|Posted by Tara Mulvany on March 22, 2014 at 12:40 AM|
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..