Go Travel New Zealand - - Contents - BY ALAS­DAIR THOM­SON

The snap­per’s siz­zling on our beach-side bar­bie, and we kick back at the end of

an­other end­less day in the wa­ter.

I know I’m smil­ing, think­ing about the con­trast with the other hemi­sphere, where I spent my aquatic ap­pren­tice­ship tum­bling through the freez­ing waves of Scot­land’s North Sea or semi-sub­merged in the icy tor­rents of High­land rivers - dur­ing the days

when I be­lieved that hy­pother­mia was just the flip side of liv­ing the dream!

Af­ter 10 years of an­tic­i­pa­tion, I first caught sight of New Zealand’s crisp white coast­line from 20,000 feet above the Tas­man Sea. The years of plan­ning and prepa­ra­tion were fi­nally turn­ing to re­al­ity and we were thrilled to ac­tu­ally reach this land of ul­ti­mate wa­ter­sport. It took no time at all to be­come fully en­grossed in the crazy wa­ter cul­ture that thrives around this crack­ing coun­try.


Trav­el­ling South-East from Auck­land, we ar­rived at the spec­tac­u­lar white sand par­adise of the Coro­man­del Penin­sula. The main draw here was Cathe­dral Cove and the op­por­tu­nity to kayak through sea caves and ex­plore re­mote beaches. We sought out Cathe­dral Cove Kayaks which has been op­er­at­ing for over a decade, and true to rep­u­ta­tion, they had fab­u­lous lo­cal knowl­edge and ex­per­tise, pro­vid­ing the per­fect in­tro­duc­tion to the trip.

We pad­dled be­tween awe­some wa­ter carved sculp­tures and


past tiny is­lands and rock gar­dens - but once we reached Cathe­dral Cove it­self, we were to­tally blown away. The iconic arch was stun­ning. We took our time to wan­der through the cave and ap­pre­ci­ate the leg­endary nat­u­ral won­der. What a start to the ad­ven­ture! With the blue skies and crys­tal clear wa­ter, I’ll cer­tainly never for­get kayak­ing in the Coro­man­del.

Bay of Plenty

Head­ing down the coast into the Bay of Plenty, we clocked a siz­able north-eastern swell light­ing up the sand banks near Mount Maun­ganui – a dream des­ti­na­tion! Af­ter a great morn­ing surf at the main beach, we treated our­selves a de­li­cious French crepe from lo­cal out­fit Bon Ap­petite, and con­tin­ued round to the more chilled wa­ters of Tau­ranga Har­bour.

Our plan was to check out the El­e­ments Water­sports Cen­ter, which of­fer a long list of great wa­ter­sport ac­tiv­i­ties. Ev­ery­thing ap­pealed, to be hon­est, but in the in­ter­ests of

new ex­pe­ri­ences, we had to try

the stand up pad­dle board­ing. SUP Board­ing for short, is straight up, awe­some fun.

I took to the long board pretty easy, and while the ma­neu­ver­ing and bal­ance took a se­cond to get used to, we were soon cruis­ing through the bay aim­ing to per­fect the tech­nique. Build­ing a no­tice­able rhythm in our pad­dling, within an hour we were carv­ing around the bay on the proper mis­sion, jok­ing our way around the in­ter­est­ing har­bour area, fully ap­pre­ci­at­ing the stand up style sen­sa­tion. It was a bril­liant ex­pe­ri­ence and one I would highly rec­om­mend!


Head­ing in­land, we swung round to Ro­torua and looked no fur­ther than Go Wild Ad­ven­tures for our next kayak trip. Af­ter an easy drive down, we de­cided to in­dulge in the chilled out evening ses­sion, known as the ‘Twi­light Pad­dle’.

With a beau­ti­fully clear day, we set off across the in­cred­i­ble Lake Ro­toiti. An un­real lo­ca­tion- huge moun­tains dom­i­nat­ing the land­scape, and with the sun bounc­ing in our faces, we set course for the lux­u­ri­ous hot pools on the other side.

