Storm Bound In Northland

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In true “Yak About Adventure” style we “mad dashed” it across the top of the South Island at 6am despite the late night of fun, dancing and drinking at the Marahau Park Cafe till 2am. From Marahau it was 3 hours to the Picton ferry, which sailed us across Cook Strait to Wellington on the North Island and then we continued on our crazy mini road trip all the way to Auckland near the top of the North Island. After 18 hours on the go, the mattresses splayed out on the floor at another generous friends place were absolute heaven.

The following night we dropped Laura at Auckland International airport with a heartfelt farewell and about 3 years supply of the now much IMG_8389favoured Milo and Tim Tams.  The flight attendants were so kind as to even suggest that she was nowhere near her baggage allowance and really she should go buy some more….haha, off to the supermarket we went. Let me know when you need some more Laura, I’ll alert Countdown to restock! 

Everyone needs a recharge now and then and after the absolutely hectic month tearing around the South Island interviewing, filming and paddling, the week ahead scheduled in the Bay of Islands with clients was a welcome one. Nick and Mel were joining us from Australia for a week of fun in the sun; camping, fishing and paddling the glorious Bay of Islands. Hmmmm maybe not exactly how I would describe it now.

After some critical navigation through Auckland central city (thank goodness for Navman, at least someone knew where to go), the ‘so obviously not city’ people high tailed it out of there and headed Northbound to 90 Mile beach. A stunning stretch of west coast New Zealand coast line that is classed as a public road but is in fact a beach of the most golden sand and rolling sand dunes. And just to make it even more confusing the beach is actually only 55 miles long! Apparently back in the day horses travelled roughly 30 miles a day and this beach took 3 days to travel, but then strangely a horse just isn’t as fast on sand as it is on solid dirt… an error that’s stood the test of time.

Rolling onto the beach in a van loaded with kayaks, fishing rods, body boards, tents and steaming hot fish and chips at the ready, we couldn’t have prepared a more kiwi introduction to NZ lifestyle for our Aussie friends. Even the little courageous blue penguin slowly making its way up the beach enabled a re-enactment of the NZ famous ‘Beached as Bro’ cartoon to be revisited and enjoyed.

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That afternoon we stumbled upon a slice of paradise nestled amongst the sand dunes called Utea Park. This campground is so welcoming, it’s like going to your grandma’s place and getting tea and freshly baked biscuits. They share the land they have willingly with anyone and everyone who needs a place to stay and all they ask is that you honour their Koha system. (a traditional Maori word meaning a gift from the heart and should show your appreciation for what has been done for you.) Set up with camping sights, cabins, solar hot water and a common lounge/cooking area; I’m hesitant to share this little gem with the rest of the world as I’m sure it would soon become many peoples favourite ‘secret spot’.

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The following morning things were slightly put on hold with drizzly weather, a super king tide and an unplanned flat tire but these were taken into stride and while Nick embarked on a spot of fishing, Jaime went on a 4×4 mission back into town to get the tyre fixed. Mel and I kept ourselves entertained by reading or sleeping (ahhh life is tough) and if things did threatened to become too quiet, there were a variety of stranded vehicles, from an ambitious Mazda 2, a proud 4×4 BMW and a sleepy campervan that needed towing or digging out from the sand whilst the drivers declared innocently “I don’t know what happened, it just sunk into the sand”.  Good times and free beer made the day fly.

IMG_8728Onward we went, zooming up the sand to our next campsite where we stumbled across the ever so humble Tara Mulvany, who is attempting to paddle solo around the North Island of NZ after already completing Stewart Island and the South Island. If you were to meet this lithe 25 year old anywhere else, you wouldn’t picture her in a sea kayak battling massive swells and 1000’s kms of unpredictable NZ seas, but there she was, calm and relaxed and what a trooper. She’s out there just to prove to herself that she can do it and I envy her under-spoken determination for the extreme adventure in life. The day was rounded off with fresh mussels collected off the rocks for dinner, a glowing campfire, a few drinks and the ever present supply of chocolate all enjoyed under the magnificent Southern Cross shimmering away.

