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TARA MULVANY

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Stormy seas & Sea eagles - from the edge of Russia

Posted by Tara Mulvany on June 25, 2016 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (5)

Bleak, barren, and beautiful. It's hard to sum up the past few weeks and paint a picture of the landscapes that I have travelled through.

Headland after headland, one fjord crossing and then the next - the wild and windswept northern coast of Norway has not disappointed. Day after day I've been soaking wet, cold, tired and sometimes hungry, but it has been awesome. Here is a little insight into my journey so far.

After catching the Hurtigruten for 36 hours to its eastern most, and turn around port of Kirkenes, I found myself huddling behind a small building, trying to get some shelter from gale force winds. Two giant bags were beside me, and I'd weighed down my beautiful kayak with another big bag so it wouldn't get blown away. Waves were smashing onto the rocky sea wall, sea spray blew in the wind, and my colder than usual toes turned pink. 

I'd considered starting my journey from Kirkenes - but it just didn't feel right - I had to begin at the border, and the true beginning of Norway's coast, at a place called Grense Jakobselv. The question then was how to get myself, and my kayak there. Fortunately, the legendary James Baxter came to the rescue, and that was in the form of a tall friendly Norwegian called Ole. A few years back James skied the length of Norway in winter, and then paddled back down the coast - and Ole was a friend of his. He agreed to drive me and my kayak the 40 or so kms to the border so I could start where Norway did.

We skirted lakes and drove through small patches of forest, which Ole told me were the western most roaming grounds of the Siberian tiger. It wasn't reassuring that I was going to be camping not far away! As we neared the end of the road, a small river separated us from Russia. Two young soldiers huddled under a tarp marked a border well guarded, and we continued on, crossing over paddocks before the road met the sea in a small sandy bay. Whitecaps covered the ocean and gusts of wind blew raindrops sideways across the windscreen.

Ole told me about a guy he knew, who in the 1980's, as a 15 year old, had been kayaking close by. The wind came up and he was blown slightly out to sea, then a current pushed him into Russian waters. He spent three days in a Russian jail before they let him go.

I could see the yellow buoy off the river, marking the separation between countries, and I really didn't want to get blown past it. But, despite the wind blowing in that direction, I was eager to get going and make a start, even if it was only a few kms. So in the gale I packed my boat, faffing a bit with a huge pile of gear and then eventually failing and strapping my drybag backpack to the top deck. Ole waited until I was ready, took some pictures of me (I wonder if he thought they might be the last of me..) and then helped push my boat off the beach. I wobbled, paddled, turned and waved goodbye before paddling out into rough water and the wind. 

It wasn't an ideal start, I was feeling a little uneasy about being back in such a narrow boat, and quickly realised that this was actually the roughest conditions I'd ever paddled the boat in. I cut across the bay, working slowly into the wind and towards a headland not far away. If I could get around it, and keep my distance out to sea, it was only a few kms of exposed water before I could tuck back into a small inlet. The sky was grey and waves smashed on the rocks, and the tops of waves occasionally surged, sending a small amount of tumbling whitewash towards me. I wasn't relaxed but I wasn't uncomfortable, so I pushed on, happily making calm waters a few hours later. I pulled up outside a small wooden hut that belonged to a friend of Ole's.

I love huts. Especially unlocked ones beside the ocean, and this one became my home for the next day, as the winds continued to blow. Sea eagles danced in the wind, the feathers on their ginormous wings flapping wildly. They were the first of many of these incredible creatures that I would see in the weeks ahead. 


 

 

Conquering Commander Peak

Posted by Tara Mulvany on April 23, 2016 at 6:55 AM Comments comments (0)

For thousands of years Commander Peak has stood at the entrance to Hall Arm, guarding the waterways below. I have paddled past this mountain hundreds of times. I’ve looked straight up at it’s towering cliffs, once carved by glaciers, sheets of water pouring off its face, waterfall numbering hundreds and tiny ferns clinging to smooth rock.


Clients often ask if anyones ever climbed it. I tell them about a crazy guy called Ben, who used to guide for us, and how he made it to the summit and down in a day.

So after looking at Commander for so long, and seeing the line, it was time to give it a crack. My partner in crime was the one and only Keith Buckeridge, aka K Buck, the master of ridiculous missions. I called him at 8pm the night before to make sure we had everything sorted. We chatted for about 4 minutes before he exclaimed, “Holy shit T! this is the most planning we’ve ever done before a mission!” It was not far from the truth.


Our plan was to go fast and light - we would only take the bare essentials - some warm clothes, lightweight sleeping bags, a small rain fly, and some food. We would bivvy somewhere along the tops and be down the next day with enough time to paddle back to Deep Cove and catch the last bus for the day out. It all sounded good in theory.


The next morning our grand mission began in the dark, catching the first boat of the day across Lake Manapouri and zooming over the Wilmot Pass. We grabbed a role of red electrical tape from Bob (our favourite Deep Cove person) incase we needed to flag our route, jumped in a kayak and paddled out of Deep Cove and into Hall Arm. The water was glassy calm and mist and cloud hung in the valleys and over the tops of the hills around us. A small pod of dolphins surfaced close by and a kereru flew high above. We were amped, but little did we know quite what was to come.


From a familiar campsite halfway down Hall arm we ditched the kayak, threw our packs on and donned suitable footwear for the ascent - the first ascent of the south ridge of Commander Peak. We followed the tannin stained waters of the river upstream, before cutting up an old tree avalanche and onto the ridge. The rainforest was dense, dripping, and slippery with mud. We slogged upwards, gaining elevation, our spirits high. But soon enough things grew steeper and we dragged ourselves higher with questionable climbing technique complete with a more than necessary use of the knee. We’d left all grace well down at the fiord.

It wasn't long before we were scaling a near vertical cliff, covered in drenched moss with a few small trees growing out at right angles to the cliff. At this point I was thinking, ‘if ferns grow here, then I can climb it.” Myth number one. I soon deemed it false.


15m up the cliff we were stalled by a vertical section with barely more than a few spindly trees with trunks the diameter of a 50c piece. Wide eyed K Buck was looking sceptical, but I saw the line and went for it. There were larger trees above us, and as long as I made it up the next 15m section, we would be sweet. I moved right, off our small stance of ferns stuck to the rock. Carefully moving upward, I climbed slowly, trying to spread my weight evenly across the small anchors I had - a few ferns, a tree root, and a spindly tree. Then all of a sudden, it hit me - what the hell was I doing clinging to a vertical cliff covered in nothing but moss?! All good handholds were gone, and the next tree above me was out of reach. I couldn’t go down - that really wasn't an option. So I lunged for the branch, missed, and swung back down to my tree root. Jamming my foot deep into the moss, struggling to get any grip, I took a second lunge, grabbed the branch and pulled myself to safety.

There may have been a few words coming out of my mouth that started with the letter F. Granted and necessary at that time. I pulled out my throw bag, wrapped it around a solid looking tree trunk and threw it down to K Buck. Then for the next while I nervously watched him climb up. Again, more F words.


I was happy we had made it up the newly named ‘Mulvany Step’, but a little worried about how we’d ever get back down. I wrapped some red tape round a branch, hopeful, yet doubtful that we’d ever find this tree again on the way down.

A still wide eyed Buck looked at me, “and to think we could have been boofing right now!”

I was trying not to think about it. “Ya, but you’d probably never remember that day if we were boating.. and this.. you’ll never forget!”

“so, but at least we could have been enjoying ourselves!!”

I couldn’t argue with the guy, it was a very valid point.

Bashing our way through dense jungle for hours we finally arrived at the bush line. Morale took an upwards slide, and we wove through the last of the trees into a eerie world of tussocks and mountain tops. In a race with daylight we scrambled along the ridge line, following deer tracks and eventually, surrounded by scattered cloud we reached the summit. It was bitter sweet - it was wet, freezing cold, and we had a rough night ahead of us. And, at this stage our hopes of making it down off the ridge before dark the next day were looking slim.


We set up our small fly using a stick we’d salvaged from the tree line and curled up in our summer weight sleeping bags. It was a night of character building, and in the morning we awoke to more cloud and dampness. Wait.. did we actually wake up, or were we just awake the whole time. I’m not too sure.

Either way with a bit of squealing I wrung out my soaking wet polypro pants and pulled them on, donned my trusty jandals and we skipped off into the wind. Through parted clouds the fiords and valleys opened up below us as we boosted along the ridge and back into the bush.

Within half an hour in the bush we were semi lost, got bluffed out and had to retrace our steps back up onto the ridge. Morale was low and I was starting to wonder if we’d ever make it back down.


Slipping, sliding and swearing, we finally approached the Mulvany Step, and found the tiny piece of red tape, wrapped around a small tree. We shimmied down the cliff using my throw bag, which was only just long enough to make it down to a small perch before we were able to down climb the rest.

With a slight opening in the trees, we saw what we thought was the slip that we’d approached the ridge on and eagerly bush bashed down the side of it.. until again, we were stopped by more bluffs. Morale skydived and we climbed back up onto the ridge. An hour or two later we eventually made it down to our kayak!!


With a ticking clock and not much time, we jumped in and sped back to Deep Cove, hauled our kayak back up onto the rack and ran up to the side of road to catch the last bus out. We had 10 minutes to spare!!

Yet another successful or ridiculous mission in Fiordland, depending on how you look at it. So if anyone’s looking to retrace our steps, I have a few wise words of advice. Go when it’s dry. Take at least a 40m rope and some flagging tape, and enjoy! And just incase you were wondering, if deer can climb there, it doesn't mean you can too.


THE GREAT WAR OF ISISPYNTEN - 3 kayakers, 9 hungry polar bears & 200km of glacial cliffs

Posted by Tara Mulvany on October 6, 2015 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (2)

Along the entire North Eastern coast of Nordaustlandet lies one long line of glacial cliffs, which at this latitude stretch nearly an entire parallel. For more than 200km the Austfonna Glacier heaves masses of ice into the Arctic Ocean and guards Svalbard’s shores. From the information we managed to gather, we had an idea that there could be a few potential landing points along the glacier, but none could be guaranteed. We knew that a passing of the cliffs was going to be an epic undertaking and were prepared for the likeliness of having to run the cliffs in one long, 180km paddle which would take us close to 40hrs of non stop paddling. I really hoped that wouldn’t eventuate.