The fad­ing sun and snow-capped moun­tains were a back­drop that only New Zealand can pro­vide, and at the right an­gle, the sun oc­ca­sion­ally cre­ated a liq­uid gold-like effect un­der our pad­dle. It was mes­mer­iz­ing and it wouldn’t have mat­tered if there had been no des­ti­na­tion; the 45 minute pad­dle out to the Manupirua Ther­mal Springs was plea­sure enough.

But once we ar­rived we couldn’t wait to the strip off and jump in!

Be­ing only ac­ces­si­ble by kayak (or boat), the pools felt su­per re­mote and iso­lated- it was prop­erly re­lax­ing, and we had plenty of space to watch the sun set slowly be­hind the moun­tains.

Once the sun fi­nally did set, we at­tempted the in­ter­est­ing and un­usual jour­ney back. With only a slim moon in the sky, our torch lights and senses had to lead the way - or rather, If I’m hon­est, the guides lo­cal ori­en­tat­ing knowl­edge re­ally came into its own, and we drifted peace­fully back to shore in near dark con­di­tions. The whole ex­pe­ri­ence felt re­ally spe­cial and unique, and we were hugely priv­i­leged to be a part of it.


As soon as we heard of the raft­ing po­ten­tial in the Napier area, we were mad keen to check it out. Meet­ing our cool guides from the Mo­haka Raft­ing Com­pany about 9am, we took a bus up the river, and once we’d opted for ‘The Big One’, we se­ri­ously couldn’t wait. Throw­ing a life jacket on, we es­tab­lished some es­sen­tial safety tips and pre­pared for our first New Zealand raft­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Be­fore long we were cruis­ing down the Mo­haka River, feel­ing the sum­mer vibes straight up. From a fairly chilled start, we were then thrown full-on into an adrenalinepacked ad­ven­ture. We hit the first set of mas­sive rapids hard - wa­ter rush­ing on all sides – and dig­ging the pad­dles in deep, we threw our­selves down some crank­ing rapids, around quick bends and into deep caul­drons of churn­ing white wa­ter.

We passed some huge, mys­ti­cal­look­ing wa­ter­falls, and avoid­ing some big­ger whirlpools on the way, we de­scended at some se­ri­ous speed. Con­stantly en­cour­aged by the ex­pe­ri­enced and pro­fes­sional guides, it was a chal­leng­ing trip and a proper team ef­fort to keep the raft on course.

At one stage we even stopped for a cliff jump and to surf a stand­ing rapid - what a vibe! The power in the wa­ter and the beauty in the sur­round­ing val­ley were

breath­tak­ing. The most thrilling as­pects were cer­tainly hit­ting those huge rapids and pad­dling so hard just to avoid cap­siz­ing!

An over­whelm­ing sense of achieve­ment filled the raft af­ter land­ing of the last and big­gest falls - huge cheers all round! Truly ‘New Zealand raft­ing at its best’ - I fig­ured it would be very hard to beat!


We con­tin­ued down to the West, driv­ing around the in­cred­i­ble ‘surf high­way’ on the Taranaki Penin­sula, and - as the name sug­gests - we hit some se­ri­ous surf spots on the way to Whanganui.

We stopped to catch some in­cred­i­ble waves at Stent Road in par­tic­u­lar, camp­ing at a cool lo­cal beach and jump­ing back in the wa­ter at first light. With the back­drop of Mount Taranaki sweeping down to this mes­mer­iz­ing coastal magic, we de­cided to spend much more time in the area.

We set­tled awhile to en­joy the lo­cal vibes and pre­pare for the next ad­ven­ture; we knew it was go­ing to be huge. The plan was a 3-day

guided ca­noe trip through na­tive, un­touched New Zealand bush. We were signed up with Yeti Tours, which have been op­er­at­ing here for the last quar­ter cen­tury, and it was with some dif­fi­culty we re­sisted one of their 7 or 10 day tours down the Wan­ganui River - next time though, for sure.

