KAIK­OURA

Go Travel New Zealand - - Contents - By Pa­trick Smith

The Sea­ward Kaik­oura Moun­tains, gleam­ing white in the af­ter­noon sun, seem to float on a hazy bed of mist as the sun scat­ters bril­liant di­a­monds of light across the wa­ter.

The view from ab­so­lute sea level is daz­zling and the gen­tle rock­ing of our kayak adds to a sense of time sus­pended. I’m mes­merised. Then a call from Matt Foy, our guide and owner of Kaik­oura Kayaks, breaks the spell: “Seal over here!”

I’m in a dou­ble sea kayak with Sam, a vis­i­tor from the UK. We turn and head over to­wards Matt and a seal that’s busily con­tort­ing it­self in the wa­ter. “He’s hav­ing a wash,” says Matt, as the shiny black seal, flip­pers flap­ping, gets stuck into his ablu­tions. “They clean them­selves in the wa­ter and use it to cool off af­ter ly­ing on the rocks.”

Colonies of New Zealand fur seals and other types of marine life make their home in the seas and on the coast around Kaik­oura. Matt guar­an­tees you’ll meet New Zealand fur seals on his half-day guided trips. “Ev­ery­thing else is a bonus.”

“Dur­ing dolphin sea­son in March and April we get hun­dreds of Dusky dol­phins around the coast. A kayak’s the per­fect way to see them; they keep up with you and play around, leap out of the wa­ter and swim un­der­neath your kayak. We even spot the oc­ca­sional whale. We’ve

been see­ing lit­tle blue pen­guins in the wa­ter over sum­mer and some­times an al­ba­tross will fly be­tween the kayaks – that’s an amaz­ing sight, their wingspan can be longer than your pad­dle!”

We don’t see dol­phins or pen­guins on this Sun­day af­ter­noon but we do get close to fur seal fam­i­lies drowsily eye­ing us from their rocky lo­ca­tions or swim­ming up to our yel­low and red kayaks for a nosy. Seabirds, too, are busy do­ing their thing: en­dan­gered Hut­ton’s shear­wa­ters – en­demic to Kaik­oura – spot­ted shags, terns, cor­morants, oys­ter catch­ers...

Af­ter meet­ing Matt at his base

just south of the town cen­tre, we’d headed out along the north side of the Kaik­oura Penin­sula, stop­ping at a small re­serve called Jimmy Arm­ers Beach. Here Matt took us through some kayak­ing ba­sics and im­por­tant safety drills. He’d handed out warm, wa­ter­proof pants and pad­dle jack­ets, neo­prene booties, life jack­ets and spray skirts. “We do op­er­ate year­round,” he tells me later, “and I don’t skimp on kit; if you’re warm and dry it makes the ex­pe­ri­ence so much more en­joy­able.”

We tug the kayaks into the wa­ter and, with Matt’s help, climb in, fasten the wa­ter­proof spray skirts around the cock­pits and launch off into the surf. Soon we’re prac­tic­ing our rapid sweep turns and pad­dling in synch and then we’re on the move, head­ing out to­wards the open sea. The ragged edge of the penin­sula is on our right and the glit­ter­ing moun­tains to the left. It’s a per­fect day and I’m think­ing this is the per­fect way to spend it.

We pad­dle out to North Point. If kayak­ing con­di­tions are bet­ter on the south side of the penin­sula, Matt will put in at South Bay, but today there’s a bit of a sou’wester blow­ing, so we’re stick­ing to the lee­ward north coast.

Matt Foy has been run­ning Kaik­oura Kayaks since 1998 when, with a bor­rowed kayak, he set up shop over sum­mer on a lo­cal beach. A keen surfer who’d grown up in Whanga­mata on the Coro­man­del Penin­sula east of Auck­land, he’d dis­cov­ered river kayak­ing while at­tend­ing the Out­door Pursuits Cen­tre on the North Is­land’s Cen­tral Plateau.

“There are no waves on the Cen­tral Plateau so the next best thing was river kayak­ing,” he says. “Kayak­ing in sum­mer and snow­board­ing in winter.”

Matt gained a cer­tifi­cate in out­door pursuits from Wairakei Polytech­nic and re­turned to Whanga­mata for a sum­mer of surf­ing. “When there were no waves I’d go out with a friend in his dad’s sea kayak. I started tak­ing guided trips – and earn­ing a liv­ing!

“I’d been look­ing at the South Is­land for a while and I’d seen there was good surf­ing at Kaik­oura. And, of course, there was snow­board­ing in winter down south.”

There was no kayak­ing op­er­a­tion in Kaik­oura back then, but the sea was teem­ing with marine life that was al­ready at­tract­ing visi­tors. Matt saw it as “a golden op­por­tu­nity” and set out his shin­gle.

Since that first sum­mer, the busi­ness has grown to in­clude eight dou­ble and four sin­gle sea kayaks, pad­dle boards, a kayak store

Planet.

and kayak school, guided seal and fish­ing trips and in­de­pen­dent ren­tals. In sum­mer Matt takes on three ex­tra staff to meet de­mand.

Out on the wa­ter, Matt’s re­laxed pro­fes­sion­al­ism and lo­cal knowl­edge is re­as­sur­ing and en­cour­ag­ing to even new­bie pad­dlers. This, to­gether with the qual­ity of equip­ment, his at­ten­tion to safety and the over­all vis­i­tor ex­pe­ri­ence, has won Kaik­oura Kayaks top spot fours years run­ning in Rankers’ Sea Kayak­ing cat­e­gory, Tripad­vi­sor’s Cer­tifi­cate of Ex­cel­lence for 2014 and Top Choice from Lonely

On a day like this, I’m think­ing, we’ve surely tasted the very best of Kaik­oura. And maybe half a cray­fish will com­plete the job.

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