At Kapp Laura we left the north coast behind and turned our bows south, following the cliffs towards our last possible landing, 40km south at a place called Isispynten. On our maps it was a small peninsula jutting out from the coast, but we had heard that maybe it was an island. No one we spoke to who ‘knew’ the area was really sure. Either way we were confident that we could land there, and it would be a good starting point for when the weather window opened up for us.


The current was with us as we threaded a line close to the base of the cliffs, and 65 kilometres later we landed on Isispynten, discovering that it was in fact an island. We pulled up onto a rocky beach and lifted PGs boat up and over a jumbled pile of ice which marked the high tide line. We were on the edge of a small lagoon, and figuring it would be easier just to paddle around to the other side, Jaime and I jumped back in our boats. 10 minutes later we entered the lagoon, and through the fog I spotted something on a patch of snow which looked the distinct creamy colour of a polar bear. I paddled closer. From less than 50m away I still couldn’t work out if it was actually a bear – it wasn’t moving, but if it was a bear, it was huge and sleeping. I crept away quietly and pulled up beside Jaime, pointing at the small patch of snow. “I could be on crack, but i think there’s a big polar bear just over there,” I stated flatly. A minute later he confirmed that yes, we were camping 150m from a sleeping, giant polar bear, who was most likely hungry and held hostage on an island that was no longer encased in sea ice. I was not happy, but PG and Jaime were convinced it wasn’t a problem – if he did wake up and decide to come for a visit, we would just scare him away. Easy.


We had barely been on the island for 15minutes when our new friend decided to wake up, roll onto his back and stretch his legs. I would have thought this was cute on TV, but in real life.. I was a little anxious. Then the bear started walking towards us. We yelled and he didn’t flinch. PG was ready to fire a round on his rifle, and the plan was that we would quickly follow with a flash bang on the signal gun. Instead of grabbing the signal gun which was right beside him, Jaime continued faffing with his camera. Typical. I abused Jaime, grabbed the gun, loaded it and fired two seconds after PG. My shot landed directly in front of the bears nose and exploded with a big flash and a bang, just like they are supposed to do. The bear shat his pants, turned around and ran off, glancing behind him as he went. Kayakers one. Bear nil.


A minute later I glanced to the left of our camp and one by one more sleeping polar bears awoke from their small patches of snow. It was something of a weird horror movie set and we had just woken up four more big male bears. Not ideal. Bear number two came at us with a trot and the three of us moved forwards, holding our ground and then firing more rounds and the signal gun. The bear was closer than 100m and the gun shot 100m.. I didn’t want to shoot behind it so I fired slightly up. Bang. It exploded up in the air. The bear got the message and turned and wandered slowly off back to his patch of snow. Kayakers two. Bears nil.


Turns out polar bears are slow learners and bear number three hadn’t figured out what was going on. He wanted a turn too. So we again moved forwards, he walked slowly closer, we shot some rounds, fired the signal gun and he too wandered off. These bears would be trapped on Isispynten until the sea ice came back in the winter, and during that time they would be forced into a docile state, sleeping to conserve energy and most likely being without any significant food. It seemed to us that the bears had been forced to co exist, there was an obvious hierarchy and each bear had their own territory. We kept an eye on our friends as we ate our dinner beside the fire, and they kept an eye on us, a couple of hundred metres away. Most of them lay back down to sleep.


We had established our territory and there seemed to be no immediate threat – if any of them came back for a second go and weren’t easily scared then we would reconsider paddling back in the direction we had come. But for the next 12 hours our friends kept their distance and we slept in turns, only getting up once to chase away bear number one who was too scared to go back to his patch of snow and instead tried to curl up in a tiny patch 50m from the tent. The visibility was still poor and the winds weren’t forecast to ease off for another 12hrs, so logic was that the longer we could wait out on bear island, the easier our lives were going to be for the passing of the cliffs.


I had just finished my shift and Jaime had just gotten out of the tent when a new, rough looking, yellowy coloured, giant bear appeared out of the fog not far away. He was even bigger than the rest and probably weighed more than 800kgs. This guy was clearly the ruler of the island.. there was something about him that meant trouble. I quickly grabbed the signal gun and woke up PG while Jaime again with his priorities set grabbed his camera. It was game on. The bear walked towards us and we stepped forwards, firing the first round and dropping a flash bang in front of his nose. He didn’t even flinch and wandered closer. Behind him sleeping on his patch of snow was bear number 4 – who we had named John. He hadn’t given us any trouble so far and he freaked, jumped up and ran away. John was a smart bear.


Giant bear took more steps towards us and the distance that separated us was not much more than 60-70m, slightly too close for comfort. We fired more rounds but still no reaction. Then I fired a flash bang which landed a metre behind him.. he obviously wasn’t expecting it and lunged forwards a couple of steps.. Ekk! Eventually, after the most intense few minutes of my life, some 13 rounds and 6 flash bangs later, the bear turned and slowly walked away. It was a close game, but we had won. Polar bears nil, kayakers, 4. It was time to leave the island.


Just as we turned to walk back to the tent to start packing up, another big bear appeared over the top of the hill walking straight towards us. Nooo! I was well and truly over fighting giant bears now, I just wanted to get off the island but we had another war to win first. Bear number six came in close and we struggled to scare him off, it was again touch and go whether he was going to turn and walk away. Thankfully he did.


The air was still filled with a thick creepy fog, and a southerly wind blew. We knew we couldn’t afford to set off for the cliffs until the conditions improved, so we packed up, slid the kayaks down to the waters edge, and sat around our fire for a couple more hours, killing time and watching out for bears. Later in the afternoon the sky’s cleared and the cliffs emerged out of the fog. We pushed away, heading south hoping that we would find somewhere to land 35km away at a place where we had been told the glacier was surging forward. If not, then it was going to be a long, long day.


The sea was calm and it was a pretty surreal feeling to be finally here, paddling beside the cliffs that we had spent so much time dreaming about. Apart from Team Norway who were somewhere behind us, we were very much alone. Since leaving our waiting hut before heading onto the northern coast we hadn’t seen any boats, no huts and no human sign. 50m high cliffs of crumbling blue and white ice stretched as far as we could see in front of us before disappearing into the cloud. We were all in high spirits. The forecast was good and the ice charts showed only small patches of drift ice. There was no turning back.


We were paddling along separated by a couple of hundred metres when Jaime yells out “polar bear!!” and I see a large white head chasing PG up in front. At this point I’m thinking, cool, time for photos and I keep paddling towards the bear. Jaime turns, points and yells at me to paddle left. PG is paddling full speed and the bear is hot on his tail. Luckily the bear gets distracted and doesn’t know which one of us to chase and becomes tired after a couple of minutes. PG is still shitting his pants, and me and him keep our distance. The same can’t be said for Jaime who pulls out his camera and paddles closer to the bear. Part of me hopes the bear takes a swipe at his kayak to teach him a lesson. We lead him to an iceberg and he climbs on top – now it’s time for all of us to pull out the cameras and even PG backs in close to get a selfie with the bear!!


Half an hour later we came across a low point in the glacier. As the tide was high, it was only a 1.5m climb up onto a small ice ledge before another scramble up on top of the glacier. Perfect! It took a bit of effort but we were able to climb out and haul our loaded kayaks up onto the ice before securing them with an ice screw. It was a magic setting – a carving glacier stretching to the horizon in both directions and the ocean filled with ice bergs, drifting with the currents.


We slept on the ice for the day before we packed and began the process of lowering the kayaks and ourselves back down to the water. From here to the end of the cliffs was only a little over 100km in a straight line. We expected it to take us around 24hrs. Into the fog we paddled. Soon enough a band of slushy ice halted our progress and we turned around, forced our way back to semi clear water and paddled away from the cliffs in search of an easier path. For the next 17hours we followed our compasses, occasionally checking the GPS to adjust our course through the fog. It was mentally brutal not being able to see anything apart from a silvery sea, ice, and two other kayakers, hour after hour. We pushed our way through large sections of ice, our bows making unnerving crunching noises every few seconds, noises that we have become accustomed to. Thankfully, apart from some cracked gel coat issues, our fibreglass/Kevlar Zegul kayaks have stood up the the punishment we have given them.


By the 14th hour I was starting to fall asleep and downed a couple of caffene pills. After that I felt good.. As good as you can be when Jaime is singing irritating songs at the top of his voice. Luckily he got tired of that after an hour. Then came the stage when I felt sea sick.. I quickly swallowed some sea sick pills and held everything down. When we eventually hit the cliffs again at around the 70km mark things got easier, at least we had something to look at. We stopped for a while and PG boiled the cooker on the front of his kayak and we had a hot feed.


At the 90km mark we rounded a corner and spied a giant waterfall spilling out over the lip of the glacier. Even after 24hrs of paddling I couldn’t resist the temptation to paddle under the falls – there is something so powerful about being so close to a huge waterfall. Out came the cameras and we messed around for a while, trying to capture the magic of this place that I struggle to find the words for. I was taking photos of the guys in the falls when I glanced to my left… there was not one swimming polar bear but two!! And they were hunting me down. I yelled at Jaime and PG then paddled away as fast as I could.


The bears followed, making horrific grunting noises that said ‘I want to eat you!’. They’d obviously been in the water for a while and didn’t have the pace of the first swimming bear, so we lead them to a pretty looking, picture perfect iceberg in front of the falls. They clambered out and continued their grunting. The bears were a similar size and we had initially thought it was two males, but turns out it was mum and her grown male cub. We took photos and they kept trying to get us before it was time to continue on the paddle.


Eventually, after being in our kayaks for 26.5 hours we touched land. The Austfonna Glacier was over. It had been a surreal experience, and the 72 hours since declaring war on Isispynten were some of the most epic and intense of my life. The war, then the night on the carving glacier, the bands of ice, the swimming bears, the waterfalls and the never ending fog. All of it combined to make one epic, barely describable experience.


Nordaustlandet had given us an adventure on a scale of which we couldn’t have imagined. It had been brutal and beautiful, but there was no time at that moment to reflect, all I wanted to do was sleep.


The next day after we had all slept a total of 12hrs, we packed and paddled away, heading for our food cache halfway up Hinlopen Strait. We paddled for 18hours, again much of it in thick fog, navigating by compass and pushing through small sections of ice. That night we officially completed a circumnavigation of the island, and won the unfortunate ‘Race for Nordaustlandet’ . Not that it really mattered, we still had a long way to go to get back to civilization and even further to complete our goal. That night, while we were camped in a swampy bay filled with goose poop I couldn’t help but think of Team Norway, who in a couple of days time would be lying in a hot tub on the deck of their mothership drinking cold beers as they sailed home. Part of me envied them, but adventure was calling and so was the coast ahead. The adventure continued.


