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Many hold New Zealand is the sailing capital of the world, and the dominance of Kiwi sailors in the America's Cup and other prominent international racing events supports that. Sailing and boating is deeply engrained in New Zealand culture, and this island nation spends a lot of time on the water.
New Zealand is also blessed with some of the most stunning landscape and beautiful scenery in the world, with a variety of terrain from rolling hills, volcanos, mountains, to fjords. The waters are full of marine life; seeing whales, dolphins, penguins, seals, seal lions, albatross, and a variety of seabirds is common. It's a spectacular place to take a sailing adventure, or any vacation.
The Māori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, or "the land of the long white cloud." The first sight of the cloud-shrouded highlands impressed Māori explorers a thousand years ago when they first settled Aotearoa. Europeans didn't find New Zealand until Dutch explorer Abel Tasman came across it in 1642. Despite clashes with the Māori, the British established a colony which formalised British rule with the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 and ended the conflicts.
The Māori have had a deep influence on the country New Zealand has become. Throughout the nation you will find Māori heritage sites and history. The Māori were ocean-going explorers who came to Aotearoa over the ocean, and New Zealand still reflects that connection to the water and the ocean in this nation of yachting people.
Although New Zealand has industries and exports, it is a small country and tourism is a good part of the economy. Sail tourism and sailing play a part in most vacations. From bareboat charters to harbor tours to rafting trips and kayak tours, water and boats touch almost every vacation. It makes it a great place for a sailing adventure.
There are three primary cruising areas for your New Zealand yacht charter. On North Island, the Bay of Islands and surrounding areas and Auckland and the Haruki Gulf are the principal charter bases. On South Island, charters starting in Picton give access to Queen Charlotte Sound, Pelorus Sound, and even the Abel Tasman National Park.
Getting to New Zealand from international destinations isn't difficult, though flights are often long. The closest country is Australia, and many flights to New Zealand change planes in Brisbane or Sydney for the last trans-Tasman leg.
On North Island, most international arrivals come in to Auckland and find local transportation to Northland for the Bay of Islands. Headed to South Island, Christchurch is a popular option. though check flying to Auckland and taking a domestic flight to South Island. Another alternative is a flight to Wellington to catch the ferry to Picton.
Moving from the major airports to the more remote charter locations can take some time. The roads in New Zealand are in excellent shape, but the terrain makes for a lot of narrow, winding roads away from the major urban centers. Some prefer regional flights to negotiating the roads with a rental car or on a bus with your bags.
Unless you are chartering in Auckland, plan the better part of a day getting to and from your charter destination.
Auckland Airport (AKL): Auckland Airport is the northernmost international airport in New Zealand and will be your first stop for charters in the Bay of Islands and Auckland. From AKL, you can take connecting domestic flights to the Bay of Islands and to South Island.
For Auckland based charters on the Haruki Gulf, taxi, public transportation, or airport shuttles can take you down town.
When heading to the Bay of Islands, besides domestic flights, you can take a bus or rent a car. It's a four hour drive, or a six hour bus ride to Opua on InterCity buses. The bus runs from the airport to change in Auckland, and stops in Opua, just a short walk from the waterfront. If you rent a car, there are one-way rentals, but they are limited and can be expensive. Check rental pricing for the duration of your charter, as it may make more sense than two one-way rentals.
Christchurch International Airport (CHC): For charters in South Island, Christchurch is a suitable alternative for international arrivals. Getting to Picton is about a four and a half hour scenic drive, or a brief flight to Blenheim or Picton airports. An InterCity bus runs between the towns, but they are infrequent - as of this writing only one bus per day is scheduled.
Kerikeri Airport: This is a small regional airport with domestic service only. Arrange for a shuttle to Opua or Paihia, and a you can make a provisioning stop en route to your charter. Trip time is about thirty minutes.
