I am retrospectively writing this article as we depart Gulf Harbour Marina for our second sail of the season. Fair sailing conditions are expected, but wind will arrive overnight, so we want to be in a sheltered anchorage. We’ve agreed Man O’ War Bay has the most all-around shelter, plus it’s near an archipelago we’d like to explore if given the chance.

But our first sail of spring began on Saturday September 24. I’m not sure who was most excited, me, my wife Kirsten, or our kids – we were all well-ready for a breakout on the water.

We woke early on Saturday to start the prep jobs. You may recall the last time we were at Great Barrier Island we experienced high winds in which our anchor got stuck in rocks, had to be cut loose, and was replaced with a lighter, shinier, but less-effective anchor. Not happy with the light anchor, we replaced it with a less-shiny, but much-heavier and much more effective 60lb alternative.

We then had to address a recent issue with our furling genoa. During the storms which hit the Hauraki Gulf (and Gulf Harbour) this winter, part of our furling genoa had pulled out of its furling. As I was in Cambridge, too far away to make the fix, the marina staff tied some of our spare sheet around it to keep everything in check. Before heading out for our sail, we took the opportunity to release the ropes, unfurl the genoa and pull it in again.

Dealing with the genoa and taking the shiny but too light
anchor off its chain.

Before leaving Gulf Harbour, Kirsten planned our journey – we decided to head out to Rakino Island, 9.3 nautical miles generally east from Gulf Harbour Marina, and to the north of Motutapu Island. We figured, as it was our first sail of the spring season, we wouldn’t go too far in case we were caught by fast-changing weather, although once we were out it was mighty tempting to simply keep sailing.


The trip to Rakino Island bordered on idyllic. We had sun, and a little wind – enough that we travelled along at between 4 and 5 knots. We trailed a fishing line on the short cruise, but no kai moana.

Arriving at Woody Bay on Rakino about lunchtime, we found it largely empty of boats, and before long we could see why, so we headed off again. A strong-ish south-westerly had arrived and was going to stay until the next morning. Woody Bay, where we were parked, was known to be a bit choppy in a southwesterly, so instead we found solace 2.5nm away at Station Bay at the north-east corner of Motutapu Island. That’s where we rested for the afternoon and evening.

At Station Bay, out came the fishing rods and six fish later we were ready to cook dinner. We were in relaxed heaven. So relaxed, Kirsten slept out on deck all night under the stars, only to have her normal 5am alarm go off very loudly the next morning! Oops! Sorry to our boating neighbours.

Finally, time to relax

A little while later, we headed back around to Woody Bay on Rakino Island. If we thought we were in relaxed heaven at Station Bay, we were in sublime heaven now. What we thought was beautiful yesterday was simply gorgeous today. The sun was out, the wind was down, and the water was calling.

Following close on our heels, the boating community arrived big time! We had at least 30 boats in our neighbourhood, from yachts and large motor vessels, to small pleasure boats – the similarity between us all was that we had a boat and we were there to play!

What a day we had! I did a bit of rowing to drop the kids and Kirsten on shore for various trips, sat on the deck and enjoyed the ample sun, and even had a chance to check out the small issue we had with the saltwater pump for the watermaker.

Kirsten took the opportunity to explore Rakino Island. After walking along the rocks, she found a track to the top ridge of the island. In case you need one, there is a public loo halfway up the hill. With the opportunity to stretch her legs – no indictment on her height – she discovered some amazing views to the west and east. “It’s a bit like a Kiwi-version of Cinque Terre in Italy,” she told us when she returned.

Putting up the sails is a whole-family job.

If you walk along the ridge and head down the next road, you will find a grassed-over track that leads down to West Bay, or to the southern end of Woody Bay, where there is a rope swing.

The island is worth an exploration, particularly if you’re into off-the-grid living. From the ridge, the views over the Hauraki Gulf are spectacular.

We would have loved to have stayed on until Monday. However, due to the weather forecast (PredictWind), we knew Monday was not going to be nice, so at 3pm on Sunday we sailed back to Gulf Harbour and the safety of the marina before the weather turned. By mid-evening the weather had turned exactly as PredictWind predicted it would. If we’d stayed until Monday, the journey back would have ruined our lovely first sail of spring.

We highly recommend Woody Bay and Rakino Island. In the right conditions it is idyllic. You would want to arrive early to get a good parking spot and you should carry enough water toys to fill out your day.

View of Woody Bay from the shore.

I have now become quite good at backing the boat, which came in very useful when trying to exit Woody Bay. There was no turning room due to the number of anchored boats, but a careful back-up solved the issue for me. If we’d been prepared to stay a couple of hours longer, it would probably have been easier as folks left, but we had checked the weather report and wanted to be back at base by about 5pm to avoid deteriorating weather. As it was, we were only just back in the slip before the wind hit Gulf Harbour. BNZ