You'll find all the other blog posts from this adventure at www.svalbard.worldwildadventure.com

 :) Tara

The land of the ice bear, Svalbard

Posted by Tara Mulvany on June 18, 2015 at 11:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Just a quick note to say that tomorrow we fly north to Svalbard to begin our adventure.  If you're interested in following along, you will find updates on our blog, http://svalbard.worldwildadventure.com/blog/ and most likely more regular updates on Facebook.  We are carrying with us a Delormie Inreach tracker, which is visible on the header bar on my Tara's Journeys facebook page, so you can follow our progress live.

I'm amped to get going, it's been a long time coming and it's going to feel so so good to finally paddle away into the unknown.  We have been so lucky wih all the help and support we have recieved to get to this point, there is no way we could even give this circumnavigation a shot without it.  Unlike this time last year, a large amount of ice is already breaking up, and it's looking promising that a full circumnavigation will be possible this summer.  On Saturday we will see and paddle our kayaks for the first time and I can't wait! 

:) 


Spark my Potential & Kayak around Svalbard

Posted by Tara Mulvany on April 20, 2015 at 5:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Firstly I'd like to say a huge thank you to everyone who's made a donation towards our coming Svalbard expedition.  I fly to Norway on June 11th which isn't far away! So much has been happening, we've been lucky enough to have had a number of awesome sponsors onboard helping this trip to become a reality.  Tahe Outdoors are sponsoring us custom made Zegul Arrow Empower kayaks, Kokatat are giving us dry suits and PDFs, Lendal NA are giving us paddles, Fresh As are sponsoring a huge supply of freeze dried fruit packs, watershed are giving us drybags for our rifles, Wear on Earth NZ are sponsoring down jackets, and Auckland Sea Kayaks have made a generous financial contribution to our expedition.  So a massive thanks to everyone who's been involved in pulling this impossible dream together. It's been both humbling and empowering, big things can happen if you believe in your goals and stive to make them happen despite all the obstacles. The last big thing that is left for us is to raise the final $15,000 to get us away - and we are lucky that Spark NZ have included us in their Spark my Potential program, and they're currently offering matched funds on the next 20 donations upto $1500.  So if you feel like being a part of this story and supporting a crazy adventure... You can do that herehttp://sparkmypotential.co.nz/project/kayaksvalbard ;  Thanks heaps and we should have some stories for you soon!! I'm excited to write them :) Tara

Arctic Dreams - The beginning of an Arctic circumnavigation

Posted by Tara Mulvany on March 27, 2015 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (1)

This feels a little strange to be writing a blog post again. It seems like forever since I’ve been on a big mission, taking each day as it comes, life’s movements decided by the sea and the sky. Without the challenges, beauty and the raw power of being alone in the wilderness, I find it difficult to find the inspiration to write. But now I do, because a new adventure is not far away.


In early June I’m flying halfway around the world to Norway, where I will meet Jaime and PG, and then we’ll fly north together to Longyearbyen, Svalbard. This tiny settlement sits on the western side of Spitsbergen - the main island of this desolate Arctic archipelago. It will be the starting point for our circumnavigation, and from there, we will paddle into an unknown world of sea and ice.


It is a little ironic that last week my local newspaper, The Southland Times, published an article with the headline “Arctic sea ice at record winter low.” The article states that the Arctic ice this year is the smallest since satellite records began in 1979. There is no denying that the ice is melting at an alarming rate, and temperatures in the far north are warming at more than twice the speed as the rest of the world. At this rate the Arctic ice sheet will be completely gone by the end of this century, lost forever.

 

Although this news and the melting ice improve our chances of success, it is not good news for the wildlife that make the archipelago their home. There are an estimated 3000 polar bears on Spitsbergen alone. These bears will be one of the many huge challenges and threats that we will have to deal with - along with pack ice, endless glacial fronts coated in enveloping fog, and katabatic winds that thunder down from the glacial valleys. These bears are the top of the food chain, the deadliest hunters on earth, and in Svalbard we will be just tiny speckles of colour amongst the wilderness.

 

Just last week an eclipse-chasing tourist was attacked by a bear on Spitsbergen and saved only by another group member who shot and killed the bear. It’s a brutal reminder of the reality of this wild land that we have chosen to venture into.

 

Why am I doing this? I’m driven by the desire to explore and experience the remote and untouched corners of the world. I love wild places and Svalbard is as wild as it gets. I want to watch polar bears hunt in the wild, beluga whales surface on a foggy ocean, and caribou dance over barren plains. I want to paddle under towering glacial cliffs and amongst icebergs. I want to push my limits and to paddle where no one has ever paddled before.

 

This is the sort of adventure I have wanted for a long time. I don’t want to spend forever wondering what it could have been, fear hindering me from living the dream.  This is the beginning of our story amongst ice bears and islands, and we want to share it with you.  The adventure begins!  

We have created a new website where you can follow our trip, www.svalbard.worldwildadventure.com

:) Tara


Life Under A Full Moon

Posted by Tara Mulvany on September 19, 2014 at 4:45 AM Comments comments (3)

The sky is dark, the mountains are covered in snow, and I am back in this beautiful land, ready for summer to arrive. It's been a while since I have worked, and I'm excited to be back in the game, guiding in Fiordland. It's good to be home, and it's even better to have a home.. my first home in two and a half years.

  

This year has been one filled with challenges, storms and sunshine, new places, people and experiences. In the 25 years that I have been on this planet, this is the first year where I can remember exactly where I was for each full moon. When you're living outside, you notice these things. During my 5 months of kayaking around Stewart Island, and then the North Island, it was always a special moment to watch the moon rise over the mountains, or the edge of the ocean, and know just how far I had come, or paddled, since the last time it was full. This year has not only strengthened my desire to embark on greater adventures, but it has made me realise how much I can develop as a paddler. I still have a lot to learn.

 

I feel privileged to have spent the past couple of months paddling and traveling with Jaime. It's been awesome to be able to paddle with someone who constantly challenges me, and inspires me to become a better paddler -(even if he does call me slow). I had barely been in Canada for a week and Jaime convinced me to jump back in a whitewater boat and I found myself dropping waterfalls and running massive rock slides, barely in control, and squealing like an idiot as I approached each horizon line. We paddled whitewater in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California, and I had A LOT of fun doing it. In California we did an overnight trip on the Tuolomine River - my first ever overnight whitewater trip. We paddled all day, then slept that night on a stony beach, only a metre from the river, the sky shimmering with a million stars above. It is one of those special memories that will stay with me.

 

Jaime taught me to paddle a K1 racing kayak (even if he never explained that it had a rudder..), which has been a real eye opener for me - paddle one of these and it turns flat water into a grade 4 river. To add to my list of 'first times' in a boat, I paddled a surf ski for the first time, and had so much fun that I forgot to attach my leg leash! Lucky that Jaime had my back, oh no, that's right, he was having so much fun himself that he left me behind! I have a feeling it won't be the last time that I paddle a surf ski.

 

Now that I'm home, I'm ready for the summer to arrive. I'm ready for an income, and a routine. A chance to paddle, to write, and to plan for the next big adventure. I'm glad I took a risk and followed my instincts and went to Canada. It was the best thing I could have done, and I feel like this winter has just opened up a whole lot of new opportunities that I never knew existed.

As well as having guided a couple of kayaking trips already, two days ago I spoke to a bunch of Harcourts people in Christchurch, sharing with them a few tales of my NZ circumnavigation. It was a little hilarious when I turned up and realised that perhaps I should have worn shoes.. I felt just a little underdressed in jeans and jandals! But surely they must have expected it, inviting a hobo kayaker to come and talk. Other than that, nothing else is news, apart from that my book is not far away! So that will most probably be my next blog post. Until then, I will enjoy the wind and rain in the most beautiful place in the world :)

Torpedos, Nude Runs & Dodging Planes

Posted by Tara Mulvany on July 5, 2014 at 1:20 PM Comments comments (3)

Right now I'm sitting on the ferry on my way back to the mainland after an incredible six weeks on Vancouver Island. I'm sad but content - it is with regret that I'm leaving this magical island that I have grown to love, but at the same time I'm happy that I've achieved what I set out to do, and excited about the adventures that lie ahead.


The last time I blogged was in Tofino, a little west coast town beside the ocean, complete with a lively, surfy vibe. I spent two nights under a roof at Tofino Traveller's Guesthouse, owned by the sweetest guy ever named Nick. If you're ever in Tofino I thoroughly recommend staying here, it's chilled and friendly, and Nick makes the most gigantic waffles for breakfast. It was a relaxing break after having spent more than two weeks alone on the remote west coast, and it was a hard decision to load up my boat with fresh supplies, wheel her down to the waters edge, and paddle away.


The sea was still a bit lumpy after several windy days, and it wasn't long before I was paddling along to the mantra of 'don't vomit, keep paddling, nooo... don't vomit..' To add to my discomfort I had a seriously sore bum, so bad in fact that the odd rogue wave sent a splash of salty water rolling down my face. Luckily my planned island home for the night was not far away, and soon I was lying in the sun on a white beach of crushed shells. A sign nailed to a tree hanging above had an interesting picture of a torpedo exploding, and some bold words saying "Danger! Keep Out!". Turns out my camping island was an old torpedo testing ground, but all good, I pitched my tent on the beach and decided not to venture into the forest. To be attacked by a bear would make a good story, but half blown up by a torpedo? Maybe not so.


From my torpedo island I busted out a couple of big days, clocking around 150km in three days on a mission to get to the end. The seas were calm and seals basked in the sun on rocky outcrops. A couple of whales swam close by, occasionally lifting their giant tails before disappearing for a few minutes. They puffed huge breaths each time they surfaced, blowing up a small cloud of mist. Then one decided to blow in my face. If you've ever been this close to such a massive marine creature, you'll realise that this really isn't as cool as it sounds. Describing whale breath as being stinky would be more than an under statement. It was bad, very bad.


Nearing Sooke, and the point where I would turn towards the north once again, the forest slowly melted into houses, and lots of them. It was getting late, the sky was grey, I was soaked, and sneaky camping possibilities didn't look good. But luck was on my side, and rounding a headland I spotted a small building just above a stony beach with an upside down dingy hanging from it's deck. I was stoked, and dragged my boat up high and dry, jumped under the dinghy and cooked a delicious feed. An hour later the rain had cleared and I noticed that the house on the hill above had no lights on, and the blinds were down on all it's windows. Perfect, time for investigating! Soon I discovered that the shelter above was unlocked.. That only meant one thing, my home for the night! It's not trespassing if it's unlocked right? I went to sleep feeling smug and happy, and took a few pictures just to prove to Max Grant (the master of sneaky camp outs in unlocked buildings of all sorts) of my amazing find.


