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Halfway Around the World: A Journey to New Zealand's Great Barrier Island, January 30 - February 15, 2017


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Halfway Around the World:

New Zealand’s Great Barrier Island

January 30 – February 15, 2017




One of the pleasures of any trip - and the more substantial the trip, the more substantial the pleasure – is that it is really experienced three times over.  Of course there is the doing, the being out there, the camping, the meeting new people, being exposed to new flora and fauna, the challenges of water, weather and living happily with one’s increasingly filthy self and one’s increasingly filthy companions for day after day.  But before the doing is the planning - often many months, or even a year – of it.  A journey of anticipation morphing into excitement and sometimes detouring into anxiety.  Making lists and exchanging emails.  Sometimes doing research on what one will be exposed to.  The joy- and wonder - of saying to oneself, “Next year…” then “next month…” then “next week…I’ll be in….” Mexico…or Wales…or Scotland…or Alaska…or…New Zealand!  Holy cow!  And finally, there is the pleasure of a trip re-experienced in private memories, or conversations with friends, or in my case, the preparation of a trip report.

I will get little sympathy from any of you when I say that on this voyage, I missed out on a third of the pleasure.  Admittedly the smallest third (if I may be allowed to convolute my mathematics to make three thirds of different sizes, thank you very much…) but still…  Because I wasn’t supposed to be on this trip.  Indeed, had my good friend and kayak adventure companion, Jane Hardy, not felt it necessary to prove yet again the kayaking maxim that most kayaking accidents happen on land, by breaking her foot while loading boats onto a car down in Baja at the beginning of January, I would have been home shoveling snow (from three storms in a row, as it turned out) while she and Donna Sylvester winged off to summer down under.

I wasn’t supposed to be on this trip...but not for want of trying.  By the time I found about it, the organizers, Ginni Callahan and Bonnie Perry, had already filled the available slots.  Polite pleas had no effect.  The team was the team and that was that.  But a paddler with pins in her foot and a cast on her leg with instructions to stay off that foot isn’t going anywhere except up and down stairs in her lovely home in San Diego.  So Jane was out, and after the extension of a last minute invitation, I was in – two and a half weeks before liftoff.  Not exactly the way one wants these things to happen.  Yet and still…

…January 28th arrived, and I was packed and as ready as I was going to be.


My flight from Boston to LA went smoothly, and I was treated to some lovely views from my window seat.  The sun’s low angle painting the wintry rim of the Grand Canyon pink.


I did not know at the time that the Muslim travel ban had gone into effect.  I only found out when I heard from Donna, who was on her way to the airport for her flight from San Francisco to Auckland – which was to be leaving and arriving at the same time as mine from LAX - that demonstrators had closed down the arrivals level of the SF airport.  When she did get to the airport, she sent me video of the chanting crowds gathered on the level below her.  How many friends had told me I was lucky to leaving the country when I was?  How many times had I thought that myself, especially after Inauguration Day?  And so it was in this swirl of political conflict and protest that I boarded an 11 pm flight from LAX to Auckland.

Before I left, anticipating the death of my old watch, I had bought a new one for backup and before I left, set it to New Zealand time.  This was the result… LA time and Auckland... Where the heck did Sunday go?


Monday morning, first view of the Pacific Ocean near New Zealand, before the airline would release control of the tinting of the airplane windows.


Donna and I found each other without difficulty at the airport as I awaited the return of my tent, which as with all camping gear, must be inspected and if necessary disinfected on arrival in NZ.  We got to our hotel in the middle of the city on a shuttle bus, to find that we had not left politics behind…  The only way to do that would be to go off the grid.  Soon enough.


In the meantime, though, there was the city to see, and we headed down to the waterfront, where a three day festival was winding up.  We were impressed by the color of the water


and the thoughtfulness of free sun screen stations scattered along the wharves, which were themselves filled with people and food stands and exhibits about this working harbor.


We tired ourselves out, and returned to our hotel.

The next morning, on advice of Fran, a member of our paddling team, Donna and I embarked on a guided tour to the Waitakere Ranges park, over an hour from city centre, but still in Auckland – whose geographic area is enormous.  We stopped at a vista of the many trees that make up this temperate rain forest.


Strange seeing-eye bark.


And continued on, up and up, to another overlook, this time of ocean and bluffs below.


After an excellent meat pie lunch (we positively gorged on these during our stay in Auckland), we headed for a part of the park where we could hike to a very tall waterfall with a swimmable water hole at the base.  First, we had to sanitize our shoes.


As we walked the well made path, we saw our first wood pigeon right above us hopping gracelessly from branch to branch.



Unfamiliar trees above


and creeping little vines below.


After a half hour, we got our first view of the falls.  Please note the tiny figures on top to give you a sense of scale.


We hiked down to its base, where I debated whether to take the plunge.  The water was cold.




One can’t pass up an opportunity like this, so I dove in, and came up gasping with shock.  All those paddling days, in an out of boats in Maine and northern Massachusetts, and I was soon acclimated.


I swam to the base of the falls and made my way under the vigorously pounding water to a little grotto behind.


After I swam back under the falls, it was time to encourage Donna – who despite her skill on the water is not thrilled about being in it, nor does she like the cold – to join me.  My writing skills are not adequate to tell you just what it felt like to plunge into the water.  One picture, however, worth thousand words…


More power to her, Donna stayed in long enough to start enjoying it, and we swam back under the falls.


