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January is often slow in Baja, so it was a good time for co-owner Ginni Callahan to escape to New Zealand for a little paddling. Keep an eye on the calendar for future trips offered in this intriguing part of the world! This time, though, Ginni and boyfriend Henrick Lindstrom circumnavigated Great Barrier Island.
The Barrier, as locals call it, protects the Hauraki Gulf from Pacific Ocean swells. Auckland is located deep within the Hauraki Gulf, along with a number of other smaller islands. A four-hour ferry ride carried Ginni and Henrick out from the city with their kayaks. Here are excerpts from their story:
After a fine dinner at Tipi and Bob’s Waterfront Lodge, we check weather websites. We measure distances, calculate times, look at tides, decipher the currents from the tidal diamonds, and decide to set out counter-clockwise…
…Rangiwhakaea Bay, our target, is little over an hour away, and we’re reasonably sure we can land there in the forecasted conditions. We hope so because the next stop is four hours further, around the Needles at the north end.
We investigate three coves in Rangiwhakaea Bay and choose Kirikiri Beach. A venerable Pohutukawa tree shelters us from the sun on a small rocky beach. The east wind flaps our laundry hanging from the Pohutukawa branches. A creek trickles through the forest to pool behind a berm of rocks and forest debris. The streambed itself has been bulldozed by some great force, leaving bare rocks, gravel bars, and broken trees strewn in its widened path. We will see dramatic evidence of the June 2014 storm at almost every stream we observe, from here on around the island.
The swell is indeed bigger this morning. We don’t need to open our eyes to know. Besides, it’s still dark when we awake. The early start will let us launch before the tide drops too much and breaks more of the swells coming into our mini-bay.
Henrick launches first, and disappears in the big, disorganized sea. Eventually I find him and we bounce along the cliffs together. Now THIS is the sea, I think as we paddle. So long as there is no reason to fear for our safety, I love a rambunctious sea. Henrick is concentrating, but doing well. I stick close.
Another reason to leave with the dawn this morning is the current around the Needles. Friends circumnavigated a few weeks before and said they were surprised at the force of the current near the north end, and how quickly it changed. Yesterday I studied the tidal diamonds on our nautical chart. Of course there is no diamond right where one wants it, since nautical charts aren’t made for kayakers. Diamond “B” is several miles west and “C” is about two thirds of the way down The Barrier’s east coast. Off the Needles themselves, the chart indicates tidal rips of 2-3kts in either direction. Since we paddle at just over 3 knots and realize how the current can affect the sea state, we do want to pass with minimal current, and in our direction if possible.
There is a gap that would cut off the Needles and Aiguilles Island, and save perhaps an hour. I check in with Henrick. Because Tom the guitar-playing fisherman at Harataonga campsite told us that it’s not a real circumnavigation without the Needles, Henrick is determined to go the whole way. We’re perfectly on schedule, the conditions are lovely, and I am not inclined to leave any rock unexplored, so we go for it.
I take photos of Henrick paddling past the spires. Sometimes he’s in the photos. Occasionally a swell swallows him completely. Buller’s Shearwaters stream past us. Some wheel around for a second look. Several pop over a swell gliding low and find themselves beak to bow with our kayaks. They hang on nearly meter-wide wings, steering with the subtlest shift of weight.
The moment of rounding the tip of the Needles is brief and exciting. Smooth faces of the swells stand up when they meet the current. Occasionally the top meter or so tumbles in a roar of white. They are deliciously surfable for a few waves, and then we’re past. A fishing boat bobs in the much-reduced swells on the west side. Our adrenaline slowly subsides, but the flow of shearwaters past our heads does not.
“Cliffs of Doom” is how someone described the 4-mile stretch between the Needles and Miners Cove. Here a 250- to 300-meter high ridge follows the coastline, almost completely unbroken by streams. The cliffs are made of ancient sedimentary rock deposited some 150 million years ago.
Port Fitzroy is supply central for a healthy boating population which enjoys the inlets and islands nearby. We stop in the port, pick up a few more supplies at the store and enjoy a couple of burgers at the burger shack on the waterfront. Kids jump from the tops of pilings along the wharf. Tourists sunbathe on a dock in the bay. Tied between the dock and shore is a big log. Kids take turns logrolling, solo, or in groups, splashing into the sun-gilded water as we eat our early dinner.
We share Akapoua with only the camp host. It’s his last night on duty. We also share the site with a half dozen Pateke. It’s hard to imagine they are rare. Here, the green-winged teal are not shy, and they are not nice to each other, with one going as far as to grab another’s tail. They patrol around our kayaks, hopping on the deck, peeking in hatches. The sand flies are not shy either. Banded Rail, another rare bird, runs around the campsite. This is the best campsite for birding. Tui and raucous Kaka wake us in the morning.
At the end of a 16nm day, we land at The Green DOC campsite, deep inside Whangaparapara. A small grassy campsite is all ours for the night. A magnificent horizontal pohutukawa tree lines the waterfront, grounded by at least 4 trunks. These trees put out aerial branches that become new trunks if they reach the ground.
“I hate these trees,” declares Henrick as we move the picnic table out from under it. Pohutukawas drop their red flowers on everything. But they are beautiful in their exuberant flowering and shady sprawl.
I’ve thought that if I were a tree I’d like to be a pohutukawa. Their structure creates the opportunity for a whole community of plants and animals. Epiphytes cling, birds roost, vines twine. Kayakers sit below. Almost every lunch we’ve eaten on this trip has been in the shade of a pohutukawa tree. If I were a pohutukawa, though, I’d be sure not to drop my flowers in Henrick’s dinner.
I have found a way to make 2-year oatmeal appetizing: have as the only alternative 2-year old egg powder and “dog food” (flavored soy protein). We’re making ourselves eat through the food stores that remained on the sailboat after our Mexico to New Zealand crossing in 2012. We do reward ourselves at night with a delicious dinner at Tipi & Bob’s to celebrate our completed trip. Tom the fishing guitar player with the radio show who we’d met at Harataonga campsite recommended the Reef & Beef, so I have to try it.
Our waitress at Tipi & Bob’s also has a show on the local radio station and knows Tom. Actually Tipi & Bob’s underwrites Tom’s show. The waitress tells us of a tavern owner up the hill who records open mike sessions at his tavern and sometimes plays the authentic local music on his radio show. That’s as genuine “Barrier” as it gets!
For the complete story, see Ginni’s “Kayak Adventures” Barrier Blog