|Posted by Tara Mulvany on January 28, 2014 at 4:20 AM|
When I first began thinking seriously about the north island trip, the entrance to the Kaipara Harbour was the place I was most concerned about. The harbour is one of the largest in the Southen hemisphere. I'd heard and read nothing but horrific accounts of shipwrecks, drownings, giant breakers that extended more than 10km out to sea. And to top it off, the middle of the entrance is known as the 'Graveyard'. From the beginning, I was terrified. But I chose not to be controlled by that fear. I knew that with the right conditions I could do it.
It was because of this fear that I waited for a rare day when the seas were under 1m. I knew I could afford to be venturing near the bar in anything over a 1m swell. I had the right sea conditions and i had the tides carefully calculated so that I would enter on the high end of the incoming tide. Everything was looking good. I paddled away from Muriwai just as daylight arrived. A north easterly wind that had blown all night had finally calmed off the sea. The surf was small, and I felt good. This was as good a day as I could have hoped for.
Gannets flew above me, occasionally diving into the grey sea, their mustard yellow faces popping back through the surface a few seconds later. Under an overcast sky I paddled for hours into a headwind. It wasn't strong, but it was enough to slow my progress. The coast was straight and boring, the only excitement being motorbikes and four wheel drives zipping along the flat sand. Behind the beach was a huge forestry block that stretched most of the way from Muriwai to the Kaipara entrance.
Late afternoon and two hours before high tide I made my way into the Kaipara Harbour. I would like to think that it wasn't purely luck that I was able to paddle in over the bar without any drama. It was calculated planning that had got me this far, along with patience and respect for the ocean. I had tiptoed lightly, and the harbour had let me pass safely. Another huge milestone in my progress was reached.
The entrance to the harbour stretches more than 10km wide, and I was quickly sucked in with the tide. Thick clouds grew darker as a southerly front gained speed, and it wasn't long before the mist had nearly obscured the land in all directions. A heavy rain began to fall. The only landmark I could see was Pouto Point, exactly the place I was headed. Heavy raindrops belted down with the intensity of a monsoon shower. I turned my face towards the sky and let the rain wash the salt off my face. I had not felt rain this heavy in a long time. It was magic.
Pouto Point is a tiny settlement with around a dozen houses, most of which are holiday baches. People come here to fish, 4wheel drive, and ride motorbikes on the beach. With my tent pitched at the tiny community owned camping ground, the view out my tent door is 180 degrees of ocean, an expanse of waves glistening in the sun. People here have been welcoming, friendly and generous, and I'm not at all frustrated that the weathers windy and wild at the moment. This is not a bad place to be.
Yesterday I went on a lighthouse tour with an entertaining guy named Jock, who claims to be the mayor of Pouto. It was a terrifying ride in the back of his beach buggy. He was grinning the whole time as he burned round the dunes, freaking out an older couple who sat beside him. Jock spoke of the the days in the mid 1800's when the Kaipara Harbour was a flourishing and busy port for ships. They came to load up with precious kauri logs, milled from the surrounding area. Giant trees cut down after hundreds, maybe thousands of growing on native soil. The logs were taken all around the world. Apparently many buildings and homes were constructed of kauri in San Francisco after the famous earthquake.
Because of the huge number of vessels entering the harbour, the lighthouse and signalling station were constructed to guide the ships safely inside. Despite this, more than 100 ships have sunk out on the bar. It was fascinating to hear the stories of the lighthouse keepers and the early days. If you're ever up this way, make sure you do a tour with Jock. What a legend.
I've been here for two days now, and it looks like ill be here for at least a couple more, waiting for the winds to ease and the swell to drop. I'm only 3 days paddle from the beginning of Ninety Mile Beach. So I feel like I'm getting there, slowly! Cape Reinga here I come!