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TARA MULVANY

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270km in 4 days, Opunake to Raglan

Posted by Tara Mulvany on January 13, 2014 at 7:30 PM

On a dark squally morning I paddled away from Opunake. Mt Taranaki stood tall in the distance, it's summit covered in a fresh dusting of snow. I rode a 3m south west swell towards the cape, passing the lighthouse and the point that I had turned around days before. The swell picked up around the cape, but soon it swept me north. Squawking gannets flew above and a school of fish followed close behind me. I hoped they weren't being chased by something big, and I especially hoped it wasn't the locally known Taranaki Terror.


I left the small town of Opunake, feeling like I'd made friends for life. The Weir family - Diane, Murray, Beate, Abbi and Kelvin had made sure my stay was filled with entertainment, laughs, soaks in the spa, and delicious food. Usually the most difficult parts of these sorts of journeys are the days when I am land bound due to the weather. But during my 10 days stuck while north west winds raged, I never once felt frustrated. I mean how could I when I had a million questions to answer? A 10 year old girl named Stella, also staying with the Weirs, asked me a million questions about my trip. Then came question 482. "If there was a race and you had one year to kayak around the whole of New Zealand, would you enter?"


I thought about it, then replied, "no."


"Why not? Is it because you'd loose?" Classic. She was probably right.


I paddled for almost 13 hours before I approached Fitzroy Beach at New Plymouth. There were a lot of surfers in the water. Not a good sign. I moved closer to where there were less surfers and sat at watched for a long time. The sets rolled in and sent big waves crashing towards the shore. There were no small children to aim for. I was nervous, but finally sprinted in behind what I hoped was the last big breaker in a lull between the sets. My waiting paid off and I hit the sand upright. Jumping out of my boat I turned and watched a guy surfing a wave, a wall of water curling up behind him, towering a good metre above him. Ideal waves for attempting a front loop. I missed my chance.


I stayed with Lou, a friend of a friend, for the night. She gave me a bag of tasty treats for the sea ahead, and I did a quick supermarket stock up on food, re-sort of maps, and some washing before finally hitting the hay at 11pm. At 5am Lou kindly took me back down to the beach. For an early departure I had quite the send off, Lou, her friend Heidi, a local paddler named Jason, and Peter and Bronnie, the owners of NP Canoe and Kayak. Peter and Bronnie paddled with me for the first 15km to Waitara. Unaware of how slow I am, they decided to paddle a double together. I struggled to keep up. It was a rare magical morning with glassy waters behind the surf zone and a gentle small swell. Shades of orange slowly melted into a clear blue as the day emerged. It was nice not to be alone on the water for a change. I guessed Peter and Bronnie would be the only ones to join me for a paddle on the west coast. At the Waitara River mouth I waved goodbye, slapped on some sunscreen and paddled away.


The coast was lined with cliffs, archways and caves. Above, grazing sheep and cows watched on, and native forest coated the hills behind. It was a remote and exciting piece of coast to paddle. Flying fish jumped out of the water, white fronted turns sped past close to me, and blue bottle jellyfish floated by. As I moved further north and the hours ticked by and the swell grew slightly. I passed a number of river mouths with lines of breakers pounding towards land. An afternoon westerly wind had picked up the swell and I paddled side on to it, waves occasionally slapping down over my spray deck. After 12 hours on the water I passed the small holiday town of Mokau. The surf was huge so I moved further from the coast and continued on.


After nearly 80km of paddling I approached the Awakino River mouth. With huge lines of breakers as far as I could see, I figured I'd rather get smashed onto the beach than in the river mouth. So I moved slightly north and sat and watched. It wasn't good. I moved forwards, and then frantically backwards as set after set rolled in. Twenty minutes of waiting was enough and I made my break for the shore. Somehow I managed to ride the back of a huge rearing up breaker, pulling off it a second before it exploded infront of my bow. I paddled fast, turning to see what was coming, back paddling off the back of another steep wave. After managing to clear about 6 lines of surf, I rode a smaller wave towards the beach. It was the most beautiful black sand my toes had ever touched. I dragged my boat over the narrow sand spit and onto the river behind. I jumped back in and paddled downstream, pulling up near the mouth onto a small patch of grass hidden from the baches above. There was no point worrying about the surf in the morning, I would deal with it when the time came. So I went to sleep with the roar of the surf, feeling content with my progress and mentally prepared for another long day on the water.


I packed my camp into my kayak at 5am the next morning and slid off the black sand beach onto the dark water. I paddled across to the spit to look at the surf. It was smaller than when I had landed, and I could see a slight channel through the breakers in the river mouth. I jumped back in and paddled out to sea, against the incoming tide. I moved out through the breakers slowly, watching and waiting. When I was half way out, I let a big set roll under and into me, then picked my gap, and charged west. Again, I was lucky, and soon I was paddling on a lonely sea. The sky was covered in thick grey clouds, and a 15knot westerly wind blew me side on. Cliffs still lined the coast and the swell rebounded off them, making the water choppy and confused.


I paddled for another 12 hours before pulling up onto a black sand beach at Arohaki Bay, just around the corner from Albatross Point. Kids raced up and down the beach on motorbikes, and a woman rode up beside me on a 4wheeler. She introduced herself as Ruhia, and soon I was sitting on the deck of her family's ramshackle beach Bach, being introduced to her whanau. They were very friendly and welcoming people. Ruhia's mother was a beautiful woman named Connie Hepi. She spoke softly about how brave I was, and that I should thank Tangaroa, the god of the sea. She was right. I had been lucky so far, and I hoped that Tangaroa would stay with me on my journey north. After a huge plate full of kai and a hot shower, I crashed into a deep sleep in my tent on a patch of grass behind their bach.


Raglan lay only 45km away. Only one more push, one more early 5am start before I could have a day off. In the darkness I packed up early in the morning and paddled away. The sky was dark and squalls of rain blasted down. A 15-20 knot westerly wind made the sea choppy and I bounced along, aiming for the headland in the distance where Raglan lay around the corner. I passed the entrances of Kawhia and Aotea Harbours, the land occasionally disappearing in passing sheets of rain and cloud. After 6 hours I paddled into the boat ramp at Manu Bay, feeling too chicken to take on the Raglan bar.


I was fortunate to have met Nicol and Christine, a couple from Raglan, when I was working over in the Whitsundays. Nicol came down and collected me and my boat, and I'm staying for a day or two at his family bach, down by the water. A huge thank you to everyone who has supported me on my adventure so far. Despite the warnings that I'd been given from those of the South, the North Islanders are actually pretty awesome. I am continuly touched by the kindness of strangers and I have not felt alone.


From here I will shoot for Port Waikato, and then from there to Manakau Harbour or Muriwai Beach. From there north as far as Hokianga, the coast is pretty remote, so I'm loading up with food in antipiciation for a bit of waiting.. Waiting for the conditions that il need to make it north. The weather still isn't looking very settled, and I'm going to be facing reasonable south west swell for the next 5 days at least. But I feel like I'm slowly getting there, and Raglan is in some ways the first big milestone of my trip. Cape Reinga is the next one. Hopefully soon!

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