This is a spectacular area to paddle, with something on offer for everyone. We started at Mimiwhangata Bay, south of the Bay of Islands, at an amazing campsite. Based here for the first three days we spent our time kayak surfing crisp clean waves on deserted beaches, exploring the infinite array of rock gardens in the area and touring around the small islands and bays.
Amongst the day paddles we also took the opportunity for some group training to get ready for the open coastline ahead. This included finding a few steep dumping beaches to practice landing and launching procedures (and a bit of pride bruising at times) as well as rescue drills and stroke technique. This was a great first three days and we were looking forward to continuing the adventure as we headed up the coast.
Over the coming days the group was treated to a very special place, and without doubt a world class paddling destination. We had some pretty experienced paddlers in the group that had paddled in many areas around the globe, but the collective jaw just kept dropping. The coastline is a mixture of rolling green hills and thick forests leading to a labyrinth of jagged rocky outcrops and mazes, mini islands, protected coves and beaches and towering cliff lines and sea caves. At times it felt like we were on the set of Jurassic Park.
I do go on about the rock gardens here, but they are amazing to paddle and I am a certified addict. The sheer abundance of these rock formations over many kilometres of coast is not something I have ever experienced. Around every corner there is a new part of the maze to explore. For those of us looking for some more adrenalin, there is plenty to offer as the swell rolls and breaks into and over the rock formations, through chutes and cracks that create mini canyon like features. Here there is a mixture of sea kayaking and white water paddling skills and requires careful lines, good judgement and a lot of observation and patience – ohh and sometimes a bit of bravado. The good news is that, unlike white-water, these more advanced obstacles can easily be avoided by those not wishing to push as hard, so the whole group can remain within their own experience level while moving up the coast together.
The days rolled on and we visited some amazing campsites. Some were completely wild shingle beaches. While maybe not as comfy, I loved these campsites most of all. Truly remote and unspoilt with no access apart from the water. We felt a million miles away. The nightly feast, accompanied by solid doses of wine, great comradery and a chat about the day’s paddle was a real highlight of the trip. As was waking up each morning with a million dollar waterfront view!!!
Eventually came the crux of the trip – the rounding of Cape Brett. This is a significant cape and the most exposed area of the trip with few escape opportunities through the day. This is when Mother Nature finally had her way with us. After days of incredible warm sunny weather and light winds, we faced a tougher challenge with a strengthening offshore wind buffeting the group. With a fair bit of rebound off the cliffs, we rounded the cape and hid inside a narrow passage (about 3 meters wide) that cuts through the landmass. No landing spots here, but some muesli bars and a swim to stretch everyone’s legs were available while the kayaks were rafted up together. After the requisite re-entries, we were off again to a lunch spot an hour away. Greeted by a steep, narrow, shingle beach, landing required some discipline but all went well and we were joined by a curious Pied Shag that came in for a rest amongst our kayaks. Launching provided some excellent comedy after lunch as a number of the group attempted seal launches down the steep beach, with mixed results. After another few hours of bumpy paddling as the weather built, we were finally spat into the Bay of Islands itself, where a sheltered shingle beach awaited the group. We were tired but very happy to have rounded the cape and successfully dealt with a bit of weather. Now in the last few days of the trip we enjoyed the waters of the Bay of Islands as the weather subsided and made for easy paddling. The rock gardens were still there, as were a myriad of islands to explore and gawk at. Civilisation now beckoned with more motor boats and camp site neighbours. After a fantastic final day, we paddled into Paihia with a light tail wind pushing us to the finish where we “de camped”.After a great roast dinner with the group, I was home by the next evening. It felt like I had been magically teleported from a remote wilderness to the real world (perhaps it was the wine talking).
Thanks again to Mark and Connor at New Zealand Sea Kayaking Adventures, and the entire paddling group for making this such a great trip. It’s been my second time paddling this part of New Zealand, and I will definitely be back. The paddling is world class, the landscape is amazing and the water is clear and warm. In short, paddling paradise!!