I would have been happy to splash about indefinitely, but soon a horde of young people – six pack abs and perfect bikini bodies – arrived, and they made it known that our middle age presence in the water was a hindrance to the body beautiful photos they wanted to take of each other.  We took the hint…well, it was more than a hint…and got out.

  We started the hike back down, an endless set of stairs taking us a good chunk of the way.


There were more weird trees


including one that tried strangling Donna.  She survived.


Next stop on our tour was a beautiful surfing beach, where a giant headland, supposedly in the shape of a lion’s head, threw its reflection on the sand.


More rocks, and the first of what would be many rock tunnels we’d see on the trip.  We didn’t go through this one.


The ocean crashed over rocks offshore;


but the rocks broke the force of the waves and provided a safe place for kids to play.


This was our last stop, and we drove the hour back to the hotel and prepared to join Fran for a nice steak dinner.  Donna, however, had other ideas…and took a fall off of her bed, heard a snap or crack like a small branch breaking, and made us change our plans for restaurant dining to planning for a visit to a local hospital the next morning for an xray.

Auckland City Hospital.  More civility in those most civilized of cities.  No one could have been any nicer.  Donna was soon resting on a stretcher


getting an xray that showed a fracture of her fifth metatarsal


being fitted for a boot


and being told that, sure, since she’d come so far, and after all you sit down all day when you kayak, right, she could go on the trip.  They also gave her a more sandal-like contraption and a pair of crutches, recommended follow up in 2 ½ weeks, and sent us on our merry way.  We paused to participate in a small survey.


And that was that.  (And how civilized is it that this small island nation has a fund to cover medical expenses of foreigners who suffer accidents in the country?  The irony of this given the political mayhem we had left behind us at home was not lost on us.)

All that was left was inform Ginni and Bonnie that there was a tiny fly in the trip-planning ointment.  (Actually, we’d emailed them the night before, to tell them about the fall – not the water one, but the one off the bed – and of our plans to go to the hospital.)  That evening the group was to get together to be fitted for our boats and to have a first meal together to talk about the trip, which was to begin the next morning.  Donna was mildly concerned when she received an email suggesting we arrive an hour early to talk about plans.

And so we did.  What is discussed on the second floor and back yard of Canoe and Kayak Auckland stays there.  Ginni, Bonnie, Donna and I had a long conversation, the result of which was that a way was found for our broken-footed friend to continue on the trip.  You will note as we go along a number of pictures of Donna wearing a helmet on land.  That was part of the deal!

And so, we finally saw a kayak,


and then the very kayaks that each of us would paddle.  Enter Larraine Williams, co-owner of Canoe and Kayak Auckland, who together with her husband/business partner was not only supplying the kayaks for all of us, but would join us on the trip.  I can’t say enough about what she added to the trip – on top of that wonderful kiwi accent and the vessels that we paddled!

We then met the rest of the team: four people from Anchorage who all knew the guide with whom I did my Alaska trip a few years ago (Carmen, Brett, Mike and Tammy), a Minnesotan who has done training with John Carmody (Fran), and an extremely feisty woman (Peggy) from Vancouver (she wished it was the Canada one) who despite having years on all of us and requiring walking sticks to get around, had energy to put many of the younger pups to shame.  And then there was Donna and me. When we tallied things up, we came up with four walking aids (two crutches, two hiking poles), and at least five prosthetic knees.  What a group!  What a time the organizers must have had when they read our medical forms…

At 7:15 am, on Thursday, February 2, we all reconvened at the Wynyard Wharf in Auckland for the four and a half hour ferry ride to the Great Barrier Island.  It was an overcast day to start.


The truck and trailer carrying our boats was one of the last vehicles to be loaded.


And so we were off on our great adventure.  I appreciated (thinking of you, Pink Paddler) that as I gazed on Auckland receding behind us, the life rings that might save us were pink.


Our fearless leaders, from bottom to top, Bonnie, Larraine and Ginni, slept away much of the trip.



The rest of us were too excited, and remained outside, watching sea birds skimming over the water, and wondering at the size of the swell below us.  We passed the Coromandel Peninsula of the North Island of New Zealand passing to our right.



We saw common dolphins dancing in the bow wave of the boat.  As tempted as one might be to go climbing on a ferry, we all obeyed orders.


In the distance, too vast to catch in one shot, was one of our first views of our destination.


It didn’t seem long before we were pulling into Tryphena Harbor, where our ferry would dock and our journey would begin.


Donna looked pretty jaunty with her crutches and straw hat.


As some of our group watched


Ginni drove the truck and trailer off the ferry.


We ate our first lunch close by


then some walked, some rode to our first night’s camping spot at the Stray Possum Lodge.  We spent the afternoon on the water, mostly for the purpose of practicing rescues in our unfamiliar boats.  My boat…my boat.  “The Beachcomber.”  Like all the others – but for Ginni and Bonnie’s Romany’s – it was a ruddered boat.  New for me.  Say what you will about how well New Zealanders do just about everything – and based on my limited experience, that seemed to be the case – kayak design is not (yet?!) one of their fortes.  We had an assortment of crafts, some more closely resembling what we were accustomed to paddling in.  My boat was extremely light, extremely high off the water (even loaded), and very rockered – all of which meant that a beam breeze  (and I mean breeze, not wind!) would, without full deployment of the rudder, just push the boat sideways.  The boat was surely a wanderer, and I was able to bring it under control only when ruddered.  Because it had such a high deck, when I attempted my first heel hook rescue, I was stranded for a time in the water, unable to get my foot high enough off the water to lock in under the deck.  My conclusion:  deployment of a ladder would have helped!  It was not a happy introduction to the boat I would have to depend on for the next nine days…

For some reason,  I took no more pictures that day, perhaps because I hadn’t yet fully adapted to doing everything upside down…



Day One, Friday February 3 – Tryphena to Whangaparapara Harbor

It rained a bit during the night, but it was dry in the morning.  The first order of business before launching was divvying up the mountain of food and eating supplies.  Again, what was I thinking? No photos!  Perhaps overwhelmed by my assignment of packing a cooler the size of a small refrigerator (really!) filled with bricks (really!) of cheese, plus a smaller cooler, plus two giant containers of yogurt (the latter the bane of my first days’ packing…) I was distracted from documenting the task.  In any event, we all somehow managed to jam all of our camping gear plus the group food into our boats, and we were finally ready to launch under overcast skies.


