Sea-kayaking near Whangaroa

Sometimes good things happen just by chance. On leaving Waitiki Landing after our Cape Reinga Walk, I picked up a brochure describing guided sea kayak tours and cabin accommodation at a secluded spot just south of Whangaroa Harbour. We were heading back south, the weather for the next day seemed favourable and after several weeks of walking, our upper bodies were feeling neglected and in need of a work-out. A quick phone call and at the end of the day, instead of driving along a highway far south, we were driving up a narrow gravel coastal road to the secluded spot from which Northland Kayak Tours operated.

Looking out to Stephenson Island -
this is the view from the cabin sofa


It was a great delight when Richard, our host and a laid-back Hawaiian ex-pat, showed us the cabin we were to stay in for the next two nights; a rustic, non-electric, character-filled timber hut, perched in beautiful bushland above the rocky coastline, its picture-window framing the bay and off-shore islands, the bracing cold shower and loo a few paces away in a grove of tree ferns with the sky for a ceiling - what exquisite seclusion!



Sunset over Orua Bay

Ready for action

After a candle-lit dinner, we sat on the sofa watching the sunlight fade and the moonlight bathe the bay and islands in a pale, cold light and wondered where we might be heading the next day. Sea-kayaking is not like walking - where you go depends on the winds and currents and tides and Richard would decide our destination in the morning.

The morning dawned to a still, slightly overcast day, with calm seas. With a forecast of sea-breezes in the afternoon, the conditions were right for us to head off-shore and visit Stephenson's Island, whose rocky shoreline contained a variety of cliffs, curious formations, inlets, channels, arches and sea-caves.

After a revision of basic kayaking skills we were soon off and paddling, Richard in his single kayak, the fair Nello and myself in a double. We soon passed around the rocky outcrop of Oruatemanu Island, 350m offshore. A lone geologist was working there, having been dropped off by a boat to carry out his studies of the complexly deformed strata of this island, which comprise the oldest rocks known in New Zealand.


Richard checking out a sea-cave

Lunch stop on Stephenson Island
Once past, we settled into a steady rhythm for the 3 km crossing of the open sea, slowly approaching Stephenson's Island with the steady rise and fall of the 1m swell. Near the island we made a slight detour to get a better view of a small group of blue penguins, feeding out at sea, before heading into a small inlet with a pebbly beach. From here we could climb up to a point with sweeping views back over the mainland coastline.

Views back to the mainland from the pa site

Under the careful guidance of Richard, we then made a close tour of the inshore side of the island, following the swell surges through the narrow channels in the strange rock gardens around its shore, passing seabirds that seemed relatively unphased by the approach of fellow sea-farers, and gliding over the kelp beds and undersea world visible in the crystal clear waters.

A broader beach provided a good lunch stop, and enabled me to climb up the steep kikuyu-covered hillside to an old Maori pa site, now occupied by a flock of grazing sheep. After lunch the sea-breeze began to build up and we pressed on into it towards the far end of the island, stopping at a small inlet and beach to climb up to a saddle so that Richard could verify the water conditions on the seaward side. Declaring it doable, we decided to push on and circumnavigate the island, rounding the rocky outcrop of Cone Island at its northern extremity to paddle past the mouth of a sea-cave and under a large rock arch.

The paddling was decidedly tougher on the seaward side; the swell drove into the sheer cliffs and reflected back, creating a lumpy sea in conjunction with the windwaves (a good challenge and learning experience for novice kayakers) and we kept a much greater distance between us and the rocks than we had on the protected inshore side.

Sea arch at Cone Island

Looking out to Cone Island from Stephenson's

Richard paddling along the eastern side of the island

Midway down the seaward shore, Richard took us into the mouth of a deep sea-cave - it is an interesting emotion watching from inside a cave as the ocean swell surges in, increasing in size as the gap narrows! However, we were well-guided and emerged with no problems to complete the circumnavigation, stop one last time for a nice hot cuppa, and head back across the open sea to the mainland, with the sea-breeze at our backs.

Another spectacular rock formation

Home from the sea - Oruatemanu in the near background
and Stephenson's Island in the distance

As we sat on our cabin sofa that night looking out over the sea and Stephenson's Island, it gave us a warm feeling of achievement to know that we had paddled out and around it in our kayak. It was a great end to a great day - thanks Richard, for sharing your knowledge of this wonderful coastline with us and for imparting some of your kayaking skills, while being a good companion at the same time.