Saturday, 21 April 2012

A close encounter with Haruru Falls

I've never really been the kind of person who would take to the water like a duck. I've tried sailing and dabbled a bit with snorkelling but nothing has really eased my fears about going in the water, so what better than to trying a spot of coastal kayaking as well!

Booking ourselves onto a half-day guided tour in Paihia, we wanted to try something new (and treat Lizzie's mum for her birthday), as well as get a flavour of what the Bay of Islands are about. However, half the battle was trying to find a reasonable day to fit this in as the weather has been absolutely atrocious with the reminents of a tropical cyclone hitting most of the North Island.

When we arrived at the waterfront at Ti Point in Paihia I was completely blown away the scenery as it looked like something straight off a postcard. It's hard to describe why it was impressive, but maybe it was the shimmering water, lush vegetation, small fragmented islands or a combination of all three.

After getting all kitted out with our life jackets and "spray skirts" (they're supposed to stop water splashing in the kayak but mine didn't cover the cockpit properly) we set off on the choppy waters around Te Ti Bay. We were put into double kayaks as the guide felt the wind and current would make it difficult for those on their own to make their way back down the estuary. This meant that I was sitting in the front of one kayak with Lizzie's dad in the back, whilst Lizzie was in the back of the other kayak with her mum up front. The job of the person in the front of the double kayak (me and Lizzie's mum) was to set the pace of paddling, and the job of the person in the rear (Lizzie and her dad) was to control the rudder via foot peddles, to help steer the kayak.

Lizzie and her mum in the tandem kayak

Me in the other kayak with Lizzie's dad

Not long after clipping the Waitangi Bridge with the front of the kayak and trying to get ourselves used to steering in the currents, we managed to paddle upstream along the Waitangi River at a steady pace. Along the way we saw some Pied Shags (Phalacrocorax varius) or Karuhiruhi as they're known in Māori, roosting in the Pohutukawa (New Zealand Christmas) trees - apparently, Pied Shags are the only webbed footed bird that makes nests in trees.

A Pied Shag about to feed it's chick

Getting my feet onto dry for a well-earned break 

Haruru Falls (which means big noise in Māori) are 4km west of Paihia, where the Waitangi River drops over a basalt lava flow, which has formed in a rare horseshoe shape. Having managed to have a relaxing paddle up the Waitangi River, our guide suggested that we could paddle into the waterfall! At this point I'm crapping myself at the thought of this, as my main fear with any water-related transport is the thought of capsizing.

After having a practice paddle across the face of the waterfall, the guide reassured us that we would be pushed back by the force of the water at the base of the falls. We were hoping to take it gently on our first attempt at tackling the waterfall, but before I knew it we were heading directly for the middle of falls and there was no prospect of an easy time! It was quite an intense experience but once we came through the other side I could take a sigh of relief only to do it a couple more times having felt a little reassured that they kayak wouldn't capsize.

They don't call Haruru Falls "big noise" for nothing!

If you squint hard enough you can just see me entering the falls!

Lizzie and her mum being pushed away from the base of the falls

Our tour guide Sky, showing us how it's really done!

The rocks in the water are ballast from ships that once sailed the river

After playing around by the waterfall we then paddled against the current, back towards the mangrove forest to weave our way through trees. The mangrove trees of New Zealand are an important ecosystem and only grow in the top half of the North Island. The water around the mangrove was so shallow it wouldn't have come up to your knees and it was almost easier to move the kayak around by pushing the riverbed with the paddles!

At the other end of the mangrove was the final stretch of the river before we got back to Ti Beach. It was hard work paddling against the tide with the wind blowing against us but it was good to get my feet back onto dry land and to wash the sea salt out of my eyes!

The final push back to Te Ti Bay from the mangrove forest

All I can say is that I'm glad I survived my first coastal kayaking experience, but I'm definitely going to hurt all over for the next couple of days.

Sunset over Te Ti Bay

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