We loaded our ca­noes full of food, and set off from Whata­horo in ex­pe­ri­enced hands and beau­ti­ful sun­shine. Our des­ti­na­tion was 87km down­stream, at Pipiriki, and with three days to get there, we me­an­dered at an easy go­ing pace. Float­ing down­river with the cur­rent for hours, we stopped at fas­ci­nat­ing sites such as the Bridge to Nowhere and the Pu­raroto Caves.

This trip wasn’t about go­ing hard out, but tak­ing time to nav­i­gate a sig­nif­i­cant stretch of wa­ter with a group of peo­ple who were rapidly be­com­ing good friends. We chilled and talked, tak­ing time to pad­dle around and ex­plore the river, past mag­nif­i­cent wa­ter­falls, old Maori vil­lages and bush lined gorges, of­ten break­ing to swim or jump in from the cliffs. It was re­lax­ing and ad­ven­tur­ous all at the same time, silently drift­ing at our own pace and tak­ing the time to soak it all up.

We sim­ply couldn’t leave the area! Tau­marunui Ca­noe Hire and Jet boat Tours of­fer an in­trigu­ing choice of op­tions, and once we’d de­cided on a plan, we camped down be­side the Whanganui River, free of charge. The team here, Ron­nie, Karen and fam­ily were

pro­fes­sional and friendly too – with a great sense of fun. Be­fore we set off there was a thor­ough safety brief­ing, ad­vice on the lo­ca­tion and lay­out of camp­sites - but only af­ter cap­siz­ing! They as­sured us that was part of the fun – and to be fair it was a whole lot more fun than cap­siz­ing in a Scot­tish river! These are good folk and they make ev­ery ef­fort to create a great ex­pe­ri­ence, no mat­ter what age you are - cer­tainly one to be rec­om­mended!

With so much scope and di­ver­sity on the Whanganui River, and so much en­joy­ment in the rides so far, we sim­ply couldn’t re­sist do­ing

it once more! This time, Wades Land­ing Out­door pro­vided the gear as we suited up and took their kayaks for a quicker one-day run down­stream. A sim­i­lar style trip, we found our­selves to­tally im­mersed with the na­ture again - pad­dling past birds and deer who took lit­tle no­tice, stop­ping at oth­er­wise in­ac­ces­si­ble beaches, and al­ways look­ing out for good land­ing spots and suit­able camp­ing sites. We sim­ply loved the area; the scenery and beauty were breath­tak­ing. Be­ing un­guided this time and know­ing the area quite well by now, we re­ally en­joyed the free­dom of drift­ing down­stream by our­selves.

Abel Tas­man Na­tional Park

Drop­ping into the Abel Tas­man Na­tional Park in per­fect con­di­tions truly felt like ar­riv­ing in a trop­i­cal is­land par­adise - and we im­me­di­ately un­der­stood why peo­ple got so ex­cited about this place.

Wa­ter taxis pro­vide ac­cess to re­mote beaches and our guides at Kahu Kayaks ad­vised us take one and just wan­der back to base, which

sounded ab­so­lutely per­fect to us. We were dropped off at a re­mote cove, then set course and pad­dled past some un­be­liev­able beaches; drift­ing slowly enough to sim­ply take ev­ery­thing in. We nav­i­gated nu­mer­ous wa­ter-carved caves, pas­sages and stacks, ex­plor­ing the ir­re­sistible beaches and sur­round­ing bush walks, thor­oughly en­joy­ing the di­ver­sity in the area.

The wildlife was also abun­dant; there were nu­mer­ous bird species over­head and lots of seals swim­ming

around. At one point, one of the in­quis­i­tive seals ac­tu­ally jumped up onto one of the kayaks!

On our re­turn jour­ney, all our kayaks were tied to­gether to form a sin­gle raft and we drifted to­gether un­der the strong ti­dal cur­rent. Then, with the wind at our backs, we hoisted a huge white sail and shot off down the coast.