Whangarei Airport: Whangarei is a larger town about an hour from Opua and is an alternative if timing for flights to Kerikeri don't work out. The Intercity bus runs between Whangarei and Opua several times daily, though you will need to get to the bus station via taxi.
Wellington Airport: Though Wellington airport accepts some international arrivals, direct international flight options are limited compared to Auckland or Christchurch. However, flying to Wellington on a local connection gives easy access to ferry service across the Cook Strait to Picton. Except in the worst conditions, the ferry is a pleasant and scenic three and a half-hour trip with food service and comfortable seating. Wellington is also a delightful place to spend a day or two layover around your charter, with excellent restaurants and sights, and Te Papa, the national museum.
Blenheim Airport (Woodbourne): Take a regional flight to Blenheim in the heart of the Marlborough wine country and arrange a shuttle to Picton.
Picton Aerodrome: Sounds Air runs several flights to this small airport, where you can catch a shuttle into town to your charter base.
There three primary charter areas in New Zealand, two on North Island and one on South Island. Longer charters can extend the range outside of these areas, or with the North Island destinations, cover both of them.
The Bay of Islands itself encompasses the villages of Opua, Russell, and Paihia and over a dozen islands and many sheltered bays. Most of the islands are large enough to get off and hike, and the area is full of natural beauty, clean water and marine life.
A week-long Bay of Islands charter will range from nice dinners in waterfront restaurants in Russell to isolated offshore islands with walking trails and stunning views, and an excursion off the coast for seclusion and quiet. Expect to see dolphin, but keep an eye out for orca whales, seals, little blue penguins and other marine life when you're sailing.
A Bay of Islands-based charter will allow longer itineraries for a scenic cruise outside the Bay of Islands. On a longer charter, Whangaroa, Doubtless Bay, the Cavalli Islands, and Cape Karikari to the north and the Poor Knights Islands, Great Barrier Island, Hauraki Gulf and Auckland to the south are all in reach. The coast is dotted with islands, inlets, bays, coves and a few towns.
Charters out of Auckland will give you access to the same waters as the Bay of Islands, but your charters of a week or less will stay around the Hauraki Gulf, Great Barrier Island, and the other islands dotting the gulf and bays.
While there, you can visit wineries, olive groves, and beaches on Waiheke Island, hike the Aotea Track and visit the Kaitoke Hot Springs on Great Barrier Island, search for whales and dolphins, or surf and swim on the many spectacular beaches scattered around the gulf. Sheltered bays around the islands offer plenty of peaceful places to stay.
The Coromandel Peninsula also has sheltered anchorages, hot springs, and exposure to the Pacific Ocean on the east side. Find the famous Hot Water Beach, explore a secluded bay or get off the boat to see some hot springs.
With a longer itinerary, the Bay of Islands is within reach. Note that New Zealand biosecurity law requires bottom cleaning for vessels sailing north of the Hauraki Gulf region, so charter companies will want to know in advance if you plan to sail north and may add a surcharge.
On South Island, the Marlborough Sounds include Queen Charlotte Sound and Pelorus Sound. Charters are based out of Picton or nearby Waikawa and give access to 4,000 square kilometers of pristine cruising grounds. Natural beauty, hiking, fishing and swimming are all attractions in the quiet, secluded bays and anchorages. A sailing vacation in the Marlborough Sounds is quieter than the North Islands destination but even closer to nature.
Picton and Waikawa are on Queen Charlotte Sound. Along the north coast of Queen Charlotte Sound runs the Queen Charlotte Track, a scenic 70Km walking train running along the coast, through the forests, and to the summit of a few hills. It's accessible from the water at several points around the sound. Further out from town are more quiet harbors and bays, and several islands where you can get off the boat to explore and look at the native foliage and wildlife or explore the coast with kayaks. Scenic preserves like Motuara Island and the Kokomohua Marine Reserve are stunning stops to see rare birds and animals and some spots for snorkeling and diving.