It was on this foggy night that I came to the realisation that I really didn't want the trip to end anymore. I wasn't ready to finish, and I certainty didn't want to leave my simple hobo life behind, for one of your average tourist. So instead of finishing my trip in two days like I could have, I took eight, soaking in what was left of another awesome journey alone.



I ran nude down more beaches than I can count on my fingers and toes. Why? because I didn't want to sleep in the clothes that I cooked in, otherwise I'd get eaten. So all my clothes, and food were sealed away in my kayak each night, hence a mad dash to the safety of my tent. The good thing about this, is that if I did happen to run into a bear, I'm certain he'd freak and never be seen again. Smart thinking I say.


On a sunny afternoon I paddled into the harbour at Victoria to spent a day in the bustling city. I kept well clear of the boat traffic, paddling along the far side of the channel, but alas, I found myself dodging a float plane that decided to try and land on my head. Or perhaps maybe I shouldn't have been paddling on the runway! A minute later a patrol boat motored up beside me. Leaning over the side, a rather stern looking man called out, "Do you know you're on a very busy runway?!" Time to play dumb tourist. "Hmm yeah, I just discovered that.. Sorry.. I'm not from here.." Note to self, watch out for planes, and keep off runways whilst kayaking in Canada.


That evening I found myself racing yachts, across to some islands a few km offshore. The sea was glass and I dominated, overtaking a number of boats and winning the race. If only I entered. My days from here to the end are all a bit of a blur, but filled with calm seas, countless islands and hazy horizons, all set under a temperamental sky.


On the last night of my journey I camped on a tiny island - the same place where Jaime and I camped on the first night of my trip. Mosquitos buzzed, flames flew high, and sitting on a pile of logs I couldn't help but reflect on yet another memorable trip. I did not feel much of a sense of achievement, other than the fact that I'd paddled around the island without shoes, I'd navigated the entire west coast with a road map, and I'd guessed the tide and current times each day and survived. This trip wasn't about doing anything hard core, and it lacked the excitement that had come with paddling the west coast of NZ - nothing will ever compare. Instead it was about experiencing a new country from kayak level, chasing wildlife, and living life under a stary sky for as long as possible.


In the past 9 months, I have paddled more than 4000 km and life has been easy and good. But it's hasn't been all glowing sunsets and calm seas. There have been days when all I wished for was a home (it's been two and a half years since I have had a home, other than my tent), a warm bed and a non leaky therm-a-rest. Days when I was wet, cold and hungry, but all I could do was keep paddling, battling into the wind for hours and hours, salt water running down my face and my hands stinging beyond numbness. But like always, the intensity of these 'character building' moments fades with time, and I'm glad that I can look back and just giggle, feeling happy that I gave it my best shot.



So now that it's all come to an end, I find myself sitting on the ferry, looking out towards the hazy outline of the Gulf Islands, and the smoky blue hills of Vancouver Island behind. The features of the land are slowly fading away, but the memories of my experiences on this coastal island will stay with me, I hope for a long time.


From here, I'm on my way to the Rockies and Jasper to visit Abi James and Eve Thomas, two friends from NZ, who are living the rafting and bus driving dream here in Canada. Then from Jasper my rough plan is to head to the US with Jaime Sharp, on tour with Trak Kayaks. Hopefully I will find myself paddling some awesome whitewater, huge goofy grin and all, and making the most of this unemployed freedom.


Sea Otters & Strawberries

Posted by Tara Mulvany on June 19, 2014 at 2:25 PM Comments comments (6)

It's been more than two weeks since I last blogged. So much has happened since then, and so many miles have slipped by, leaving me a little lost as to where to start this post. Maybe I'll start from the Inside Passage - the inland waterway that made me fight to the end. Day after day I pushed into relentless headwinds. I thought 6 days of them was enough, but it ended up being 11 days before I rounded Cape Scott and swung my bow south. On my last night in the passage, I camped on top of a steep gravel beach. The sky was foggy and the air was damp, but my fire glowed and flickered, the only colour in my monochrome world. That night I read the description of this very beach in my guidebook, "expect numerous bears as this is a prime feeding area for them." Hmm. I went with my theory of denial, zipped up my tent, shut the book and closed my eyes.

 

A few hours later I was woken by a loud noise - the long, loud exhales of a pod of passing whales, only metres from my tent, breathing magic into the still night air. I lay and listened. Early the next morning I was stirred from my sleep again, this time by orca - still no bears. In the dim light, I sat, curled in my sleeping bag, peering out the tent door. They swam slowly past, their huge black dorsal fins slicing through the eerily calm water, spraying spumes of mist that melted into the foggy air. This is what I had been waiting for, the passage in its grey, foggy, orca filled glory.

 

Two days later I began my journey down the West Coast of the Island. I made raging bonfires on stony beaches - fires that were probably bigger than what was necessary, but it was so much fun I couldn't resist. One afternoon I pulled up to a beach on a tiny island and fell asleep on a bed of dried seaweed. The next morning while i was happily eating my porridge I looked up and spotted a wolf, about 10m away, quietly watching. He was not at all scary like I had imagined, but I yelled at it, threw rocks and chased him away. Note to self, Jaime is always right, camping on tiny island does not mean that there is nothing that can eat you.

 

I paddled with pods of huge whales, and squealed as 20 orca charged towards me, spraying mist into the sky. It was my lucky day - after having spent hundreds of days on the ocean, this was the first time I'd ever seem orca from my kayak. It was powerful, and just a little bit scary!On a stony beach I found two glass buoys, that had floated all the way across the north pacific from Japan. I have wanted to find one of these for years! They were hidden gems on a beach covered in rubbish - every single beach I pulled up on was littered with Japanese plastic junk. Centuries ago people left their mark on the planet with beautiful, stone structures and temples. But our mark? Plastic?! I couldn't help but wonder if an effort is being made to clean up the beaches of west Vancouver Island. I hope so.

 

Black bears roamed on deserted beaches, and I paddled with hundreds of sea otters, curiously watching me. They swam on their backs, rubbing their faces with their tiny paws... way too cute! I camped on the edge of the forest, surrounded by wildflowers, and on an island covered in strawberries. I was like a little kid in a candy shop - I ate so many that I couldn't eat anymore. It was so good in fact that I stayed a second night, just so I could continue the feast.  One afternoon I was paddling on the outer coast and was hit by a huge front, a wall of wind blowing a solid 35-40 knots. I surfed downwind, weaving all over the show with my rudderless boat. Working hard, I flew towards the safety of an inlet, being soaked by the breaking swell with each wave from behind. Once inside, it was so windy that I flew 8 km in 25 minutes, and I was barely even paddling, mainly just fighting to keep myself pointed downwind.. Good times.

 

I didn't shower for 18 days, but it was all good, I considered my odor my bear repellant. I sneakily camped in a small bay tucked behind hot springs cove. These tiny pools are visited by hords of tourists each day, but that night, I was alone, watching the sun set from under a hot waterfall. It doesn't get much better than that! Yesterday i arrived in Tofino, and have splashed out and spent a night at a backpackers. I think I've earned it! last night I read a quote scribbled on the wall. I think it sums up things perfectly, here it is.."The most dangerous risk of all: the risk of spending your life not doing what you want, on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later." Randy Lomiser

From here I have about 400 km left to paddle to complete the loop. It feels like a long way.. This island is much bigger than I thought!

 

Headwinds in The Inside Passage

Posted by Tara Mulvany on June 1, 2014 at 9:50 PM Comments comments (2)

Today I made it to Seward, a small community on the edge of the Johnstone Strait. In the past six days I've covered close to 250 km, which means that I've been averaging just over 40 km a day. Nothing to brag about, but trust me, I have fought for every kilometre. I've had six days of head winds, thankfully most of which died off late afternoon. Because of the afternoon lull, I have been paddling for 6 hours into the wind early morning to make use of favourable tides, then chilling on land until later in the day, then paddling again until after 9pm. Today I battled for 8 hours into a solid 20 knot headwind.. fun times.


For years, I have dreamt of this place - the Inside Passage as it's known. I imagined calm, glassy waters, mountains shrouded in mist, set amongst an untouched wilderness, with the occasional pod of migrating whales slipping by. So far, it's been far from that, it's been choppy and windy, without any mist or rain, and the only living thing I have seen is a bald eagle. The hills are covered with pine forests, but huge chunks have been cut down by logging companies. It seems far from untouched, but then again maybe I shouldn't compare it to the wilderness of Fiordland?


The passage really is a highway - tug boats pulling barges stacked with logs, cruise ships, fishing boats, and ferries have all chugged past me. But still, I have felt very much alone, and in fact today was the first time I have spoken to another person in six days. Last week when I left Nanaimo, Jaime paddled out with me and we camped on a tiny island not far from the start line. Under a twinkling sky, in front of a crackling fire, I commented about how I was going to be a loner for the next six weeks. "Don't worry, you won't be alone, there's plenty of bears, wolves and cougars out there." Damn it Jaime. But thankfully, camping alone in the Canadian wilderness has been pretty uneventful so far. My theory of denial has worked well.

 

By the looks of things, my battle with the westerlies is far from over, but it can only mean one thing right... Tail winds on the west coast? From here I will paddle through the Johnstone Strait to Port McNeill, where I will restock my food supplies. And just incase anyone's wondering, cheesy pasta is Canada is the biggest letdown ever. It's a weird orange colour, comes in a box instead of a packet, and has more the consistency of glue than a creamy sauce. Slightly disappointing, but it's still my secret weapon. People often ask me how I can afford to take so many long 'holidays'. If you want my honest advice, live like a hobo, and eat nothing but cheesy pasta, crackers and porridge, and you can paddle for a long time.

 

And my final wise words of the day.. come to Canada, paddle the Inside Passage. It doesn't take much skill, and anyone with an adventurous spirit, along with a bit of persistence can pull it off. It's a dreamland if you want to escape the monotony of everyday life. You can paddle a long way.

Canada Creeking!