Have I mentioned that the initial plan of the trip was to attempt a circumnavigation of the island?  While we still had some hope that that might happen (dream on!), plans to go counterclockwise around the island had changed before we launched.  Rather than heading south and rounding the bottom of the island for a run up the exposed east coast (long sand beaches and occasionally heavy surf), once out of Tryphena Harbor, we headed north along the island’s more protected west side – a more convoluted shoreline of many bays and islands.  OK!  Although I was still hoping to make it all around.

And so we were off.


Every trip has a rhythm.  Mine started off the beat.  I struggled in a light wind to make the boat go straight.  With the rudder down, I couldn’t make it turn; I didn’t know how to work the rudder.  After a brief consultation with Ginni, who clued me in to the foot pegs’ dual function, I learned what to do, and things started to go more smoothly. 

Around every corner, a picture.  Here’s Ginni.


And the aqua water!


First cave!  Donna came to a screeching halt to back in.


We all took turns; here’s Brett coming out.


On our first on-the-water lunch stop, we all found that there should be no fears that we wouldn’t be well fed.


Following orders, Donna stayed helmeted on the cobble beach, even as she became more proficient negotiating the treacherous terrain on crutches.  (Frankly, the unsteady among us, and I consider myself one, might sensibly have kept our helmets on as well, because as we all know…most kayaking accidents happen on land…)


In its isolation, the Great Barrier Island, as is true of all of New Zealand, has unusual – and in many cases, unique – plants and animals.  Unlike the Galapagos, another isolated environment home to animals found nowhere else in the world, the creatures on GBI were mostly shy, and not easy to photograph.  The trees, however, cooperated for photographic opportunities…


In rounding Shag Point, the first sticky-outy bit that we would encounter, the water got bumpier and deeper blue.


Larraine atop a small swell.


The day had been overcast, then sunny, then overcast again as rain threatened.  Our camping destination in Whangaparapara Harbor, was highly tide dependent, and as we had gotten a latish start, and people (guilty as charged!) had dawdled trying to become one with their boats, time was a-wasting.  Ginni set up a towing exercise, and we found that a long in-line tow moved at a good clip.


In fact, Donna said she had some trouble keeping up.


Under very gloomy skies, we beat both the rain and ebbing tide to our campsite.


As we proceeded into the gloom, we didn’t realize until we turned to look back, that blue skies were actually chasing us in.


Welcome to The Green Camping Area.


We got our tents set up and prepared supper, then ate as a group by the low tide bay.  Please note location of my tent in foreground, a lovely spot right on the water – when the tide was up.


When when after a day's paddling, you discover your boat doesn’t have a compass, a red pepper will just have to do!


Good night, everyone.




Day Two, Saturday February 4 – Whangaparapara Harbor to Cow Patty Heaven

A good night’s sleep with some stars overhead.  In the morning, as I always do, before exiting my tent, I packed everything up and stashed it outside.  A lesson to be learned here...  Sometime later, a shout: “TENT!”  Mine had just gone walkabout, picked up by a gust of wind and hurled out over the (fortunately) still low enough tide area beyond.  This is where it came to a stop.


And so I brought it home, having learned the lesson that they give you tent stakes for a reason…


Then it was time for breakfast.  Quesadillas….thanks, Bonnie!


And the daily task of water filtering.  While the locals often drank water straight from the taps at campgrounds, we were wary enough of giardia to do the filtration thing.  It didn’t take long.


General principle:  the less distance you have to carry fully loaded boats, the better.  And so we moved slowly that morning, watching the tide make its way back into the bay.


Still waiting…


Donna took shelter under one of the many impressive pohutukawa trees we saw on our journey.  Cool tree, fun just to say the name out loud!


When their roots stop reaching the ground, they just grab somewhere else.  And provide a nice breeding ground for epiphytes.


Finally there was enough water and we were off.  Donna and Slime.


This was turning out to be a very nice day.  I was making peace with my boat.  Sort of.  We starting staying closer to the rocky shoreline, and that definitely picked up my spirits.  Nothing more enjoyable in a boat than looking at rocks, or playing in rocks.


And the rocks were very cool.


While we had contemplated a longer paddle to another campground at Port Fitzroy, we stopped at a potential halfway spot that would allow us to spend an afternoon exploring the Broken Islands.  Ginni hopped out to scout the location, and pronounced it a keeper. 


We were immediately greeted by one of New Zealand’s best summer singers, a cicada.  Get up under a canopy of trees and you will be serenaded by their shrill and very loud sound.


Another excellent lunch was prepared by the team.  Some people apparently don’t like olives in their salad.


After lunch, we relaunched and headed for the Broken Islands.  Access was through a substantial tunnel through the rocks.



It was a little bumpier on the outside.


