NZ Day 4 & 5: kayaking around Aukland islands

Day 4 Kayaking

Woke up to my eyes being glued shut by eye boogers because of all the allergies. We think because of the combination that it’s spring time in NZ and it was really windy yesterday… plus the fact that we are foreigners caused such an extreme reaction. Not one I usually get. Luckily I took drugs and eyedrops to help.

We called an Uber to take us to the ferry terminal which is where we were meeting the kayak people. We had a lot of stuff with us and when the Uber driver pulled up and we asked if it would fit he laughed and said no. But was willing to try. All the ubers we’ve gotten on this trip have been priuses (pri-eye?). You forget that you can use the front seat of a taxi too. So we were able to fit everything.

We got dropped off at the terminal and met up with Daniel from aukland seakayaks. He said he was Irish and I was skeptical at first until I saw his red hair and heard him speak. We were a little disappointed that our tour guide wasn’t a NZer so that I could practice my accent, but Irish wasn’t too bad to listen to for 2 days either.

Fun fact: everyone here pronounces my name correctly.

We then took the kayak van from the terminal to st. Heliers bay where we were taking off. A lot of the Toyota’s here have instructions in Japanese. Including the kayak van. Daniel said second hand cars are cheaper and Japan is so close. Also they drive on the left side of the road too.

Once we got to the beach we started prepping our kayaks. Daniel gave becca and I each 3 dry bags to put our stuff in. The instructions on the email said to basically pack one pair of shorts for this trip which we valiantly obliged. So when we realized we had 3 dry bags each we felt luxurious. We didn’t use all the packing bags and Daniel was surprised. Maybe because we are girls. We didn’t opt to bring the curling iron on this kayaking trip. We ended up just using 3 bags between us and that was with really trying.

Daniel was great he taught us how to pack sea kayaks for when we do future “expeditions”— overnight kayak trips. We found out he spent a month this summer kayaking around Vancouver island. Being smelly and living out of a dry bag is the norm for him. I asked him how he ended up in NZ. He said that he graduated college at the height of the recession and there were no jobs for him and his buddies were all going on a surfing trip to Australia and trying to get him to come but he said no. A couple days before they were leaving they had a going away party and everyone got smashed. The next morning he opened his email inbox and saw that he had bought a flight to Australia. So he started to pack his bags. Long story short he came over to NZ for an engineering job and then hated it so became a kayaking instructor. I asked if he was a mechanical engineer because that’s usually the natural transition. And he said yes. Thanks to JP for teaching me the tiers of coolness by engineering type.

Then we got on our kayaking outfits. Spray skirt, paddle jacket, personal flotation device. Before Setting out into the water we practiced what to do in the event we are capsized. I would need to pull the spray skirt off and wet exit from the kayak. Once I proved I could take the spray skirt off in open air on land, Daniel approved my launch into the sea. But first we had to figure out what to do with my wheelchair. It was too rigid and large to fit into any of the kayak bulk storage containers. So we strapped my frame onto the tandem kayak becca and I were using and then tied my two wheels onto Daniels kayak. He assured me they were on tight. I took his word for it. Because Irish. It was really fun to see my chair dangle inches from the sea and even get splashed a few times. One capsize and my chair would sink to the bottom of the ocean being a permanent NZ resident.

The first island we went to was Browns island. Many of the islands around aukland are starting to become conservation islands including Browns, which means they are pest free and get rid of non-native invasive species. Rats didn’t exist in NZ until Europeans brought them over. One of the many gifts that were given. The conservation people are also trying to bring back native birds for nesting. We had the option of going straight to the beach to set up for lunch or going the more scenic route around the long way. I opted for the long way because we got to get our monies worth. This is about when the waves started picking up which was very exciting especially when ferries would zoom by. I didn’t feel unsafe. But I did few nervous. We got splashed several times and considering beccas track record with tipping me over in kayaks, it’s understandable why I would have been a little worried. But luckily no incident occurred and we were able to glide nicely the rest of the way to Browns beach for lunch. Daniel prepped a nice hummus wrap meal for us. We also got to try this lemonade soft drink which was really good. Kind of like a lemon head candy in liquid form. After Daniel told us all about NZ birds at lunch, I decided to go to the bathroom. Becca found a nice bush next to a rat trap for me. I was glad I was wearing inconspicuous colors of red and pink to blend in with the environment so no one would see me from afar. I wasn’t too worried about surprising people as we were basically the only ones on the island. Or so we thought. The second I was done and becca came to grab me to drag me to the kayaks some conservation people in orange vest showed up to document the birds and look at their rat traps. We left the island before we could see the reaction to the surprise I left them by my rat trap.

Then we headed to Motuihe island. It looked close. It was not. I was struggle bussing because I was leaning back really far and my one ab was not enough to keep me upright to paddle. Turns out my wheelchair which was in back of me was tied differently and I had been using it as a back support for paddling. We adjusted and pushed it back closer to me mid-ocean and I felt a lot better. We also found ourselves in the middle of a sailing race. One of the race captains came over to us to tell us to move because we were in the middle of the course. We watched them all line up and then zig zag back and forth to the finish line. Sweden was doing very well. JP, your ancestors would be proud.

We had the option of circling around this island as well for an extra 1.5 hour workout but because I had struggled so much in the beginning with no back support I was tired so we went onto shore.