Posted by Tara Mulvany on May 26, 2014 at 7:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Just a quick update before I set off on my adventure around Vancouver Island. I have been staying with Jaime, a kiwi, who has been living over this way for the past 10 years. We randomly met on 90 mile beach this past summer - I was dragging my boat up the beach after nailing my last surf landing of the west coast, and Jaime was there on his filming project to document the paddling lifestyle in NZ. Despite the fact that he didn't help with my boat, and sat in his van watching, he seemed like an alright dude. So a few months later, when I decided to come to Canada, I turned up on his doorstep.. that is, the back door of his handicapped bus haha.

 

I was planning on setting off last week, but I got a little distracted and ended up spending the weekend creeking on the Upper Puntledge River with Jaime and a huge crew. It was awesome. It's been a long time since I've paddled any whitewater, so on the drive to the put in, I was a little nervous, but pretty relaxed on the whole.. I put that down to being naive about what was in front of me. I probably should have cottoned on to how everyone else was dressed - most of the crew were wearing dry suits, full face helmets and elbow pads. I, on the other hand looked like a typical kiwi dirt bag kayaker, no shoes, a dry top with a ripped neck seal, a falling apart PFD, with no elbow pads, and a helmet not really suited to steep creeking. But all good, I was just stoked to be there!

 

I was paddling Jaime's creekboat (a LL Stomper), so he decided to take an 11.5 ft boat, the Jackson Karma RG.. not your ideal creekboat.. and just to instil a bit of confidence he flew down the path at the put in, smashed into the back of someone else's boat, skimmed out into some trees and went upside down. At this point I'm wondering what the best thing to do is.. disown him, or jump out and grab his paddle which I can see wedged in the trees under his boat. He hand rolls up, grabs his paddle and paddles towards the first drop. All class.


 

The run was unlike anything I had ever run before. I just blindly followed a string of paddlers, keeping my distance but trying to be in the exact position where the people in front of me were as they dropped over the edge of some pretty intimidating horizon lines. Thankfully, despite his questionable seal launch at the put in, Jaime styled it, the Karma RG flew, and I didn't have to disown him.

 

We paddled three runs in two days, and it felt so so good!! Now all I want to do is run whitewater again!! But the ocean is calling, (hopefully not the bears, wolves and cougars..) so I am on my way this evening. I've got my SPOT tracker, so you should see it ticking back into action in the next day or two - unless it decides to run out of battery. In front of me lies 1200 km of cougar country, and what everyone tells me, amazing scenery. There is one way to find out!

 

Just before I leave, I just want to say a huge thank you to a couple of people who have helped to get me to the start line - Jaime for providing endless entertainment (I mean, who else could loose two petrol caps in two days.. and get them back again..) but really, thanks for helping to get me sorted & for having enough faith in me to bring me down some full on water... & for reminding me how much fun the river can be.

 

Also thanks heaps to Richard from Alberni Outpost in Nanaimo, for donating me a solid Bomber spray skirt. And also to John Kimantas, the editor of Coast & Kayak, for giving me a huge stack of maps, his awesome kayaking guidebook for the island, "The BC Explorer", and chart atlas. I really appreciate it!


 Jaime on the first drop of Stouten Falls

The Adventures Continue!

Posted by Tara Mulvany on May 9, 2014 at 11:00 PM Comments comments (4)

Last Sunday, the day before I left for Dusky, I nearly booked a ticket to western Australia. But I wasn’t totally at ease about it. I didn’t want to go. I was only going because I felt it was about time to make some money. I looked at the screen of my laptop, hesitated, and couldn’t bring myself to click the confirm button that would seal the deal.


After a magical week in Dusky, I knew that I’d done the right thing. I was still free.  I still had money in my Australian bank account from the winter before, so there were so many other things I could do. My mind was ticking. Canada is a place that I have wanted to explore for a long time. It is wild and remote, and it seems the perfect place to travel by simple means. Wilderness, mountains, lakes, rivers, and an ocean filled with wildlife. And bears. Hungry bears. I wondered, would a bear eat a kiwi? There was only one way to find out, and before I thought about it too much, I booked a ticket.


Do I know what I’m going to do in Canada? No, I don’t. I don’t have a plan, but when I arrive next Wednesday, I’ll figure it out. At this stage I’m thinking about buying a kayak and paddling away.  So soon, you’ll see my spot tracker back into action, and if I don’t get eaten, I might occasionally blog about whatever I get upto.  


This week I recieved the best surprise mail ever.. a painting from the amazing Ginney Deavoll.  Ginney paddled with me for two days down the Coromandel on my North Island trip.  I thought I was onto a winner when she told me I could put anything I wanted into her back hatch.  I looked around for a pile of rocks to sneak in, but there were none around, so when she wasnt looking I loaded her boat with a huge bag of food, and the 10L water bladder.  It wasn't until lunchtime that she figured it out.   If you havent heard of her, you have to check out her website, www.ginneydeavoll.com but be warned, you'll probably want to buy them all!!



The Journey Ends

Posted by Tara Mulvany on April 24, 2014 at 10:20 PM Comments comments (7)

This amazing adventure has all drawn to a close way too soon. Over the past few weeks, I have struggled to sum up and put into words all that has happened this summer. All the incredible moments that are now just memories, all the places, people and feelings that I have felt.


Memories of barefoot days, where money means nothing, but life means everything. Days where a full moon is a measure of progress, and there is never a schedule, decisions simply determined by the wind and the sea. I will miss so much about this rich, simple way of life. I will miss camping alone on windswept beaches, the glittering green twinkles of phosphorescence on a dark ocean, and nights in a million star hotel. Days brought alive by the chiming of cicadas amidst the rustling of pohutukawas, and leaping dolphins and diving gannets. And I will miss the early morning stillness on a glassy sea, beneath a glowing sunrise. No price can be put on it.


Don’t be fooled though, it wasn’t all perfect, and there are some things that I won't miss, not a tiny bit. I'm not sure if I will ever be able to eat cheesy pasta and popping candy chocolate bars ever again, however delicious they were at the time. I think I've eaten enough for a lifetime. I will not miss blowing up my therm-a-rest up three times every night, or being blasted by sand inside my tent. And I have to admit, it’s actually quite nice not having to check the weather forecasts everyday.


This summer, I have learnt so much. I have learnt which fruits float, and which don’t. Apples, oranges, strawberries, tomatoes, and even bananas float. Plums do not. Big, dark, juicy purple plums. It was a sad day. And Feijoas? I'm still not sure. They're way too precious to be messing around with.


The gannets taught me so much about life. They are big, goofy and uncoordinated. But they never give up. They keep diving, getting smashed time and time again until they succeed. I learnt that fear is only a feeling, and it's up to you how you deal with it. So often we come up with a list of all the obstacles that are stopping us from doing the things we’ve always talked about, and the idea is quickly brushed from our minds. What is the point of life if we never embrace the freedom that is ours if we pursue it? Life is way too short.


I perfected the art of living like a hobo. I slept in car parks, in ditches and under bushes. Remarkably, after having paddled around the whole of New Zealand, only once was I told I couldn't camp somewhere. Crazy lady at Wakapohai, South Westland, on the West Coast of the South Island, that was you. In the North Island, no one, not a single person booted me from my camping spot. I stole fruit from strangers trees. More than once, I washed my hair in the basin of some public toilets, and gave myself a haircut with my pocket knife. I did my laundry by hand, after all, what's the point of a washing machine when you only have two sets of clothes - one to wear, the other to wash. And I did occasionally shower, even if it was under a tap, maybe I'm not such a hobo? (even if google thinks I am..) A nomad? I like that term better. I think that's me.


So, was the North Island easier than the South? That has been a question that has ticked over in my mind many times. They were such different trips, that it's hard to compare them. For a start, I did not set off on the South Island trip alone. And it was winter, which brought with it a whole realm of frozen challenges, that I thankfully never experienced this summer. Days then were short, so the distances we were able to paddle on the west coast of the South Island were much shorter than what I managed up north. If I was comparing the surf, the coast, the landings - then the North Island wins as being the most ‘technically’ difficult trip. The west coast of the North Island hosts by far the biggest and most intimidating surf I have, and hope to ever run in a sea kayak. It was downright scary. The South Island has nothing that can even slightly compare to the entrances of Manakau, Kaipara and Hokianga Harbours.


The South Island however wins for isolation – after leaving Te Waewae Bay on the South Coast, there is nothing for around 500 km, nothing but an incredibly remote coastline, with some of the most violent weather of anywhere in NZ. I just love it, and it will always be my favourite place to paddle. I went into this North Island trip with a lot more experience than I had on that cold morning in May 2012, when Sim and I paddled away from Milford Sound. I'd like to think that it was because of the experience that I gained on that trip, that meant things went relatively smoothly this summer. 


So many people that I met along the way all asked me the same question. A one word question. "Why?" I have no intelligent answer. How can I put these experiences into words, to create a convincing answer that most people would understand? I'm yet to figure that one out.


Aside from that, probably the most important thing of all, that this trip has taught me, is that the world really is a good place. Over the years, kayak guiding slowly turned me into a hater of people, but thankfully, this summer has restored my faith in human kind. Everywhere I paddled, I was treated with kindness from complete strangers, kiwis who so generously fed me, gave me a bed, a shower and a beer.


It makes me think of the old Maori woman with a moku, who I had met at a remote beach on the west coast. At her whanau's ramshackle crib, she had spoken of Tangaroa, the god of the sea, how he had kept me safe, and that I should thank him. During the following months, I had kept her wise words in the back of my mind. I wasn't sure if my trip was a success because of Tangaroa, my respect for the ocean, or if it was just because I was too scared to take on the surf when it was huge. Either way, possibly a combination of all three, with a bit of luck added in, I pulled it off.


I was blown away by the number of people who showed a genuine interest in following my trip through my Facebook page and on my website. When I created those pages, I assumed it would just be a few friends and family who might be remotely interested. Turns out I was wrong. It was humbling to have had so many messages of encouragement, support, and offers of help along the way from such a broad range of people. So thank you. And to all the people who got out of bed in the early hours of the morning to come down to the beach to see me off, often in the dark, thank you.


So what's next for me? I don't know. I have no job, no home, and no plan. But strangely, I'm not so worried about it. Hopefully I'll find some work for the winter, and the big edit of my book has just begun. That will keep me busy for a while. Then later in the year I'm going to apply for a Hillary Expedition grant. Which means I have some planning to do, and deciding what the next big adventure will be. If you have any ideas… let me know.


If you’ve watched my youtube movie that I posted on my facebook page a few days ago, you would have read the quote at the end (if you made it to the end..). It’s a quote by Paulo Coelho, and I think it's pretty awesome.  It says, “One day you’ll wake up and there won’t be anymore time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” 



On the Home Run!!

