Goat Island Adventures in a Kiwi Paradise by Matt Aukett

Goat Island Adventures in a Kiwi Paradise

By Matt Aukett

Diving the Cumberland

Goat Island Adventures

I am, at my very heart, a flag waving Kiwi. When I am overseas it is not uncommon to find me preaching the good news from the land of the long white cloud – adventure, scenery, secret out-of the-way places, friendly people and good times for all. I have even on occasion found myself in some backwater overseas town in the middle of nowhere educating locals on the finer points of rugby and the haka. It is I think an integral part of being a New Zealander. So, when the New Zealand Automobile Association released its list of 101 must-do things for Kiwis I was keen to see how it compared to my own.

All the usual suspects make the list but I was hoping to see that quintessential Kiwi experience, and for me an adventure at the beach – Goat Island to be precise – was the one thing missing. Goat Island is an interesting and unique place for a number of reasons and judging by the increasing numbers of people going there and the number of businesses springing up in nearby Leigh I can see I am not the only one who thinks so.

Situated about 100 kilometres north of Auckland Goat Island Marine Park was New Zealand’s first no-take marine reserve, established in 1975. Back then the area was an underwater desert – covered with ‘kina barrens’. Today it shows off a wide variety of New Zealand fish species in a safe, family friendly environment. The beach too becomes an eclectic mix of divers, researchers, writers, families, kayakers, tourists and more. Interestingly the tiny beach seldom seems overly crowded, although the same can not always be said for the car park.

I have been coming to Goat Island – almost since it’s inception as a reserve. In my very young days I would explore the rock pools before graduating to snorkelling and then as a teenager I had my first dives there. The place never gets old for me. I have taken family, overseas friends, school groups, and even the occasional tourist or two there and have delighted in them experiencing all the place has to offer. For some the highlight has been seeing the monster snapper that cruise the shallows near the beach, for others their first sight of a live crayfish nestled between two rocks. A recent visit by my young nephew and niece saw them squealing with delight as they stood in knee deep crystal clear water with blue maomao swimming all around them.

The island has attracted all kinds of groups over the years and it is not hard to see why. The island itself is only a short distance off the shore, the water is generally clear and there is always something to see.

The diving offers a range of possibilities and opportunities. The water in the channel between the island and the mainland averages around 8-10 metres in most parts and allows divers to experience a wide variety of underwater life. It can be dived at all tides and because of its proximity to the beach this part of the island is very popular with snorkellers and divers alike. On the ocean side of the island the underwater scene changes again. Still busy with fish life this part of the island feels more wild and prone to the elements. Being further off the shore it has less people visiting but is the perfect spot for the more experienced diver or adventurous kayak divers and those making the trip by boat from the nearby Leigh boat ramp.

I guess the great thing about here is that you don’t even need to have your own gear to try out new ideas. A number of places have gear available for hire. For a more sedate trip around the island there is the recent addition of the glass-bottomed boat tour. And of course for that unique Kiwi experience you can stay at one of the many nearby camping grounds.

Kayak diving has become somewhat of a passion of mine over the last couple of years. Going to the beach with a kayak and dive gear offers a new range of possibilities and it is not that complicated. Goat Island is the perfect example of where kayak diving can shine. The paddle across to the island itself is a short five minute hop and then around the back or either side a few minutes more and then it is the chance to explore a whole lot more. I have to admit that I have yet to fully explore the island by kayak and am excited about what I might find – if my beginning experiments are anything to go by.

A recent trip to the island did not actually start out as a kayak diving trip but ended up opening the possibilities. I had in fact gone to play with another big boy’s toy – my digital camera and its underwater housing. I had intended to just snorkel around the channel and shallows, test out the settings and try and work out what a good underwater shot looks like. I ended up charting out a blueprint for exploration around the island.

I spent the morning mucking around with the camera and on the way back home I swung by Goat Island Dive to do a bit of window shopping. We got to talking and the topic swung around to kayaks and kayak diving. I’m still not quite sure how it happened but that afternoon instead of driving home I was back out at the island armed with a kayak and an idea. I spent the rest of the day circumnavigating the island picking out spots for exploration. To date I have only managed to get back a few times and have been thwarted a bit by weather – anything over about 15 knots becomes a challenge for a kayak. But the summer is young and the island will always be there.

Goat Island is one of those places that lend itself to that kind of spontaneous experimenting. Whether it is kayak diving or trying out your new camera. And after all, giving new things a go is as quintessentially Kiwi as going to the beach in the first place.

I wonder why Goat Island didn’t make the AA’s list. It is as Kiwi as it gets: campgrounds, beaches, a great family place to be and the right sprinkle of adventure to make it a great destination for any and all. Perhaps that is a testament to all that New Zealand has to offer! Maybe Goat Island isn’t outstanding enough (despite the ample evidence to the contrary) I think I feel that Kiwi flag-waving spirit coming on again. The other 101 things on the must-do list will be pretty special to beat out a strong contender like Goat Island.

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