Carmen, Bonnie and Brett enjoyed being out there, as did we all.


The water closer to the rocks was that spectacular aqua shade.


Carmen in the aqua.


We circumnavigated several of the little islands, then came back through the tunnel.  The wind and seas had picked up.  Landing back on our cobbly beach was a group effort.


Everyone, but Bonnie and Ginni, set up campsites right away.  It was a really great area, but for the many cow patties dotting the landscape.


Bonnie had found a sweet spot on a small bluff overlooking the rest of the camp.  She found a piece of wood shaped like a hockey stick and proceeded to launch dried cow patties over the bluff to clear an area for tents.  The wind increased even more.  A good spot for drying clothes for sure.


The trees sang the hypnotic cicada sound.  Can you tell which way the wind blows here?


The cicadas weren’t the only ones to find homes in these trees.


As evening approached, Ginni sat, surrounded by the tools of one of her trades.  Another excellent meal emerged.


Peggy ensured that we didn’t leave leftovers.  After cajoling us into seconds and sometimes thirds, she took care of what remained.  Made dishwashing a lot easier.


Evening often brings diminishing winds.  Not this night.  It was up to 25 knots.  Bonnie sensibly decided that as wonderful a view as her patty-free bluff offered, it was no place to spend the night.  She wrestled her tent into submission


and eventually got it all nestled among and anchored to surrounding kayaks.




Day Three, Sunday, February 5 – Cow Patty Heaven to Port Fitzroy

What a night!  The wind just kept on keeping on.  Tent sides flapped wildly.  The wind was like a fighter – jab, jab, jab…then PUNCH! as a gust barreled against the tent.  I doubt that any of us slept that well what with all the racket.   Rollers crashed against the shore of our heretofore placid little bay.  At around 5:30 am, Bonnie went tent to tent to inform everyone that the start of the day would be pushed back an hour.  No point in getting up early when there was no chance we’d be paddling with the wind as it was.


When we did all get up sometime after 7 am, we moved the camp kitchen from its exposed suppertime location into a little gulley under the trees and out of the wind, some way back from the water’s edge.  Ginni subsequently pronounced it her favorite kitchen.


It was a lot more peaceful and protected here


and we were all warm and comfortable




eating a breakfast of crumpets (crumpets!!) topped with whatever you want.  Nutella!


After breakfast, we spent time going over exactly where we’d gone the previous afternoon


and then because it was still too windy to paddle, and we needed to get cell service for a weather report, some of us walked up a steepish path to a little saddle overlooking the sea


where Carmen, Ginni and Larraine fooled with their devices in hopes of catching a signal.


While everyone else continued going up – much more steeply – I decided to go back to camp, where I spent a peaceful while reading and enjoying the view.


Finally the wind died down, and we packed up and prepared to leave.



Brett was ready, looking every bit the warrior from an alien land…


We were bade farewell by one of our singing friends.  I don’t know if this was the same one who greeted us…


We went back out through the tunnel in the rocks


and proceeded to have a lovely, leisurely paddle along the coast.


We wove through rocks


and passed weird ones sticking up out of a flat blue sea



and those closer to the coast.


Nearing Port Fitzroy Harbor, we passed a mussel farm


and waited to cross a narrow channel we had to share with large power boats.  (A busy-ish day because it was a summer Sunday of a second three day holiday weekend in a row.)


Along the way, there were stands of dead trees among the riot of greens.


With the tide up, we approached the highly civilized (pit toilets!  Cold water showers!  A kitchen shelter), and almost empty, Akapoua Bay campsite.


The routine was getting easier.  Unload boats, move boats above high tide line, set up kitchen, set up tents.  It was a beautiful evening, and we hung fresh food from the trees away from any hungry critters,


and got to food prep on the kitchen table under the tree.  Ginni snuck Bonnie (eyes closed to maintain surprise?) a cup of wine.


Evening, all prepared for bed.


A wood pigeon rested on a branch above us.


Soon…darkness and bed.  It was quiet but for the intermittent strange sounds of New Zealand birds…until, a little after 10 pm, at top volume across the water, “BORN…IN THE USA!!”  Bruce!  Followed by two loud hours of British and American rock of a certain era.  Cursing had no effect on the volume or longevity.  There was nothing to do but sleep amidst the din of a party to which we hadn’t been invited…


                                                                           Day Four, Monday, February 6 – Port Fitzroy to Ahuriri Point…and beyond

Sometime during the previous day it had crossed my mind that it was Super Bowl Sunday - February 5.  But of course it wasn’t because it was still yesterday at home (that infernal International Date Line).  So today, Monday, was Super Bowl Sunday.  Whatever…  Like I said, it crossed my mind.

This day ended up being one of the high points of the trip.  We had by now learned that the weather forecasts down under were as reliable as NOAA’s, which is to say – loudly – NOT VERY!  While west winds of 15 kts were predicted, the day ended up being almost flat calm from start to finish.  It was a beautiful sunny morning.


And, hey, the wood pigeon was back!


We discussed whether it would make sense to wait for the tide to come in and have a shorter day of paddling, or to do a difficult load and launch across a wide expanse of low tide mud and have more time on the water.  It was a unanimous vote for the latter.  So this most wonderful of days started with the most awful – albeit rather amusing – launch.  Carrying boats, carrying bags of gear, escorting the halt and lame across the increasingly sucking mud…





But we all made it, and were off,


finding caves




and rocks to play in


and weird rocks just to look at



and paddle by.


We stopped for lunch on a beautiful beach.  As we approached, I saw a sting ray scuttling darkly below me and away.


