After loading lunch, snorkeling gear, camera accessories and other survival essentials into a sleek two-person sea kayak, my guide Kea and I bid stable ground farewell. I took the front seat in order to acquire some good shots along the northeastern side of New Zealand’s North Island. My camera was held on my lap for easy access, safe in a dry-bag.
“All set up there?” asked Kea, who was on loan from Pacific Coast Kayaking, a local outfit offering daily or multi-day kayaking excursions.
Kea certainly wasn’t lacking confidence and was fueled by a great enthusiasm. As we went, he explained about New Zealand’s colorful past, its marine reserves, and the country’s plans to keep wildlife parks pristine. Enthralled by the narrative, I was equally in awe of the scenery. We glided past numerous species of shore birds, over countless beds of kelp with overlapping fronds and through cave-like formations eroded into an outstretched shoreline. Steep, jagged cliffs and ancient lava flows, now softened by time, lay before us. I found it amazing that a past of such turmoil could now produce so much relaxation and tranquility. Other places were thick with native trees or lush in valleys of rolling green meadows.
“Ready for some whitewater?” asked Kea as we cleared the protection of another bay. The ocean swells became more pronounced as they rolled over shallow reefs, producing pools of swirling, foamy, whitewater.
A curious seal popped its head up for a closer look. Before long, two more heads were up. What I wouldn’t give to be in the water with them, I thought, peering down into the clear depths. A vivid selection of invertebrate life decorated the reef below, intertwined with multi-colored varieties of sponge.
Landing, we hiked a trail up Kukutauwhao Island for a spectacular view of the surrounding area, had lunch on a secluded sandy beach and I was able to photograph the wildlife. Later in the day, Shane Orchard, the owner of the company and a marine biologist, joined us. Together, the three of us checked out a calm estuary where the water was pea-green and lined with a profusion of foliage and trees.
The next day we visited the Poor Knights, volcanic islands situated some 24 kilo- meters offshore, transporting the kayaks out and back by boat from Tutukaka. The water temperature was 21 degrees Celsius and the weather sunny (this was March).
Protected by Marine Reserve status, the waters below are nourished by subtropical currents, attracting an assortment of fish, eels, rays, soft corals, nudibranchs and sponges, drawing divers from around the world to visit the islands. The local Ngatiwai people have worked with the Department of Conservation to manage the islands and marine reserve, ensuring the environment will remain unspoiled. Access to the islands is restricted. Several rare and exclusive island residents include the red- crowned parakeet, the tuatara (ancient reptile), and the giant wetas (looks like a grasshopper).