Despite having a deep and abiding love of the weekend lie-in, I'd still said 'yes' to the offer of a kayaking trip with a couple of guys from the hostel, so at 8.30 on the morning of Sunday 20th October, Greg and I drove to Orakei harbour, where we met John (also from the hostel) and Thomas (a German molecular biologist and friend of Greg's). John was taking a group of kids out kayaking as part of his weekend job, so he set us up with our boats and life jackets, and off we sailed into the harbour, Thomas and I in one two-man kayak, and Greg in a single. Our destination for the day was Rangitoto, the island that dominates the skyline outside Auckland's natural harbour.
Kayaking through a city bay is a simply stunning experience. On one hand you have the hustle and bustle of a busy port – big container ships, posers in their expensive speedboats, yachts hoisting their spinnakers to catch the breeze, a breathtaking city skyline seen from an unusual angle – and on the other hand you're out there alone, with no sounds except the slapping of the waves against the kayak, the quiet gliding of seagulls, and the splashing of oars against water. It's a radically different way to see a city, and the trek across the harbour to Rangitoto took well over an hour of paddling away, while discovering muscles that I didn't think had any business to ache quite so much. Poor old Greg found the single boat almost too much, and by the time we beached on the island he was exhausted, while Thomas and I felt reasonably well.
But you can't hang around all day on the shores of an island like Rangitoto. Being a volcano, the island has a classic cone shape, and where there's a mountain to climb, you'll find me raring to go. After dragging the kayaks beyond the tide's reach, we set off in search of the summit, checking out some strange lava caves on the way, and wondering how anything could survive on this barren and rugged island, let alone the forest that covers the entire landmass. After a pretty challenging walk – enhanced by too much beer the night before, and the fact that I'm not as fit as I was when running up the peaks of Western Australia – we cracked open a bottle of Australian red and took in the most awesome view of Auckland you can imagine. The crater was quite a sight, too, a huge and perfectly conical hole in the top of the mountain, a stark reminder that at any time Rangitoto could blow its top.
The return journey was even more beautiful, this time heading towards the amazing city skyline that had previously been behind us. Unfortunately, Greg was having serious problems with the single kayak – he'd hurt his back on the way over, which is never a good idea when you're in a one-man vessel – so John directed us while Greg and I swapped places, right there in the middle of the sea. I got to paddle my way back all on my own, and it was just wonderful. Kayaks have two little pedals with which you steer yourself, and once you've worked out that it's pretty hard to roll yourself over, and that the secret is in long, slow strokes, it's a delight gliding through the gentle waves, gradually getting closer and closer to shore. I was wet, knackered and totally happy...
Kayaking to Motutapu
Not content with kayaking to Rangitoto and back in a day, the four of us concocted a plan to explore the waters of Auckland for a whole weekend, so Saturday 2nd November saw us heading off into the bay in a motley collection of sea kayaks. The trip was bittersweet; the islands of Rangitoto and Motutapu are quite stunning, and kayaking round them and spending a night on an island like Motutapu is wonderfully peaceful and very enjoyable. But the pain of kayaking over 30km in two days is intense, especially when you haven't done that sort of exercise before, and I've never been so glad as the moment we landed on Sunday afternoon, with sore arms, aching backs, blisters on our fingers and salt water rubbed into every crevice.
Still, that Saturday night on the island was great. We weren't supposed to camp there, so we found a secluded bay with a little forest and set up camp, hidden from view. We collected driftwood, lit a fire and collected a bag full of mussels off the rocks, cooking them up on the hot coals. Greg and Thomas went out in a kayak with a couple of fishing lines and returned after an hour with five luscious snapper, which we hungrily devoured after Thomas and I cooked them on the fire. Combined with the copious alcohol and lack of rain, it turned into a classic night out in the bush. I'd definitely do it again... but next time I'll probably take the boat.