We crossed a narrowish part of Katherine Bay, and soon were at a spot Ginni knew from her previous trip here two years ago.  (How she remembers these details I do not know.)  This turned out to be another beautiful wild camp, rivaling Cow Patty Heaven, which had been our favorite thus far.


We unloaded and stashed gear where it couldn’t be seen from the water.


Donna waited for us to get underway again.


In the distance was Little Barrier Island.


We were all eager to get going because we were planning to go up around Miner’s Head, as far north as we would get on the trip, and hope for a view of The Needles, a series of pointy rocks that mark the passage around the top of the island.  Weather and our slow pace had determined that a circumnav was not in the cards for this group on this trip.

We passed through another tunnel in the rocks, this time through Ahuriri Point,


and entered along a stretch of wild rocky coastline - not seen here, but to our right - onward toward Miner’s Head.


In the distance, the Needles!


and after requisite photos and a group selfie, we turned around headed back with lots of time to enjoy this most muscular stretch of rocks.


There was a large arch.


Donna snapped this shot of me coming through.


Another cave,


another arch, this one stained green from copper leaching out from mining carried out years ago.




More green stains


and the holes from which the ore was extracted.


We arrived back in camp and quickly hung clothes and gear up for drying.  Have a said that this was a humid place, and once things got wet…they kinda stayed…damp…just about forever, wind or no – and it was pretty much “no” this evening.


We ate supper in our little hollow by a tidal lagoon.  I don’t know what everyone else had, but for me on this otherwise most excellent day, it was just a small mound of rice to calm my mildly rebelling insides…


A pretty sunset to end the day.


Wonder who won the Super Bowl?


                                                                                            Day Five, Tuesday February 7 – Back to Port Fitzroy


Since the decision had been made not to continue around (drat!), this day would see us retracing our footsteps...er, paddle strokes.  It dawned a bit overcast, which was fine.  The sun in this part of the world is intense and relief from it when conditions are otherwise favorable is most acceptable.  I took a bit of a wander out behind the camp to see what there was to see...


Strange bark on this fallen tree.


Today’s check of Donna’s broken foot was, er, not entirely positive.  Swollen and purple – matching the toenail polish she had gotten before she realized that it had to color coordinate with a foot fracture…


Not having eaten supper, I was pretty hungry, and when crumpets made a re-appearance, I upped my toppings game.  Nutella and peanut butter.  Kind of like having a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup for breakfast.  Pretty tasty!


Because it wouldn’t be a long day, there was time for more attempted gear drying before we set out.


Our plan for the day was to head very briefly northward to stop at a sacred Maori site that we had passed on our way to the Ahuriri Point tunnel the day before.  This stone was placed by the Maori, and camping was not allowed here.


We passed back and forth through the tunnel again, just because it was there and we could – the tide was still permitting it.


Then it was southward toward Port Fitzroy again.


Perhaps because I had eaten almost no supper the night before, I had just about zero energy this morning - even with pb and nutella crumpet on board.  What lay ahead was a crossing of Katherine Bay.  Crossings…boring!   Only two miles, but yet…

  Here we (finally) are at the end of the long(ish), dull crossing.


Just having that behind us was energizing, and the rest of the day, I was good to go!  How can one not be enthralled by this Coolest. Rock. Ever.?!  I mean, what monolithic creature is this guy?


We hugged the rocks.  Shags in their tuxedos were just chillin’ as we went by.


A stop on a cobbly beach for another excellent lunch, perhaps made more so because I was still pretty hungry.  More salami, please!


A nap for Bonnie, who – despite living in Chicago for a thousand years – was always cold; she hugged the warmth right out of these rocks.


It was a slow calm paddle back to camp, where the tide was blessedly high – no mud!!


The usual routine after landing, then Donna and Bonnie relaxed on the porch of this little deserted house in the middle of the campground.


Carmen was helping out this evening with kitchen duties, and found a reclining position worked quite well for dish washing.


She was soon assisted in her labors by Fred – so named by Bonnie for reasons unclear – the camp duck.


We were all glad when Fred visited others of us as well.


Btw, it wasn’t me – I swear – but someone (Peggy!) asked Larraine if she could find the results of the Super Bowl on her signal-capable cell phone.  So it was, as Fred the Duck made his rounds, that Larraine read out, “In Epic Comeback, Patriots Beat Falcons 36-28.”  Sweet!



Day Six Wednesday February 8 – To the Tideraces!!


We made the decision to stay at least another night at Port Fitzroy.  The (rarely) reliable weather forecast was calling for an oncoming gale – and while other forecasts had yielded days of sun and flat seas, this was nothing to mess with.  It was a pretty morning.


Four of us, plus Ginni and Bonnie, decided to see if we could get out to Wellington Head, the most western point of all the islands that together make up the Great Barrier Island.  We would also be able to do a circumnavigation of Kaikoura Island, the largest of these affiliated islands.  With wind predicted to being up as the day progressed, some who would have loved a paddle out to an area that promised bigger seas – Donna! – elected to stay back because it was too hard controlling her boat in the wind.  (When we got back, she was not happy to hear she’d made a BIG mistake!)

First, the requisite trudge across the mud, although thankfully this time with empty boats.


So Brett, Carmen, Tammy and I set out with our fearless leaders to see what we could see.


The seas got livelier as we proceeded in a northwesterly direction along the coast of Kaikoura Island, and livelier still when we cleared the peninsula opposite, exposing us to the full force of the wind from the south.