It was great fun, and with the breeze and cur­rent pro­vid­ing much more power than our tired arms, we joked our way back be­fore bow­ing into the beau­ti­fully shel­tered Manaku Bay. We broke up the raft and pad­dled ashore to re­flect on an ex­cep­tional Abel Tas­man ad­ven­ture.


Kayak­ing in Kaik­oura is a straight up, crazy ex­pe­ri­ence. The snow-capped

moun­tain back­drop and blue sky com­bi­na­tion pro­vided a stun­ning in­tro­duc­tion, and we were hugely ex­cited about pad­dling in the area.

Notic­ing a solid South­ern swell pound­ing the point at Manga­maunu, we stopped 22km be­fore Kaik­oura at the lo­cal surf breaks. A wrap­ping right-hand point setup, renowned through­out New Zealand as one of the best waves in the coun­try; and it was pump­ing! We surfed past sun­set with a hand­ful of lo­cals and left the wa­ter proper stoked - we slept lo­cally and woke early for the sun­rise ses­sion!

Catch­ing up with Matt Foy at Kaik­oura Kayaks later in the day, we learned more about the area and the deep off­shore trench that pro­vides ideal con­di­tions for wildlife en­coun­ters. We were re­ally keen to launch the kayaks, and it wasn’t long un­til we were pad­dling around the stun­ning Kaik­oura Penin­sula, with play­ful seals al­ready sur­round­ing our crafts. Al­most as friendly as the Abel Tas­man crew, these seals seemed pretty happy to swim around our kayaks, look for food, and pro­vide us some ex­cel­lent en­ter­tain­ment at the same time.

Matt con­tin­ued to pro­vide ex­pert knowl­edge of the area, and we

pad­dled on search­ing for dol­phins. Within about 40 min­utes, we got ex­actly what we were look­ing for; a pod of about six Dusky Dol­phins ap­peared al­most out of nowhere, leap­ing around our boats to big cheers. They stayed for ages and I couldn’t re­sist climb­ing out the kayak and jump­ing in with them! Swim­ming all around and un­der­neath us now, we pro­vided some un­usual noises for their amuse­ment too; un­der­wa­ter rub­bing and clink­ing of any­thing worked well, and a per­sonal favourite was singing into the wa­ter via a back-to-front snorkel, to a fairly awe­some re­ac­tion! Pre­dictably, they even­tu­ally got bored and dis­ap­peared - but with all fac­tors com­bined, it was a next level kayak ad­ven­ture and we felt ex­tremely for­tu­nate to have spent so much time with these ex­cep­tional an­i­mals.

How­ever, it was now time to give our legs some ex­er­cise and our tired arms a rest. Kaik­oura Pedal Kayaks of­fer a unique kayak jour­ney with foot-pow­ered ped­als, and we had to check it out. In con­trast to some pre­vi­ous arm-ori­en­tated mad­ness around New Zealand, this time we sim­ply leaned back and let our legs do the hard work. The kayaks were su­per com­fort­able and we kicked our way around the Kaik­oura Penin­sula check­ing out the lo­cal wildlife and breath­tak­ing scenery on the way. On that par­tic­u­lar evening the sun­set was ab­so­lutely spec­tac­u­lar, and we sat chill­ing in our kayaks for ages un­til the sun fell over the hori­zon.


Trav­el­ling fur­ther South we stopped briefly in Christchurch, aim­ing straight for Akaroa. Our des­ti­na­tion was Po­hatu Sea Kayak­ing, and ar­riv­ing in glo­ri­ous sun­shine, we drove up and over the hill to Po­hatu. There, we met lo­cal own­ers Francis and Shireen Helps, who have helped pro­tect White-flip­pered Pen­guins in the area for over two decades. Highly in­trigued by all the op­tions on of­fer, we sim­ply had to meet the fa­mous lo­cal Pen­guins. Be­ing the largest Lit­tle Pen­guin colony on main­land New Zealand, we were es­pe­cially ex­cited to get ex­plor­ing.