Becca wanted to take another time lapse on the beach so she set up and I sat on the sand next to Wayne. Daniel gave us amazing chips for a snack that we’ve since bought several times on our road trip. They sort of taste like healthier cool ranch Doritos. They advertise their flavor as feta and garlic. They are delicious with hummus. After our snack (we did not save any for Daniel) we took a nice nap on the beach in the sun while becca’s camera (kemruh, in NZ accent) did its thing. It was nice listening to the waves roll in and out and I conked out. Daniel mean while was setting up camp and tents. When we woke up the tide had come in really fast. When we started our nap we were a good 20 feet away from the ocean. Now we were about 2 feet away. Becca quickly packed up her camera before the waves could get to it. I Patiently washed the tide move closer and closer to me and thinking… well this is it; The day Lena gets washed away by the tide. Luckily Daniel came down and helped me into my chair before I could get wet. It was very close though.

This island is open to the public but it was still too early in the season for ferries to go there. So we were basically the only ones there. Later we went on a hike and found a ranger and other conso (conservation) crew. They gave us a map of the island and suggested a trail that we could go on to try to find three-eyed lizards. We did not see any but we did get to read lots of signs about wildlife we weren’t seeing.

Besides the ranger, it was just us and Daniel on the island. Becca was a little worried about sleeping on an island all alone with a man we didn’t know. But then was reassured that he wouldn’t do anything sketch because then we’d leave a bad review and it’d be bad for business. I was reassured because he was Irish and a hippie kayaker.

After our hike it was dinner time. Daniel cooked up some falafel on his baby camping stove and also opened up containers of Couscous salad and bread with tomato relish. We also drank more lemon head soda. Daniel has been vegetarian for 2 years. Every once and awhile when he gets a hangover though he craves a burger from “burgerfuel” a chain in NZ. We decided we would go there after our kayak trip. After we ate dinner, it was starting to get dark and so we hiked over to another view point on the island and watched the sunset. You could see aukland city from the island which was cool. Becca set up another timeline and Daniel asked her lots of questions about time lapses. Half way through the sunset he said he had a surprise for us and told us to close our eyes. Then he popped out three brownies for us. They were delicious. I always say yes to surprise brownies from hippies. Then we headed back to camp. Daniel showed us remnants of old wwii bunkers for soldiers who used to occupy the islands around aukland. They were there not so much for attacking but as defense in case any bad guys came. They didn’t. But that wouldn’t be a bad place to be stationed for awhile.

On our way back to camp Daniel did his best impression of a kiwi bird call. Since they are nocturnal and you can often see them around dawn or dusk. We did not see any but enjoyed listening to Daniel screech. They sort of sound like Jurassic Park dinosaur screams. You should look it up. Then we got ready for bed. There was an accessible toilet for me which I was impressed about. And then we went to bed. Becca and I conked our pretty fast.

Day 5 Kayaking

The next morning we ate “muesli” which is granola with yogurt and fresh fruit. Then we packed all our gear up and went back out onto the water. We went to Motutapu island (but did not go on it) which is made of limestone. Go one year geology major! It is right next to another island, Mt. rangi, which is made from a volcano. It was cool to see two different islands so close together be formed in different ways. Mt. Rangitoto was much more black and jagged. Looked like craters of the moon in Idaho. Usually on the overnight kayaking trips you hike mt. Rangi on the 2nd day. We did not select this option though Daniel did think about how we would do it. It would take 4+ hours and then we’d have to kayak back to the main north island. Plus we had to pick up our camper van by 4pm so we were limited on time. So we ate lunch on the volcano island instead. Hummus pita wraps again. There were a lot of school groups going through. Apparently it is one of the big things you do in high school in NZ. Once we finished lunch we paddled back to st. Heliers beach where we originally took off. It was a straight shot from mt. Rangi to st. Heliers but it felt very far. Everything appears closer that they are in real life when you are sea kayaking. Finally we made it to shore. The tide was low so we didn’t quite make it to the beach. Daniel and becca had to carry my kayak closer to the sand since it was very muddy and my wheelchair would not have fared well.

Then we unpacked everything and Daniel got the van back. We were planning to Uber to the airport with all our stuff to pick up the camper van but Daniel offered to drive us the whole way. We saved about $50 because of this. We were already planning to tip him for being an awesome tour guide and after this offer we upped our tip. He was very nice.

Once he dropped us off we got our camper van! One thing we didn’t realize being on the water was how sunburned we got. We put a lot on but places we forgot got fried. My lips especially. Daniel said it’s because NZ is closer to the sun so the rays are harsher. Liz, our Airbnb host, said it’s because there is no Ozone layer over NZ. Either way we got burned. Becca too. Her lips, ears, and legs especially. The first thing we did when we got our camper van was go to a store and get aloe Vera. As well as driving snacks.

Then we stopped at burger fuel for dinner and drove 1.5 hrs to our overnight camping “holiday” park along the coast. I was doing a bad job of copiloting meaning becca was getting sleepy and since I couldn’t drive it was my job to keep her awake through interesting conversation.  Instead I asked becca to tell me about the books she was reading and that did the trick. It was like a love version of a sparknotes audiobook. We arrived safely to the holiday park.

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