Oh, I wish I could show you photos of the two tide races we found – between Kaikoura and Nelson Islands, and then between Nelson and Motohaku Islands!  But it was strictly two hands on the paddle for me for quite some time.  I did snag this one photo of me that Ginni took of me there (thank you!).  She’s below, I’m above, hiding behind the wave.  There’s some distance between us!  Super fun!  (I should also say that it was fun – and inspiring – to watch Ginni - in what felt like pretty wild water to me - one hand on the paddle, the other hand snapping away on her camera!)


Before we started into the second tide race, Ginni asked us whether we wanted to continue on up to Wellington Head.  Given the livening conditions and increasing wind, we all agreed that it would be enough to surf through another tide race and seek shelter.  Wellington Head would have to wait for another day.  (Never?)

And so we all negotiated both tide races with more or less aplomb…although I was almost taken out a breaking wave that hit me broadside on the second of the two ride races.  A blessedly instinctive – and thankfully quick enough – committed brace into the wave kept me upright.

We finally were out of the waves and in a calm cove on the sheltered side of the last of three little islands, the western tip of which is Wellington Head.  Bonnie, as was her wont, handed out Snickers to celebrate that we had all remained upright, and we paused to catch our breath and composure.


Bonnie said she had found herself wondering what would happen if one of us went over.  Which way would we end up being pushed, and if separated from our boat, which way would the boat go. I am humbled to say that not one of us (other than Ginni, of course) got the answer right.  The current was running north to south, and the wind the other way.  So we would have gone south, the boat north, borne on the wind.

The four of us were done in, so we stayed on the sheltered side for the rest of the way, wandering through rocks,


being mesmerized by the colors


and caves.


As we headed home, the skies darkened,



but the wind wasn’t as bad as we'd thought it would be as we crossed the bay.


We saw the once a week ferry, which provisions the little store in Port Fitzroy, leaving for wherever it goes next. There would be fresh produce available the next day for re-provisioning.


When we got back, in anticipation of the coming gale, the remaining crew had moved the kitchen into the splendid shelter AND had walked the half mile to the store and returned with…libations!


Dinner prep was well underway, in Larraine, Donna and Fran’s able hands.


Tammy, Mike and Brett were pretty happy at the end of this day; I'm sure it had nothing to do with this gin and tonic's in a bottle...


While Bonnie did the last of her boat organizing for the night, she was visited by Fred.


Fred, what a guy!




Day Seven, Thursday February 9 – Layover Day at Port Fitzroy


For once, the weather forecast was entirely correct.  Overnight, the storm arrived, bringing pouring rain and strong winds.  I was snug and dry in my tent.

This is what we woke to…  Kind of glum but much better than it had been throughout the night.


But it was cold and wet, and we all layered up and were happy for many cups of hot beverages.  There was still some wind blowing, and for the second time, although I had staked it down, my tent went walkabout once again.  According to a reliable witness (thank you, Brett, it did two complete 360’s and landed on its base.  When I checked inside, everything had landed pretty much where it was supposed to be.  I double staked the tent and otherwise got ready for the day.

We did some navigation work,


focusing on deciphering the chart's tidal diamonds.


The rain stopped.  The plan for the day:  Ginnie to hitchhike back to Tryphena’s Stray Possum Lodge, where we had spent the first night, and retrieve truck and trailer so we could move the whole operation over to the east side of the island the next day.  Because we weren’t doing the circumnav, we all wanted to see that sandy, surfy exposed side of the island.  The rest of us would go the store and get supplies and/or hang around camp.

And so we set out for “town,” 


which consisted of... a burger joint, open only three days of week, none of happened to be this day...



a visitor center, which was both closed and for sale – but which did warn us not to ask too many questions at the store; others had already found that one of the proprietors was perhaps the least friendly person in New Zealand,


and the store, where some of us bought local honey, others ice cream bars, and the most responsible among us, more fruits and vegetables to feed the group.

We returned to prepare yet another meal.  Here is Bonnie in the amazing kitchen shelter.


Because the sun had come out, we moved outside for more navigation work.


At some point, Ginni returned with truck and trailer, and tales of her multipart hitchhiking adventure, in a place where rides are few and possibly short, but no one will pass you by.

There was time for reading – here’s Larraine,


or just relaxing...Mike, Brett and Carmen.


Then time for bed, with no guarantee of a dry night.




Day Eight, Friday February 10 – Moving Day Port Fitzroy to Haratonga Bay

Aka Sheep Poop Paradise


The plan for the day: a three part shuttle to get everyone from one side of the island to the other.  The first group - Brett, Carmen and I - would leave at around 8:30 am.  Given the time for Ginnie to make the round trip, the second group – Donna, Larraine, and Tammy – would leave at about 11 or so.  In the meantime, the third group – Fran, Peggy and Mike – would go out for a paddle over to the calm side of Kaikoura Island as they had been land-bound the for two days.

And so the day started just as planned.  We had a lovely ride along narrow windy roads with precipitous drops and gorgeous views and finally dropped down onto the other side of the island, where we went the last miles on bumpy dirt roads until we were at what would be our last camping spot.



The views down to the beach


and up toward the hills behind us were lovely.


Pohutukawa trees…  Just love saying that word!




While Brett and Carmen went to hike up to the top of the ridge and to explore the beach, I stayed behind to mind the fort and to greet the next wave of arrivals.   Sheep, have I mentioned the sheep?  The campground doubled as a pasture for a free-range flock of sheep, and was therefore pretty much covered in sheep poop.  OK, we learned about clearing poop for campsites at Cow Patty Heaven, and it was no problem tidying up here.  But it was good there was a fence around the kitchen (built to the same specs as that we had just left) so there was one clean area.