Launch­ing in late af­ter­noon, we pad­dled

through spec­tac­u­lar sea-carved caves and around giant rock stacks, all over­looked by mas­sive, tow­er­ing sea cliffs. Ob­serv­ing lots of seabirds in the air, seals on the rocks and a pod of Hec­tor’s Dol­phins in the dis­tance, we trav­elled through one par­tic­u­larly cool sea cave, and fi­nally saw two lit­tle blue Pen­guins stand­ing on the side. Feel­ing priv­i­leged to view these rare an­i­mals, we en­joyed watch­ing them flap about for 5 min­utes, laugh­ing without dis­turb­ing them too much- and leav­ing the en­counter fully con­tent, we pad­dled a per­fect trip back to Po­hatu.


Ev­ery­one rightly knows Queenstown for its epic ad­ven­ture sta­tus, and when you get on the Kawa­rau River, and I mean on the Kawa­rau river, you se­ri­ously know why.

Im­age this; you’re ly­ing in the wa­ter on a cus­tom built boo­gieboard thun­dered through the canyon at top speed, rac­ing into crazy white wa­ter, send­ing it through tight gorges and down quick flow­ing rapids. Se­ri­ous Fun River Surf­ing is ba­si­cally that, and bomb­ing down the river without a kayak or raft for once, is pos­si­bly the best part. The thick wet­suits kept us warm as we drifted down­stream, and surf­ing some sweet rapids on

the way, we span some sick 360’s as the pow­er­ful whirlpool near Roar­ing Meg whirled us around.

Me­an­der­ing through some qui­eter sec­tions, we learned how to squirt. Af­ter some ap­pre­hen­sive glances, we were in­formed that squirt­ing es­sen­tially in­volved div­ing the board to catch un­der­wa­ter cur­rents. Af­ter a few goes, I be­gan to get the hang of it, and one of the guides pointed me to­wards a sig­nif­i­cant cur­rent un­der the sur­face. Push­ing my board un­der and div­ing with it, I took a breath and was in­stantly caught by a fast-mov­ing un­der­wa­ter stream. Just man­ag­ing to hold onto the board at this stage, I was pulled through the wa­ter for about 3-4 sec­onds with some crazy force, and pop­ping back up with a bounce, I im­me­di­ately went look­ing for the next jet!

“Plenty of time” I was happy to hear, as we raced out of the wa­ter into a wait­ing, heated van then drove straight up­stream to do it all over again!


News quickly spread through the ho­tel, and a meet­ing was called at 9am. Part of the ac­cess road into Mil­ford Sound had been cov­ered by a huge rock avalanche overnight, the road was closed, and would be for the fore­see­able fu­ture.. Was it a prob­lem be­ing stuck in one of the most beau­ti­ful places on Earth? Amongst thou­sands of wa­ter­falls, birds and moun­tains in a truly re­mote trop­i­cal alpine par­adise? Aye.. right! There’s even a pub!

Ar­riv­ing in Mil­ford Sound to the sight of Mitre Peak and the sur­round­ing land­scape, we were to­tally speech­less. Dur­ing wet­ter pe­ri­ods, thou­sands of wa­ter­falls race down Mil­ford’s iconic val­ley walls, and we couldn’t wait to get amongst them.

On this par­tic­u­larly quiet day, we looked no fur­ther than lo­cal le­gend Rosco and his well re­spected Rosco’s Mil­ford Kayaks. Suit­ing up in a com­fort­able wet­suit, we jumped in the wa­ter taxi and nav­i­gated the full length of the fiord, with wa­ter­falls sim­ply ev­ery­where we looked. Point­ing to an es­pe­cially awe­some look­ing sec­tion, the skip­per shouted ‘we’re hit­ting them!’; ex­cite­ment rose through the roof, and quite quickly we ar­rived at the Tas­man Sea to beau­ti­ful sun­shine.