A sail around the end of Queen Charlotte Sound takes you to Pelorus sound, home to more islands, placid coves and beautiful and relaxing anchorages. The Nydia Walk is a popular scenic train you can pick up at World's End, and there are dozens of places to stop on your way through the sound. For a fee, your charter vacation can start in the town of Havelock at the end of Pelorus Sound.
Both sounds have several small shore-side resorts and villas which are open to visiting yachts, so you can stop in for a drink, snack or nice dinner. Moorings for charter vessels are scattered throughout the sounds; check with your charter company for details on which moorings to use.
Although the charters are based out of Picton area, longer charters with extended cruising through French Pass and into Tasman Bay are possible. From Tasman Bay, you can sail to Nelson, visit Croisilles Harbour, and explore the Abel Tasman National Park on the far side of Tasman Bay. It's an ambitious trip, but the national park is spectacular.
The Marlborough region is also noted for its seafood and wine, with many marine fishing and farming operations throughout the sounds. While you need to stay clear of the mussel farms when sailing, there will be opportunities to get top quality seafood both at restaurants and to bring back to the boat. The center of Marlborough wine country is in Blenheim, a short drive from Picton, and local wines will be available at stores and restaurants. Wine lovers should consider an extra day or three off the boat to visit the many wineries.
Each of the three primary charter areas - the Bay of Islands, Auckland, and the Marlborough Sounds - has a couple of local marinas where your charter will start. The specifics will vary with the vessel you charter.
Opua is a small village in Northland, about four hours from Auckland. The charter pickups are on the town wharf or out of the Bay of Islands Marina, all within a short walk of each other. Provisioning and shopping are limited, as Opua has only a small market with a limited selection, but you can get the basics there. Two chandleries are available if you've missed any last-minute items such as fishing gear, bait, sunscreen or other boating needs. If you've rented a car to drive from Auckland, daily parking is available through the Bay of Islands marina for a small fee.
Ten minutes from Opua, Paihia is a fun town with some good dining, two medium grocery stores, a beach, and a larger full-service grocery on the edge of town. Even if your charter starts in Opua, if you are stocking the boat yourself you will want to visit Paihia for groceries. If arriving by air at the Kerikeri Airport, your shuttle can stop on the way for provisions, or you can rent a car in Opua or call a taxi or shuttle.
Most Hauraki Gulf and Auckland charters are based in Westhaven Marina in central Auckland or Bayswater Marina just over the bridge from Auckland, with a few at Gulf Harbour Marina on the Whangaparoa peninsula, a short way up the coast. From any of those locations, you can be on the Hauraki Gulf in no time.
The two central Auckland marinas are easy to access from the Airport. A taxi to Whangaparaoa can be expensive, but there is a ferry from central Auckland near Viaduct Harbour which maybe your best option. A bus also runs to Whangaparaoa.
Though many charters may list Picton as the place of origin, most of the boats are at the Waikawa marina. It's a short taxi ride or drive from Picton to this beautiful bay. It's also not an unpleasant walk, but if you're arriving with luggage or bags of groceries, it's better to get a ride. Waikawa has a few casual dining options and two chandleries, but no grocery stores.
Picton is a charming town with some good dining and options for groceries and shopping before you leave. The Cook Strait ferries also arrive in Picton, which is convenient if you're coming in via Wellington since you're dropped right downtown. Picton has several hotels for before or after your charter, and sporting goods and other shops for any last-minute needs or mementoes.
Where it comes to chartering or boat rentals in New Zealand, below is a list of the typical boats that you can rent on Borrow A Boat with descriptions. If you can't find the individual boat charter you are looking for when you search in New Zealand, it's worthwhile searching nearby locations as your chosen boat type might be available nearby.
When searching a geographical area on Borrow A Boat you can filter by the following boat types. There is also the option to further filter your searches by price, the number of guests, cabins or bathrooms, what year the boat or sailing yacht was launched, the boat length and the boat manufacturer.
