|Posted by Tara Mulvany on February 13, 2014 at 4:20 AM|
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