I set up my tent, got out my crazy creek chair, pulled out a book, and watched the sheep.


And soon fell asleep, awakening to find these guys just feet away. 


When I moved, they were as startled as I had been to find them there and trotted away.

It was noon now, and the second wave of our group hadn’t arrived.  The sheep took to the shade for a noon siesta.


An hour later, Brett and Carmen returned, and were surprised to find that we were still alone.  We voiced some concerns about this, but went about the tasks that could be done because there was nothing else to do.  Brett took the opportunity to doze against one of the massive trees.


The afternoon was passing.  Still no one.  Worries mounted.  Best case scenario:  car problems.  Worst case scenario…well, no one really wanted to say.

The sheeps’ day was coming to a close and they did a one-at-a-time river fording to their evening pasture.


And still, no one.  Carmen kept saying, “The next car will be them.”  But it wasn’t.  Until, she said it once again, and the nose of a white truck showed coming from behind a bush… Nope…  Ah, yes!  A white truck attached to a kayak trailer loaded with kayaks!


What the…?  Everyone piled out of the tightly packed vehicle, a clown car of kayakers. And we got the story of what had happened.


The best of the bad scenarios:  car trouble.  Some engine thingy gave way, a mechanic was found, a part was being flown in and would be installed the next day, and we would be able to get to the ferry on time on Sunday.

I hadn’t yet been down to the beach, having become more anxious as the day progressed with no sign of anyone, so took the opportunity now to join Bonnie and Ginni to check it out.  We missed a turn and ended up in a cow pasture.


We finally found our way, and onto a gorgeous sand beach with aqua surf.


I walked back slowly to enjoy what there was to see.





In our absence, folks had tidied things up


and soon dinner prep was underway.  Some of it rather frightening!  (Bubble bubble toil and trouble...beets!)


But there was still some of this


to calm frazzled nerves and end the day on a positive note.



Day Nine, Saturday February 11, Surf Sessions, Hiking and Last Group Paddle at Haratonga Bay


Plans for the day:  A 6 am surf session, unstructured.  Breakfast.  A 10 am surf session with instruction.  A 3 pm group paddle.  And whatever anyone else wanted to do.

I arose with most of the others and went down to the beach to watch the free form surf session.  It was a peaceful morning with the sun not yet up.


We gathered before launching to read the water a bit. 


While Brett, Tammy and Carmen prepared to go out into it, the two prettiest boats in our fleet (Romany’s!) rested on the beach.


Brett surfed in.


Two riders, two islands, one wave.


Photo op for Larraine.


And then it was time to head back for breakfast.


A mellow morning, with time to lounge around and chat


or just drink coffee.


Eschewing the 10 am surf session, I elected to take a solo walk up onto the ridge.  It was a good decision.  The well marked trail started here 


and climbed easily, and then more steeply, until I was up here about forty-five minutes later.


The path followed a ridgeline,



with stunning views on both sides.





In the distance, I could see tiny slivers – kayaks – in the foaming surf of the beach – our crew in their learning mode.  I sat on a patch of grass and listened to the wind and the grass and some birds until it was time to head back down through the trees.



About a two hour round-trip, all told.

After lunch, we prepared for our last paddle together.


The tidal river took us to the small portage on the beach.


It takes a village to surf launch people with broken feet, bad hips, replaced knees…


Successfully launched, there was time for a bit of rock play.


More rocks and waves.


And too soon, our time was over and we had to land.



and then me coming in – one of my last moments of New Zealand paddling.


A party to greet Bonnie, last in.


Last boat carry...or drag...


Boat.  So I started this off with some not friendly words about my boat, my Beachcomber.  Over the course of the trip, I came to peace with her, and appreciate that as complicated as she could be at times, she did get me where I needed to go.  So, thank you Beachcomber boat!  I am sorry I dissed you so.  Although when I get home, I'll be happy to be back in a good Brtitish - not New Zealand - style boat!


And then it was time to load up the trailer, prepare supper, and head to bed under a just past full moon...




Ferry to Auckland, Sunday, February 12



I was up early, as were others, for a peaceful last morning walk.  Water and trees.




Everything (including the repaired and retrieved truck) and everyone was packed and ready to go...


when…miracle or miracles!...behind the kitchen shelter, Ginni had found and managed to pose for a viewing one of the birds most associated with New Zealand, a kiwi!  We rushed for a look and a photo!


Clearly we were blessed on this trip!

We enlisted another camper to take photos - on about eight different cameras - of our entire group.  Here we are.


And all that was left was the pretty drive back to Tryphena.  Along the way we stopped to admire this cool car in a meadow



and at an overlook where the waves below were bigger than photos can do them justice.


Although many of us tried…


 Quite a spot...


For the last time, a sign warning us not to run over birds that like to wander around at night…


And we were back in Tryphena…


Larraine was a wistful figure getting a last look back at where we’d been.


Before the ferry, there was time for another (not the last – there would be more in Auckland, but not homemade like this one) mince and cheese pie - courtesy of Donna, by way of thanking everyone for helping her out with her broken foot.


Our ferry was at dock.


Our fearless leaders awaited their turn to drive on board.


Ginni did a positively awesome job of backing the trailer into a narrow assigned slot (nearly causing a heart attack to the person in the truck behind, already parked, who watched the ferry men guide her backward within inches of their vehicle).  We gave her a good round of applause.