Sailing Yacht (Sailboat): From $120/$100/$135 a day up to whatever you can afford, monohull sailing yachts are fun to sail at all points of the wind and an affordable way to get around if your island hopping or finding your own secluded coves or sandy beaches along with longer cruises. Sizes range from those for a couple or small family to a full-sized luxury charter yacht.
Catamaran: Luxury catamarans are stable and spacious, with quick sailing performance, and and have been gaining in popularity in recent years. Better for larger groups, they have lots of room for water toys, and are big enough for a little privacy. A catamaran charter is easy and comfortable for novices not used to heeling and are loved by families because of their extra space when compared to a monohull. Far more luxurious than a single-hulled sailboat, the larger catamarans have en suite toilets and showers in the staterooms and ample entertaining space in the saloon and on deck. New Zealand has only a few catamarans for charter rent, and most of those are crewed.
Power Catamaran: These types of boats are relatively new but have also been gaining in popularity as the two hulls keep the boat more stable when compared to a monohull. The wider beam also means more deck space and as they don't have sails or a mast, they have a lot more space on deck than a sailing catamaran rental or monohull. For a luxury yacht charter, consider a crewed catamaran with an experienced captain.
Luxury Yacht: Luxury yacht charters are available for either a sailing yacht (sailboat), catamaran or motorboat and will have a crew and host/hostess on hand to cater for whatever your needs are along with a captain who will have a detailed knowledge of your cruising area. On a crewed yacht charter you get to create your own personal itinerary and will have far greater range than on other boats, which allows for lots of variety in how you travel and what you do.
Super yacht: Super yachts (sometimes called mega yachts) are boats at least 24 meters (79 feet) in length up to 180 meters (590 feet) and can either be sailing yachts (sailboats) or motorboats. These types of boats are most frequently found in the Med of the Caribbean and because of their size they will have a large chartering area and can pick you up from whatever location you require rather than you being required to get to a set marina to start your charter. They are fully crewed with professional staff who will cater for your every need along with a captain who will have extensive knowledge of your chosen cruising areas.
Motorboat: This covers a wide variety of boats from a motor yacht with cabins to a private boat trip for a fishing trip but these are comfortable seagoing boats with a kick of speed should you want to cover a bigger distance on the day.
RIB: Very much day boats for fishing and day cruising, RIBs are a lot of fun for a day afloat. They can be very quick and are great should you be in a town on vacation and fancy seeing the coast or finding secluded sandy beaches to get away from it all.
For boat rental or yacht charter in New Zealand, you have two choices - bareboat yacht rent or captained yacht charter.
When using Borrow A Boat you can filter all boat searches to be with or without captain depending on what you are looking for and below we cover some of the main points to consider for your boat rent.
Captained Charter: A captained yacht charter gives you the advantage of being able to get afloat without having to invest in getting sailing qualifications beforehand. For a monohull sailing yacht you will pay $300 NZD ($152/$169/$200 US) or more extra for the captain, and plan for their food and a tip at the end.
When you get to a luxury yacht or superyacht charter with crew, these prices will increase, and costs also depend on where you plan to sail and the size and type of boat rental on your sailing vacation.
Sometimes captains will also be the yacht or boat owners (typically day trips) which means they will know all the best secluded beaches to show you the best that the area has to offer with their local knowledge.
For day trips you will often be able to use a captain, and prices will vary depending on the boat size.
Bareboat Yacht Charter: For skilled sailors, a bareboat charter is cheaper and gives more privacy for you and your charter guests. Many sailors prefer to be helming the boat while choosing their own course and provided you have the knowledge and relevant qualifications you can captain these boats (typically up to 54 feet/16.5 meters) yourself.
If you are on a captained yacht charter, you do not need a license to sail a yacht in New Zealand. This is also the case where you are renting a small motorboat without a cabin for a day trip around the local islands or beaches.