 After a leisurely start the next morning we posed for photos at Bluff (the northern most point of 90 Mile Beach) before heading to the sand dunes for some much anticipated sand dune sliding. To add to the adventure, getting off the beach involves driving up a river which is as much fun as it sounds! Then rounding a bend we were positively shocked to see what looked like an army of marching ants making their way up multiple massive sand dunes. It was quite a sight and reminded us that we weren’t the only people on the planet enjoying the wilderness of New Zealand even though at times we felt like the only ones around. Needless to say that we became marching ants as well and got sand in places that sand shouldn’t be while sliding, bumping and running down the surrounding sand dunes. As ever being the kayak enthusiast, the white water play boat came off the roof of the van and Jaime dutifully lugged it up to the highest point. Did an adrenaline filled, blood rushing, downhill speed adventure ensue? ….. you’ll have to ask Jaime, but let me just say that once was enough!

Adrenaline fix achieved we moved on to view where the Maori legend believes the spirits of the ones that have passed away leave New Zealand, also known as Cape Reinga. This was quite a moment for Jaime and I as we had now been from Bluff at the bottom of the South Island (or even Stewart Island if we want to get specific) all the way to Cape Reinga the most Northern point of the North Island in just over a month. That’s some serious kilometres under our belts and we were still friends. It was a beautiful day and a moment of reflection back on the trip this far was shared and enjoyed with Nick and Mel who always enjoyed our South Island adventure stories.

Never ones to hesitate too long the following day was spent preparing for our two night kayaking and camping trip into the midst of the Bay of Islands. The weather forecast was not the most stunning but it’s the middle of summer and we’re in the Bay of Islands, how bad could it be?! After another incredibly windy (and here I mean, windy as in curves not breezy) but beautiful road so typical of New Zealand we reached our put in spot at Kaimarama Bay, literally at the end of the road. Boats off the roof, packed and out onto the water we go. Beautiful conditions with moderate winds enabled us to explore a bit of the Eastern side of Urupukapuka Island before heading into Urupukapuka Bay and setting up camp. We got engrossed in our surroundings with a bit of kayak fishing, some snorkelling, a delicious camp cooked meal and a blazing sunset to top it off. As darkness fell the winds rose and rain began to fall.  The weather report was now predicting gale force winds which we were definitely feeling and then later got upgraded to storm force winds. Needless to say that the next 24 hours were wet, extremely windy and we were officially stuck on the island. During the first night we had to relocate tents due to the driving rain and in the morning we had to unclutter kayaks that had been thrown on top of each other as if they were matchsticks. The stretch of land between us and the mainland was alternating between complete white out from sideways driving rain and swirling fog whipping up angry looking white caps. We weren’t going anywhere.

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 To make the best of the situation and determined not to hide in out tents for the next 12 hours, we put on our now saturated paddling clothes and decided to go explore. There are a number of trails on the island and these became our new adventure. Never have I chosen to be outside in winds so strong but it was a real rush. You could lean in against it and it supported your weight as well as whipping the rain so hard against our jackets and faces that it actually hurt; strangely exhilarating. We managed to grab glimpses of the surrounding islands and beautiful bays and hoped to come back one day in better weather to be able to kayak this magnificent place further. Dinner was an experience under a well constructed rain fly, dense trees and an upturned picnic table to shelter us from the driving rain and wind howling around us. An early night was called for to dry out the feet and hunker down for another stormy night in 50 knot winds.Luckily as forecast the weather gave us a window to paddle out the following day and with a bit of teamwork, a few brave faces, a side on swell and numerous helpful gusts we cruised home with smiles on our faces. It was a wild weather trip and not really what was expected of NZ’s iconic Bay of Islands but definitely an expedition to remember.

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To wrap up our week in Northern New Zealand we headed out to a pretty exclusive camping spot with the forecast in our favour and some relaxing in mind. An hour of unsealed roads, forbidding caravans because the corners are so sharp and narrow, led us to the beginning of paradise. Soft golden beaches stretched before us and sparkling blue water that just begged to be paddled and swum in met us in every bay. Needless to say we soaked up the sun, swam, caught fresh fish for dinner, drank delicious wine, chased away pesky possums and indulged in copious amounts of chocolate and travel stories on our last night in the wilderness. The following day we once again loaded up the trusty Yak About Adventures van with kayaks, camping gear and us and made the journey back to the city, be it reluctantly but happy. See ya Nick and Mel, we truly hope you enjoyed your rather adventurous and off the beaten Trak holiday in New Zealand. Yak About Adventures continues onward towards Coromandel Peninsula next, with Jaime heading out on his own as I head home to prepare for my next exciting journey to Thailand.

Cynthia R.

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