We made a thank you card for Ginni, Bonnie and Larraine from some of our favorite materials – campground brochures, reused plastic bags and electrical tape.  I think they liked the look!  (And we all liked Larraine's look in red bandana hat, fashioned from a gift from our Alaskans.)


On the ride back, we stayed outside and enjoyed the view – Coromandel Peninsula under a cloud. 


There would be more clouds ahead, and wind and waves.

Donna and I struggled out through the wind onto the bow.  This picture doesn’t do justice to what it was like out there; hard to stand up straight!


But I think this view of Bonnie and Carmen does a better job.  They got soaked by a wave on the side of the bow opposite us!


Weather’s coming our way…


But passes, leaving a rainbow behind.


Finally, in the distance, the Auckland skyline


and in no time, we were pulling up to the dock, waiting to debark.


Did I say mention that as Ginni waited to back onto the ferry in Tryphena, one of the ferrymen commented on our group of halt and lame people boarding the ferry.  To which she responded, “They paddle better than they walk.”  Indeed!


And all that was left was waiting for an Uber to take us back to the hotel, wishing that we could accept the invitation this sign offered.


And so our trip had come to an end, but for a bit of sightseeing (not much, with Donna on crutches) and celebratory margaritas and nachos at Elliot Stables – a fantastic high end “food court” built in an old stable and surrounded by high end restaurants who deliver your order to a numbered table in the common area.


The next morning, we were packed and ready to go to the airport. 


Goodbye, New Zealand…


And a million hours, two planes, and one subtracted day later…

Hello, Boston!  Ugh!




I am most grateful for the opportunity to have participated in this adventure.  I can’t exactly thank Jane Hardy for breaking her foot – nor do I want to.  But an unfortunately created opportunity presented itself, and I am very lucky to have had the flexibility to take it.  Jane, Donna and I thought of you often, spoke of you often, and frequently wished all three of us could have been there together.  (We also wished that it could have been three able bodied people, but that was not to be.)

My admittedly brief exposure to this beautiful far-away country left me with nothing but positive feelings.  Everyone – well, with the exception of that one grouchy woman at the store in Port Fitzroy – couldn’t have been nicer.  Auckland was clean and easily navigable.  Uber drivers were friendly, interested, and appalled – as many of us are – at what is happening in our own country.

Added bonus:  NZ has no dangerous creepy crawly creatures.  No snakes or scorpions or poisonous spiders or...all the terrible things across the way in Australia.  They do, however, have some pretty persistent scratchy insects!  The owner of these impressive constellation of bug bites shall remain nameless!


Great Barrier Island.  I won’t pretend to be a naturalist.  I appreciate birds and their distinctive calls (especially in the middle of the night, when some of NZ’s unusual winged residents liked to make their presence known) but can’t identify them.  (Well, except for the wood pigeon.)  We saw a lot of birds on the trip.  This is a list the group compiled of what we saw and heard, in no particular order:  wood pigeon, white tailed heron and reef heron, banded rail, kaka (gotta love this name!), field duck, pukeko, oyster catcher, shags, tui, silver eye, blue penguin, pateke, fantail, red billed and black back gulls, harrier hawk, Caspian and white throated tern, kingfisher, welcome swallow and Australasian gannet - and, of course, Fred the Duck.  Great Barrier Island has been spared some of the introduced species that have plagued the mainland of this island country.  All the mammals are introduced; there are – I was told – no native New Zealand land mammals, but for a several species of bats.  You can buy possum fur clothing.  But given how much they’d like to eradicate this introduced pest, they sure do charge a lot for a pair of socks made from it 

It was good – for many reasons – to be largely off the grid for the time that we were.

I am most grateful to Ginni for making a trip she took with her sweetie – now spouse – several years ago available to those of us who came.  And to Bonnie for forming half of a solid, smart, funny, energetic and welcoming leadership team.  Thank you both!  Thanks also to Larraine and Auckland Canoe and Kayak for providing boats, truck, trailer - and for Lorraine's great companionship on the water and off, not to mention her dedication to clean kitchens and helping out with meal prep!

To my fellow (well, mostly gal) paddlers:  Thank you Carmen, Brett, Tammy and Mike for being able bodied and taking on a disproportionate share of boat hauling – and the first three of you for sharing those tide race waves!  And for those Alaska bandanas you passed out at the end.  Thank you Peggy for being an inspiration about what one can still take on, physical limitations be damned, as others of us approach our 70’s – and for making sure everyone ate everything and little went to waste.  Thank you, Fran, for showing us how Great Lakes skills can translate into ocean skills…but maybe not so many thanks for telling us about that waterfall, which led to Donna getting her shoes wet, which led to… well, enough of that.  Thank you to Donna for being a first rate travel companion, even if at times your ideas about how to dry shoes may be positively hazardous.


Finally, I started this trip report saying that I was only able to enjoy two-thirds of what a travel experience can be because I was so late in joining – missing out on the mini-third of anticipation and preparation.  You know what?  I’ll take it.  The doing and remembering parts were and will be so vivid, I’ll live without the first part.  This was a terrific adventure - even if we didn't do the circumnav.  Hey, incentive to return some day??





























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I'm late to comment but finally got to sit down with your report and savor...  

What a beautiful place! What a marvelous adventure! Flying tents! Fractured limbs! Cow-patty golf! It's hard to even imagine paddling in a place so different from the Northeast. Thank you for documenting and reporting so thoroughly. I don't think anything is lost by not completing a circumnav - much more worthwhile to know the place where you are than to get to the place where you aren't. 

I am envious!!


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