You also do not need a license if you are on a bareboat yacht charter, but a charter company will expect you to show competence and boating experience to take a boat yourself. Certain qualifications may help prove this, including:
International Certificate of Competence: This is issued on request by your European sailing authority, and you should automatically qualify with certain national sailing qualifications.
RYA Qualifications: If you have the following qualifications you will be able to take a bareboat charter out of New Zealand, these include Day Captain (sail or motor endorsement), Coastal Captain or Yachtmaster.
American Sailing Association (ASA): The ASA 104 Bareboat certificate is commonly accepted.
US Sailing: The International Proficiency Certificate is widely accepted and The Bareboat Cruising Certificate is also accepted in many cases.
While sailing in northern New Zealand is possible year-round in much of the country, the southern hemisphere summer months are by far the most pleasant. The winter varies between some nice, temperate days to chilly weather in the north while South Island can get snow.
The Christmas and New Year vacations are very popular times and the peak of the chartering season, though the weather is comfortable and warm from late November through the start of fall in early April.
New Zealand on the whole has moderate and comfortable weather, without extremes of heat or cold except in the far south and the mountains. No matter when you travel, you will want a light jumper or jacket with you, as any evening may bring a chill on the water. In the cooler months you'll need a jacket, but not winter clothing unless you head to South Island and even then near the coasts it's not extreme.
Summer in the Bay of Islands is warm to occasionally hot, with temperatures ranging from 24°C to 26°C (75°F to 80°F), with rare highs above 32°C (90°F). Prevailing winds are Westerly to South-westerly and lighter in the summer months. Winter is cooler, but not truly cold, with average lows to 11°C (52°F) at night with highs to 16°C (61°F) during the days.
Spring (September through November) and autumn (March through May) are comfortable seasons for sailing, though cooler. You might find some off-peak discounts on charter rates and very nice conditions.
Summers in Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf are warm and comfortable, with mild humidity. It's not that far south from the Bay of Islands and conditions aren't dramatically different with average daily temperatures in the summer of 23°C (74F) and 14°C (57°) through the winter.
South Island is a boot cooler than North Island, with lower temperatures in the summer. It's still very pleasant, with average summer temperatures ranging from 20°C (68°F) to 25°C (77°F). The winter is colder than the north though, with temperatures averaging 12°C (54°F) in July, the dead of winter.
New Zealand has a wide variety of crewed and bareboat charters available to suit your budget. Peak season for charters is over the Christmas and New Year's vacations and the weeks around those. Winter rates are cheapest and may get up to a 30% discount from summer, but not all charters run through the cooler months. Compared to places like the Caribbean or the Mediterranean, the boats are smaller and mostly monohulls.
Bay of Islands bareboat charters start as low as $180 NZD ($91/$101/$120 US) per day for a cosy twenty-foot boat for two, but a more typical price for a three-cabin, 37' boat in the summer is $890 NZD ($450/$500/$591 US) per day. Peak pricing may be 20% to 50% higher. Charter periods longer than five days will often get a discount and may include amenities like linens in the price.
A bareboat catamaran in the Hauraki Gulf will start at $950 NZD ($481/$535/$630 US) per day in the summer, though larger crewed sailing and power cats will cost more.
If you're looking for a more luxurious big boat experience, several choices are available, either on shared charters or exclusive charters. Prices on exclusive charters start at $1,300 NZD ($658/$730/$863 US) per day (plus catering) and increase with the size, luxury, and the number of passengers.
You will need money for insurance too - this can be in the form of a refundable damage deposit on your credit card or by buying non-refundable insurance for the vacation in advance. Extras like kayaks, a fishing rod, ski biscuits, and other water toys can be added to your charter for a daily charge.
If you are paying for a captain, expect to pay at $300 NZD ($152/$169/$200 US) or more per day depending on the boat type, and you will need to feed them and tip them at the end of the vacation. On top of these fees, you will need food, restaurant money (again this is down to what you wish to spend), beverages, fuel for the week and mooring fees.