Posted by Tara Mulvany on March 30, 2014 at 3:20 AM Comments comments (2)

Just a quick note to say that I have made it to Napier, and I'm leaving tomorrow ON THE HOME RUN!! 

See you soon Makara Beach!


:) Tara


A Wild Land - East Cape to Gisborne

Posted by Tara Mulvany on March 22, 2014 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)

East Cape was just like I had imagined. Rugged, wild, and a step back in time. During the planning stages of my trip, this isolated, far corner of New Zealand had intrigued me. I knew nothing about it, and I didn't know many kiwis who had been there. Like much of the North Island, it was foreign territory to me. Unfortunately, cyclone Lusi didn't come to much at Te Araroa Beach. In fact there was barely any tent flapping, but it did kick up a pretty wild swell for three days. I waited patiently, as I had been warned to treat the cape with caution. Since rounding Cape Reinga, many boaties and fishermen had talked of the confused and often angry seas off the cape. I gathered it was not a place to be taken lightly.

 

Finally the morning came, and I set about dragging my kayak towards the surf. I hauled it into a shallow ditch, down a stream and then across the hard sand. In the corner of the beach, and between the sets I was able to paddle away with dry hair, something I would have thought impossible the day before. A light north west wind blew, and I surfed downwind towards a headland in the distance. I was paddling further east than I had ever been before. As the sun creeped higher in the sky I approached the cape. The wind had died off and the ocean was like a giant mirror. I couldn't have asked for a better day as I slipped past the lighthouse and around the cape. For 12 hours I paddled, clocking around 65km for my efforts. I camped on the edge of a paddock just above a boulder beach that night. As the darkness took hold, a prefect full moon appeared over the edge of the ocean, big, glowing and orange. It was the most incredible moonrise I had ever seen. I didn't take any photos. I just watched.

Although I didn't meet many people on my journey around East Cape, I got the impression that those who lived there were hard people. They were hunters and gatherers and with maraes found in nearly every bay, it was obvious to me that there was a real sense of community. In many ways, I felt like I had missed out on discovering the essence of this wild land, by having quickly paddled past. I had barely left the high water mark. One thing that really struck me was that I had never seen so many horses anywhere in New Zealand. On nearly every single remote stretch of sandy beach I paddled by, I saw a lone horseman, walking, trotting or galloping along where the ocean met the land. The top and western sides of the peninsula reminded me of the west coast of the South Island. The hills were rugged and covered in dense native forest. A band of lush farmland stretched down to the sweeping beaches. But south of the lighthouse, the land had slowly grown brown and dry and the native forest disappeared.

 

The next morning I packed up under a peachy sky, and was on the water just as the sun peaked over the horizon. The ocean was still, and there was no wind. I was not looking forward to another brutally hot day on the water. I cut from point to point, joining the dots of the headlands in front of me. A group of fretting turns attempted to attack a rising school of silvery kawhai. They didn't stand a chance, but I admired their determination.

 

That night I camped on Pourewa Island, just past a small bay where Captain Cook and his crew landed in 1769. He had stopped to restock the ships water, fish and kumara supplies. I wondered how much had changed about the land since then. I pulled up onto the lawn of my dream home - a small shipping container with two sides that folded down into decks, with an outdoor bathroom tucked in the trees, a giant fire pit, fire bath, and a lemon tree. It was a magical and hidden paradise.

 

From the island, I paddled for nearly 10 hours towards Gisborne. For the third day in a row, the ocean was glassy and flat, until midday when a slight north easterly wind kicked in. My first tail wind in a very long time. I cut through a couple of long reefs that broke at least a km out to sea, gliding over top of shallow rocks just under the surface. Cows grazed on rolling hills and loaded logging trucks flew by, making me feel very slow.

 

Late in the afternoon I paddled into the port at Gisborne, passing a giant container ship being loaded with logs. I had barely been on the ramp for five minutes when up drove Colin, a friend of some friends. The first thing he said to me was "how old are you?.. You look about 16?!" I have been very fortunate that Colin and his wife Gill have taken me in like a lost kayaker.. They are yet more wonderful, welcoming people that I have been so fortunate to have met along the way. How lucky am I. Tomorrow I'm setting off for Napier. I have no idea how long it will take.. It's looking like I'll have three days of okay weather... But I need four. Hopefully the swell dies down soon..

 

A Race with Cyclone Lusi - part 2, Mt Maunganui to East Cape

Posted by Tara Mulvany on March 15, 2014 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (0)

The next morning I packed up and paddled away just as the light had begun to appear. I paddled into steaming clouds of fog, a thick mist swept out to sea with a light breeze and the rising sun. I had never seem anything like it. On a bright sea with a dull blue sky, it was more like a katabatic wind over an ice cap.  As the day grew warmer the mist disappeared and I paddled along on a calm ocean with waves lapping at the shore. One giant beach stretched for as far as I could see into the distance. It was long, straight and boring. I paddled for 12 hours and slowly the faint outline of the beginning of East Cape grew bolder as the kilometres ticked by.

 

Part of me was a little nervous - everywhere I had been in the North Island people had warned me about their neighbours. In Taranaki the locals had warned me about the people of Northland. In Northland I felt perfectly safe. But the locals there had told me to watch out for the people of East Cape. Was I going to get booted from their land?  I had enough water with me that I could camp anywhere, so I picked a nice looking sand dune and landed. I saw no one. And my 'you can't camp here' trip tally still stood at zero.

 

The next morning I set off, aiming for the headlands in the distance. Mentally it was a much easier day than the two before - I knew exactly where I was, and I had landmarks and headlands to check off progress, all perfectly spaced within 5 or 10 k's.

 

The forested hills of East Cape were just like I had imagined, rugged and wild. A few houses and the occasional marae were positioned just behind the beach in sweeping sandy bays. Later in the afternoon I spied some public toilets beside a school, so I stopped to fill my water bottles. I was waiting for someone to tell me, "you can't drink that water!" But no one did.

 

Something that I have found really strange everywhere I have been in the North Island is people's attitudes towards water. There is no tap that I wouldn't drink from in the South Island. Up here, on countless occasions I have been given looks of horror as people have watched me fill my bottles from taps. Taps on the side of buildings, taps in public toilets, even taps inside houses. "You can't drink that! You need to boil it!".  Just for the record North Island, and I will whisper this very quietly, I HAVE DRUNK FROM ALL YOUR TAPS.. AND IVE BEEN FINE!

 

That night I camped on a stony beach in a tiny cove surrounded by cliffs. I was completely hidden under a woven canopy of giant pohutukawa trees. I cooked a feed of rice, a welcome change from my cheesy pasta staple and then crashed into a deep sleep.

 

By the time the sun began to rise the next morning I was already on my way, ticking off the headlands as I paddled. Eventually Cape Runaway was reached, and I snuck in between some reefs and landed onto a kayak width rocky beach for lunch. I munched tuna and crackers. Delicious.

 

I paddled until it was nearly dark before I chose a small beach in the lee of a headland and landed for the night. For the third night in a row, I was alone and no one knew I was there. That is, apart from anyone following my spot tracker. Or the resident family of goats that I chased away, or the lonely shag that waddled up right next to my kayak. It was Thursday night. I had one more day before the cyclone.

 

In the morning I waved goodbye to my horned goat family and made my way towards Hicks Bay. I would not make It around the cape before the cyclone hit so it was time to find some shelter. The only campground on my map was at Te Araroa Beach, and the landing looked okay in the corner of the bay. I paddled towards it, with the north east swell slowly increasing behind me. A couple of dolphins popped up in front of me and swam around my kayak a couple of times before disappearing.

 

At Te Araroa I dragged my kayak way up the beach and into a shallow stream. Then I hauled it for 500m up the muddy ditch, under a small bridge and across a paddock to the campground. So that's where I am, waiting for the weather to clear and the seas to ease for the next run to Gisborne. It should take me three days. And as for the cyclone? What a let down!!

 

A Race with Cyclone Lusi - part 1, Mt Maunganui to East Cape

Posted by Tara Mulvany on March 15, 2014 at 5:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Tonight is a full moon, the fourth full moon of my journey. It was three months ago today that I packed my boat and paddled away from the South Island. So much has happened in that time. Or maybe so little. It all depends how you look at it.

 

In Mount Manganui I stayed with my friend Dave and his wife Adina. He met me on the beach when I arrived and immediately began to describe how I'd just missed the best show ever. An obese elderly couple had just gotten the place confused for a nudist beach.. how excited was Dave!!

 

It was a rushed stop over. I caught up with my cousin Jess and met Tim Taylor who paddled around NZ a few years ago.  I washed my clothes and did a big supermarket shop which I hoped would last me until Gisborne. A day later with the forecast looking good, I was ready to go for it.

 

At 6am on the beach, I stood on my tip toes and hugged my giant friend goodbye. Then I slid my boat onto the dark water and paddled out through a few small lines of surf. Everything was still dark, only a string of lights along the waterfront and the growing glow of the rising sun in the distance.

 

I paddled close to shore, stopping whenever I was hungry and munching on fruit and chocolate, how good are the treats of day one from a resupply. The sun was bright and the sky was blue, and everything seemed prefect apart from the fact I had so far to go. I passed Ohope Beach sometime around lunchtime and paused for a couple of minutes for a feed of tuna, cheese and tomato on crackers.

 

Huge schools of silvery kawhai splashed and darted around under my kayak, possibly the biggest school of fish I have ever seen. The entire ocean seemed full of them.

 

A slight headwind slowed my progress for a couple of hours but right on dark, after 13 hours of paddling I at last landed. As it turned out the hardest part of my day was not over. I struggled to haul my heavy kayak up a steep sand dune and down the other side to a DoC campsite. A few people watched. No one offered to help. I could have asked and I'm sure one of them would have obliged, but for me it's a weird social experiment. What were the people of the Bay of Plenty really like?

 

I pitched my tent as close as I could to the dunes, right on the edge of the road. The campground lady was confused. "That's a strange place to pitch your tent," she remarked. She didn't seem to understand when I told her that I just wanted to be close to the beach and that I couldn't drag my kayak across the road. "Well where is your vehicle? Why haven't you checked in? When did you arrive?" Too many questions after a long days paddle.