Drop­ping the kayaks into the wa­ter, we set off back down the in­sane route we’d trav­elled up. Un­like the rel­a­tively quick pace set by the cruise ships, the laid back kayak vibe re­ally al­lowed us to feel the fiord. We reached out and touched the mas­sive val­ley walls, get­ting ab­so­lutely drenched by the count­less falls sur­round­ing us. Around ev­ery cor­ner was a new and ex­cit­ing wa­ter­fall to ex­plore, and sweet smelling, healthy veg­e­ta­tion got ev­ery sense tin­gling. Moun­tain wa­ter was fall­ing ev­ery­where we looked and I was to­tally cap­ti­vated with the mo­ment and this in­cred­i­ble place. The guides pro­vided ex­pert knowl­edge on the area and at one point we fol­lowed him to­wards a su­per chilled out blue pen­guin, ly­ing on his back, scratch­ing his belly.

A few hours later, we were lucky enough to en­counter a pod of the lo­cal Dusky Dol­phins! The friendly fel­las came up real close and jump­ing high into the air, they re­ally showed off their aerial skills. The play­ful dol­phins spent a few min­utes chill­ing be­fore shoot­ing off on their own ad­ven­ture. Their ex­cited na­ture was re­ally in­fec­tious, and we were com­pletely buzzing from the en­counter.

This Mil­ford Sound ex­pe­ri­ence to­tally blew our minds; the scenery was ut­terly out­stand­ing, and it was def­i­nitely one of the high­lights of the whole jour­ney.

West Coast

Af­ter the awe­some ad­ven­ture in Mil­ford, we de­cided to road trip up the

West Coast for some more re­mote wilder­ness and nat­u­ral seren­ity.

First up was Glacier Coun­try Kayaks who op­er­ate on Lake Mapourika in the foothills of the spec­tac­u­lar South­ern Alps. Launch­ing the kayaks in the early morn­ing sun­rise, we en­joyed stun­ning panoramic moun­tain views, to­tally cap­ti­vated by the mir­ror effect in the com­pletely clear, re­flec­tive wa­ter. Pad­dling close to na­tive bush and un­touched rain­for­est com­pleted the su­per peace­ful jour­ney, and we re­ally en­joyed the re­lax­ing morn­ing trip.

With Ul­ti­mate De­scents next on the case, we were se­ri­ously back on it. It was our fi­nal ex­cur­sion on New Zealand wa­ters for this trip, and it lined up as one of the finest.

Af­ter a cool drive to the re­mote and charis­matic Karamea, we scored some awe­some waves on the West Coast and put our heads down for the night; we knew to­mor­row would be mad. Opt­ing for the one-day Heli Raft­ing ad­ven­ture, we set off from Karamea in the chop­per and flew about 15 min­utes up river. The he­li­copter jour­ney was an un­be­liev­able way to start the trip, and as we looked be­low to the crazy canyon we’d be de­scend­ing down, adren­a­line started re­ally pump­ing. The aerial view­point al­lowed us to fully imagine the up­com­ing on­slaught, and from the air the jour­ney looked pretty gnarly!

Be­ing flown-in to the river edge made our lo­ca­tion feel very re­mote, and lov­ing the iso­la­tion, we jumped on the raft and set off down­river; im­me­di­ately deal­ing with huge rocks and tight drops, we were fully glad of the ex­pe­ri­ence we’d built up by now.

We were ab­so­lutely send­ing it over the falls - all senses fully alert to cope with the com­pound­ing pres­sure as we fired down the river in a thrilling, jam-packed ad­ven­ture. There was a much-needed lunch break by the river, and then our crazy day con­tin­ued all the way to the West Coast. Fin­ish­ing the trip, we were ab­so­lutely stoked and hugely thank­ful of the ex­cel­lent guides who took us on the jour­ney. This op­tion is highly rec­om­mended for the real ad­ven­ture en­thu­si­ast!

And that’s it – so far! New Zealand is big­ger, wet­ter, wilder, more in­tox­i­cat­ing and more ad­dic­tive than any­thing I’d imag­ined it could be - and I’m cer­tainly not fin­ished the ad­ven­ture yet!

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