour (Dunedin) are all popular yacht basins, at their best in summer. Charter boats of all descriptions are available around the country, on the larger lakes as well as on the coast.
Classic sailing areas include the Bay of Islands (Northland), the Waitemata Harbour and the Hauraki Gulf (Auckland), the Coromandel and the Marlborough Sounds.
There are several charter options: some operators run regular cruises to a set schedule; others offer skippered charters, where you have some control and participation but professionals do the actual work; and for those with some experience, "bareboating" provides a suitable vessel and advice and leaves you to your own devices. Yachting is a thriving sport for all ages.