 

That night when I flicked on my phone I got a txt from Ginney. It read, "I guess you've seen the forecast for later in the week, gutted, but it'll be exciting.." Exciting in my paddling vocabulary means something more like 'shits going to hit the fan.' It didn't sound good, and I had not yet seen the long range forecast. Txt number two read, "There's a cyclone coming! Make sure you get somewhere good by Friday!" I did a quick calculation of the kilometres between me and East Cape. If I boosted, there was a chance I'd make it around the cape by Friday. The race was on. 

 

Fog, Open Crossings and Container Ships - Whangarei to Hahei

Posted by Tara Mulvany on March 4, 2014 at 10:15 PM Comments comments (1)

On a grey misty morning I paddled away from Daman and the Kiwi Logic and headed towards the entrance of the Whangarei Harbour. The fog was so thick I couldn't see further than a few hundred metres, so I aimed roughly in the direction of the southern shore, cutting right through the middle of the main boat channel. A heap of small boats whizzed past me, some dropping behind and others in front, but thankfully none on top of me.

 

It was a long and boring day, but the sea was calm and there was no wind. Only a thick damp mist that didn't melt away until early afternoon. I kept paddling, aiming for the faint outline of Cape Rodney in the distance. In the evening as the sun dropped lower towards the horizon, sea birds became silhouetted against a glowing sky. I thought about landing, but knew there was a lighthouse on the cape so I kept going. In the darkness I passed the pathetic blink of the lighthouse, making sure I stayed well offshore away from the breakers that I could hear but couldn't see.

 

Not far around the cape I made my way into a small inlet at the township of Leigh. I paddled into a surreal world; swirls of glittering fluorescent green phosphorescence spinning off my paddle blades, and the haunting calls of the morepork radiating through the darkness. I couldn't find anywhere to land so dug out my phone. With Damans help and google earth, I finally pulled up to a beach at 10pm. After a cucumber sandwich I crashed into a deep sleep. I'd been on the water for more than 14 hours and I'd only clocked around 70km. Why was I so slow? I'm not really sure.

 

I spent two days camped on a small strip of grass outside a mansion. The owner of the house was really friendly and didn't boot me from his property, instead showing me where I could charge my stuff and fill my water bottles. One sunny afternoon I met with Raewyn, who is doing the PR for my book later in the year. She brought with her all the things a hungry kayaker would like, olives, cheese, fruit and home baked cookies. It was a welcome chance to my marmite and crackers and cheesy pasta.

 

On the 25th, with the forecast looking good for the crossing to Great Barrier I set off on a calm but dark sea. As the sun began to rise I made my way towards Little Barrier Island. From my rough estimation it was just under 50km to Great Barrier, and Little Barrier was half way. Under an overcast sky I paddled aiming for the southern side of Little Barrier. Although I knew I wasn't allowed to land there, I don't think I would have attempted the crossing without it, as for a long time I couldn't see Great Barrier.

 

The wind steadily built, and I slogged my way across with a 15-20knot southerly wind. Waves sloshed over me and I made sure to push further south of Little Barrier incase the wind picked up anymore. It wouldn't have been ideal to be swept right past the Islands. 9 hours later I finally pulled up onto a boulder beach on Great Barrier, stoked to have pulled off the biggest open water crossing I had ever done.

 

I camped that night at a magical place called Smokehouse Bay. It was a rare and golden find - private land open to anyone, but only accessible from the ocean. Equipped with fire heated baths, a shower, swing, picnic tables, a huge smoker for curing fish, washing tubs and wringers and a clothesline, it's easy to understand why so many boats drifted in that evening.

 

The next day I was lured towards the small town of Port Fitzroy, drawn by the rumour of the worlds best burgers. It was pretty amazing, and a little bit tastier than my cheesy pasta. I spent the afternoon cruising in and out of small bays and under hanging pohutukawa. I made my way towards the top of the Island to a place called Miners Cove, where I ended up onboard the Tara Nui with Chris and Richard, drinking organic pilsners and munching on organic buffalo cheese, organic cashews, organic olives and an array of other organic treats. Then in the last of the light I climbed over the side into my kayak and paddled over towards the beach to camp. I pitched my tent in the middle of the pebbly beach and watched the pink sky fade into darkness.

 

I lazed around until lunchtime the following day, swimming in a creek nearby, doing some washing and even cut my hair with the tiny scissors on my pocket knife. Then I packed up and paddled away, rounding the northern most point of the Island and slipping onto the more exposed east coast. I paddled under cliffs and then through a tiny tunnel, dodging the breakers that crashed through the gap.

 

I paddled out to Rikatu Island and set my tent up in front of a big fat DoC "no camping" sign. Then I jumped back in my boat and paddled towards a flash boat anchored in the bay that I had seen an hour earlier and who had invited me onboard. I must have smelled pretty bad because I was hurriedly directed towards the shower, a towel in hand. We feasted on freshly caught snapper, salad and potatoes, and again I was very thankful to be eating something other than cheesy pasta. The owners of the boat were a farmers from Canterbury, and their friends had joined them for a few days of cruising and fishing. As it turned out I actually camped inside a Mai Mai on their property near the Rangitata river mouth on my trip around the South Island. Small world.

 

From the island I paddled for about 12 hours all the way down to the bottom of Great Barrier and around the corner into Tryphena. It was a stupid move as it took ages to find anywhere to camp, and as it was I ended up sleeping in a ditch beside the road. But I was sheltered from the south west gales that hung around for 24 hours.

 

On the 2nd of March I made an early getaway and headed out into the Colville Channel, aiming for the Coromandel Peninsula. The sea was calm and there was no wind and it seemed like I was alone. That is until I was halfway across and noticed a container ship heading towards me. I had seen one on the crossing from Cape Rodney, so wasn't overly concerned. I was sure it would pass well behind me.

 

The closer the ship got, the more I realised that it was aiming directly for me, so I slowed down, convinced that it would slip in front of me. For a while I could see more of the side of the ship so I knew I was sweet. Then it turned for me again. Time to get out my radio. I tried three times to call the ship on channel 16 but no luck. So I did what I do best and paddled as fast as I could forwards. The ship passed behind me, a little too close for comfort, but it was all good. I hit land after a three hour crossing and for the rest of the day paddled steadily south.

 

Right on dark I pulled up onto a tiny beach to camp, only 10km from Hahei. I set up my tent under a giant pohutukawa tree and drifted off to sleep with the lapping of the waves on the sand, only metres away.

 

The next morning I cut across the bay, aiming for two rocks about 3km out called the Twins. And that's where I met Ginney, who had paddled out to find me. It was awesome to be in familiar company again and we talked non stop until arriving at Cathedral Cove, where we feasted on cheese and crackers on the sandy beach. Tyrell pulled up a while later with his group of punters, and we scored a hot chocolate complete with chocolate sprinkles on top.

 

I've spent a few days chilling in Hahei, catching up with fiends and preparing for the run south. Tomorrow is the day that il hit the water again, but this time I will have company for two days. Ginney is going to join me, so hopefully she doesn't leave me behind.. that would be embarrassing! So on Saturday I should hit Mt Maunganui!

Bay of Islands to Whangarei

Posted by Tara Mulvany on February 20, 2014 at 11:30 PM Comments comments (6)

After two days in Kerikeri I paddled out across the Bay of Islands, sun shining, kayak loaded and feeling strong and ready for a few days of cruising. I had picked up a hitch hiker from Opua Bay, and Hermin, my bright green praying mantis friend clung on tightly to my front deck. As I paddled, he cruised about, climbing high on the bungies to admire the view, and hiding in the shade of my drink bottle when things got too hot.

 

I jumped out at Roberton Island to play tourist, and went for a swim in the clear green water before continuing on. Hermin stayed with me. I camped on Urepukapuka Island for the night, the grass was soft, the sky clear and the moon big and bright. The third full moon of my journey. It would have been perfect, but that night Hermin disappeared.

 

The next morning I set off for Cape Brett. As far as capes go, Cape Brett was a bit of a letdown. I'm not sure how it got its cape status, in my opinion capes should be dramatic places, headlands where the oceans meet, where the winds and the seas continually rage. Cape Reinga and South West Cape are well deserved capes. But Cape Brett, really?

 

A friend had drawn all over my maps of the Northland coast, making the places that I had to visit along the way. Ginney had scribbled a tick box beside a small island off the cape and wrote, "you have to paddle through the hole in the rock. Watch out for high speed tour boats!" The hole turned out to be massive with boats galore. I paddled in and took my time, taking a couple of photos and some go pro footage before i made my way out the other side. I didn't care that I'd made a few boats wait for their turn to motor through. After all, I'd paddled a long way to get there.

 

I paddled a huge 20km that day and camped under a giant pohutukawa tree at an old whaling base at Whangamumu. I went for a swim in the afternoon sun and ended up onboard a very tidy yacht, drinking a cup of tea and eating home baked cookies. I listened to the stories of Craig and Mary about their life at sea. They had spent 12 and a half years sailing around the world, including three crossings of the Indian Ocean. That's a half of my lifetime they'd been at sea, living adventures that most will only ever read about. It made my trip sound pathetic.

 

From Whangamumu I made a bee line for Oakura. On my map were the words "good F&Cs". Enough to make me paddle fast. A few hours later I was sitting on the grass beside the beach eating my fish and chips. On such a hard core adventure eh?

 

My day ended early again, at a small bay ringed with gnarly pohutukawas, lush grass and golden sand. I lay in the sun and swam in the warm clear water. What more could I have wished for. If I had been smart I would have wished for calm conditions for the next few days. But I wasn't, and the next day I spent 12 hours slogging into a south easterly wind, on a very sloppy sea. I stopped at Matapouri Bay for lunch and after an L&P and a mince and cheese pie I was back into it, the lunch of champions!

 

I pulled up in a bay 12km north of Bream Head and walked up to the farmhouse to ask permission to camp. I introduced myself to Reece, and he pulled me inside to meet his wife. "Mona! We've got a mermaid!" He called out. Classic. Over a feed of watermelon they asked me a million questions, shaking their heads in disbelief that I had paddled from Picton. They had been married for more than 60 years. I wondered about the secret of living such a long and happy life. Maybe to live by the sea? I hope I look that fantastic when I'm in my 80's, but somehow I doubt it. Time will tell.

 

The next morning I paddled away, into a driving wind on a messy sea. A few hours later I rounded Bream Head, it's towers of rock covered in a thick mist. Native trees clung to the steep headland, and the waves broke heavily on the rocks. It made me feel like I was back in Fiordland. But I was struggling to appreciate the beauty around me, all I could think about was my desperate need to pee. It was too lumpy and sloppy a sea for me to think about taking my spray deck off so I just paddled fast, hoping and praying that I'd make it to calmer waters before it was game over. A few minutes later I pulled off my deck and did my thing while waves sloshed in over the side.. But I made it!!