A New Zealand charter vacation offers a broad range of experiences and sights to see. With a little planning, you can run the gamut of private and remote encounters with nature to sampling some of the local cuisine, fresh seafood and wines the country is noted for.
Many of the islands throughout New Zealand's have designations as nature preserves, sanctuaries, or conservation zones. Information is available through the Department of Conservation about any restrictions or rules which may apply to these special places. You can visit most of them, but check for rules about the numbers of visitors, sticking to trails, or other requirements.
If you plan to bring hiking boots or shoes (and you should!), before you leave home give them a thorough cleaning to make sure there is no visible dirt or plant materials in the treads.
You may see whales, dolphins, seals, and a variety of sea birds and marine life in your travels. Please read the Department of Conservation guide to marine mammal encounters before your trip, so you're ready to enjoy the company of the beautiful and playful creatures without causing them any distress or harm. Dolphins playing in your bow wake as you glide across the water in the Bay of Islands is a memory you'll keep forever. The chances are good you'll see some, so you want to be ready with your cameras.
Fishing charters are very popular, and an afternoon on a fishing boat is a pleasant change of pace for a sailor. Boat trips run from most coastal towns to see wildlife and fish.
Most coastal towns in the areas you will charter will have a place to land your dinghy and come ashore for dinner, shopping, and sightseeing. Within a short distance of all these, you'll find everything from wineries and museums to Māori cultural experiences and glow worm caves. Some you can walk to, and some you might need to take a taxi or find a ride. Make sure you plan to take at least one nice dinner ashore, if that's your thing and bring your walking shoes.
The 36th America's Cup races will on the Hauraki Gulf starting in December 2020 through March 2021. This much-anticipated event is expected to attract sizeable crowds on the water to see the international crews compete in high tech yachts for this coveted prize. Because of the crowds, many charter companies are restricting bareboat charters from entering the spectator areas because of collision risks.
If you plan to charter during America's Cup, book well in advance and consult your charter company, as they may require a captain for days you plan to enter the spectator zones.
Yes, it is legal. Always be sure you are dealing with a licensed and insured charter boat operator. For many captained charters, the boat owner is the captain and you may speak with them.
Monohulls are the most common bareboat sailing charter, though a few catamarans are available. Crewed power catamarans and luxury yachts are also available in all locations, and shared charter day trips. Small power launches for fishing and day excursions can be found in most places.
The main points to consider are what is your budget, have you got the necessary sailing experience and qualifications to manage the boat if it will not have a captain, whom you are taking sailing, where you wish to go and what will the weather be like on the proposed dates of your trip.
The southern hemisphere months are the most pleasant - from November through March. You can rent a yacht on the shoulders of those seasons for a cost savings whilst still having pleasant weather conditions.
You will typically pay 50% up front on reservation the yacht rent and the balance on arrival. You will either pay a security deposit with your credit card on departure or can get insurance covering damage in advance. In some cases (such as the recent Covid situation) charter companies may be more flexible, but this depends on the individual charter companies themselves.
If you are at sea and in danger, call MAYDAY on VHF Ch16 or ring the coast guard on your phone if you have reception. If you have a mechanical fault and can make it to or are on a mooring, you will be able to phone a help line number given by the boat charter company.
You should consider do you have the experience to handle the yacht charter or boat rental before you book and where do you want to go along with what the weather will be like. Bring warm weather and cool weather clothing if it looks like the weather can be cool as well as warm and remember at sea it can be cool on most evenings.
If you want to sail without a captain you will likely need relevant qualifications like RYA Day Skipper/International Certificate of Competence (ICC)/ASA 104 Bareboat certificate or the US Sailing Certificate or be able to show considerable experience. For small 'day boats' or if you have a captain on board, you typically don't require licences.
New Zealand waives Visa requirements for many countries, but all visitors must secure an NZeTA (New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority) prior to arrival in New Zealand. Apply online for your NZeTA on the New Zealand Immigration website before you leave home.