 

I camped at Peach Cove for the night. It was an awesome campsite surrounded by giant pouhutakawas and nikau palms with camelian trunks, changing from bright green to purple and then to brown. The mist stayed hanging over the steep hills and I was alone in paradise.

 

I packed my life into my kayak late the next day, and as the rain began to fall I cruised towards the entrance of Whangarei Harbour. Huge gusts of easterly wind threw me along, and an hour later I pulled up inside the heads and walked up to a dairy. My dreams of hot donuts, fish and chips and chicken nuggets were crushed. "Sorry, no takeaways today." Are you kidding me?!! So I wandered back to the beach and ate a packet of crackers and a can of tuna in the rain.

 

That night I saw the first familiar face since leaving Auckland a few weeks before. And it didn't even matter that it was an ugly one, it was just good to be in the company of a friend. I stayed on Damans bird shit covered yacht, the Kiwi Logic, and we had a few drinks to celebrate my birthday. Now, after two days off waiting for the easterlies to die down I'm ready for the run to Cape Rodney tomorrow.  Maybe on Monday i'll make the crossing to Great Barrier?  I hope so!!

Rounding the Three Capes, Kaipara to the Bay of Islands

Posted by Tara Mulvany on February 13, 2014 at 4:20 AM Comments comments (7)

I paddled away from the Kaipara Harbour late morning on the 29th of January. The tide had just turned, the sky was clear, and the swell had dropped to just over 1.6m - as good as I was going to get for at least another week. I eased out of the calmness of the harbour slowly, following the sandspit around to the north, hoping to find a lead out over the bar. From kayak level it was difficult to figure out where I was, and where I wanted to be. The shore breakers were huge and my plan of hugging the back of them and sneaking out to the north didn't go so well. 3-4m high breakers kept pushing me further left. Things slowly developed into that of my exit over the Manakau Bar - giant waves broke, the tide sucked me out, and I paddled fast, weaving in and out of big big waves. About 5km offshore I realised that things were not going to get any better soon, so I cut right, through were the waves were breaking heavily and regularly and finally punched my way to the freedom of a calm sea. It's difficult to put into words what it was like out there, and in some ways I am sure that unless you've been there in a kayak, you'll never quite appreciate it. Not that I'm suggesting that you go and find out. And just incase you were wondering... I will never paddle the west coast of the North Island again.


That evening I landed at a small seaside village called Glinks Gully. If it had been at the beginning of my journey up the west coast, I would have said the surf was big. But considering what I had dealt with up until this point, it was actually a pretty stress free landing. I camped on the front lawn of someone's crib, just over the dunes from the beach. They weren't home, but I'm sure they wouldn't have minded, or maybe they would have? I played on the swings in the playground until the sun dropped below the horizon, and I didn't even feel sick - the bonus of sea sick pills and playgrounds!

 

At first light I paddled out through the surf and made my way north. Crumbling hills lined the beach, and above perched patches of pine forest and farmland. By midday I passed Manganui Bluff, a tall rocky headland visible from about 40km away. The sun had come out and life was good, especially when I found my first surf free landing in a very long time, maybe 500km? I tucked in between some reefs and then hauled my gear, then my kayak over the rocks to the beach. A small price to pay for an easy landing. I had been on the water for 9hours, and had covered about 60km that day. I could have pushed on further, but if I could avoid going into Hokianga Harbour, then I would take the opportunity. I'd had more than enough of west coast harbours.

 

The following day I put in a big push north, clocking nearly 70km and 11 hours on the water before I arrived at Shipwreck Bay at the beginning of 90mile beach. I met an absolute legend named Glenn. If only I always had someone to help me drag my kayak up the beach after a long day. He drove me into Kaitaia to do a stock up at the supermarket, and I flew around with a trolly like a crazy person, trying to remember all the things I needed, and would need for the week or two ahead - all in about 10 minutes before closing.

 

After two days camped at Shipwreck Bay waiting for the swell to ease, I set off up 90 mile beach. Thankfully it is not 90 miles long. It was a long and frustrating day on the water, with a consistent offshore wind trying to blow me out to sea. The coast was straight and I had no idea where I was for most of the day - no landmarks, no houses, no headlands and no hills. Only one long strip of sand and lines of big surf.

 

After 12 hours on the water I arrived at 'the bluff', the only small headland on the stretch to Cape Maria Van Demin. I swung wide round to the northern side hoping to get a bit of shelter from the surf. It was hard to judge the best place to head in as the easterly wind was blowing up sheets of spray making everything look much bigger than it really was. I headed slowly in, watching the sets roll through. About half way in a line of big breakers stacked up behind me. I slowed down, let a couple of big steep unbroken ones sweep under me before they exploded just infront of my bow. Then with a broken wall of water headed my way I swung my boat sideways, leant into it and bounced my way towards land. I had nailed my last surf landing of the west coast.

 

Only one more stretch of challenging water separated me from the calmness of the north coast. I'm not sure if it's know as the north coast but I'm going to call it that. For those of you who may not be so familiar with this area, there is not just one cape at the top of NZ. There are in fact three. In many ways the first of three stood in my mind as the most significant. Cape Maria Van Diemen marked the end of the massive west coast surf, and paddling towards its distant outline the next morning I was filled with immense satisfaction. My aim was to hit Cape Reinga - the more technical of the capes, where the oceans meet - at high tide. Unfortunately for me, king tides, in other words the biggest tides of the whole year happened to have been only two days before. This meant that I would be pushing into the tide through Maria Van Diemen. I wasn't sure if I could do it. But if the current was too strong, I could wait an hour or two for the tide to turn, and she would let me pass.

 

All went well. The current swirled through the small gap between the cape and an island close by, but with the surging swell behind me I was able to slowly work my way through the worst of it into calmer water. It wasn't until I was well clear of the gap that I looked up. On a headland infront of me was a tiny white lighthouse. It was Cape Reinga. A splash of salty water ran down my face.. Or maybe it was a sneaky tear or two in disguise? In that moment I felt a greater sense of accomplishment than I have ever felt before. Only one other person had ever paddled the entire west coast of the North Island in one hit. And that was Paul Caffyn way back in 1979. 35 years ago. I had put my fears behind me, focused on the things that I could manage and that I could control, and ultimately pulled it off.

 

There was no one there to share my excitement, only the turns and the gannets and the flying fish. I felt on top of the world. Or on top of New Zealand at least. An hour later I paddled in close to land, inside of the breakers where the two giant oceans meet. It was right on high tide, and I passed Cape Reinga, slipping from the wild and hostile waters of the Tasman Sea to the warm, and what I hoped would be friendly waters of the Pacific Ocean. I changed oceans, and directions all within a matter of minutes.

 

I made my way into the first small bay in sight and landed. I lay on the grass in the sun and ate an orange. Life was good. I walked up to the lighthouse and played tourist. I think I did it quite well, apart from the crusty white salt lines on my black top. And possibly the salty, greesy filth on my face. But who cares? I bumped into Jamie and Cynthia who I'd met the night before at the bluff. They're travelling round making a documentary on paddling in NZ at the moment, so it was really cool to share some of my excitement with people who knew how far I had come. It felt like a long way. Nearly 180 hours of paddling from Picton.

 

I spent that night celebrating onboard the fishing boat, the Hananui, moored up in Spirits Bay. The fishermen clapped as I paddled by - I'd first met them south of the capes. They handed me a beer. Never has a double brown tasted so good. We ate steak, roasted potatoes and salad and I listened to their tales of fishing for giant fish a long way offshore. And they listened to my stories of my journey up the coast. The only downside of staying on the boat is that fishermen go to work early. So at 6am, in the darkness I climbed over the side into my trusty slo kayak and paddled away.

 

Under an overcast sky I made my way towards North Cape, the last of the capes. A few hours later I rounded the headland and turned my bow south. I had just paddled past the northern most point of the North Island. All downhill from here so my grandad had told me. An easterly wind blew, making life a little more difficult than I had hoped for, and rain started to fall. I fought my way down to the entrance of the Parengarenga Harbour where I pulled up onto a lonely beach covered in pure white sand.

 

For two days I waited for the gales to ease. Then I put in a big day down to the Karikari Peninsula, where I was met by a lovely lady named Lynnis. Lynnis is yet another amazing person I have met along the way. When she was 64, she paddled from Cape Reinga to East Cape. Just awesome. She brought me a huge dinner, and see me off in the morning. A couple camped next to me also came down to the waters edge to watch me leave. The lady tucked a $50 note into my hand. Random acts of kindness, how lucky have I been. I paddled away with a smile on my face. The people of the land of the long white cloud have officially restored my faith in humankind. We really do live in an amazing country.

 

I cut across Doubtless bay, and was well and truly soaked by the time I reached the other side. A south west wind had created a small messy chop on the water, but it was all good. Northland is a little bit warmer than the South Island during winter. That night I camped on a random beach, my only neighbours being a couple of scraggly sheep.

 

The next day I missioned out to the Cavilli Islands, a group of small rocky Islands with caves, archways, tunnels and golden beaches. And to top it off I was treated to an epic dolphin show. Check out http://youtu.be/v0Z6ZDcUJw4 if you don't believe me!

 

I slept on the deck of a locked DoC hut on the biggest island for the night. The moon was big and bright, but not quite full. Everything was still and quiet and it was magic. I never wanted to leave. What a special place.

 

I cruised the next day down to the Bay of Islands. Or slogged would probably be more appropriate. Lynnis came and collected me and took me back to her place just out of Kerikeri. I've spent two days here, relaxing, doing washing, restocking my empty food supplies, and generally enjoying being on land. Thanks heaps Lynnis and Neil!  Tomorrow I'm paddling away, and am planning to cruise for the next week or so. We will see how it goes... So far I have been trying but am struggling to find cruise mode. Especially when I have so far to go!

 

My rough plan from here is to paddle around great barrier island before heading to the coromandel. Not sure where I will cross from.. Possibly Cape Rodney? We will see.

 

Thanks for all the messages of support that I have received during my trip so far. It's been really awesome to have had so many people following with keen interest, and so many offers of help along the way. I really appreciate it. And Q Kayaks, Slo is going awesome!! I wouldn't be here without her... that would be a long swim!! But really, she's a great boat :)


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