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May 2019 Issue
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A sea kayaking rite of passage

Daniel O’Connor will soon swap kayaking in Auckland for Canada.

Daniel O’Connor is preparing to kayak the 1600km Inside Passage in North America.

Freedom camping in New Zealand might get you in trouble with the law, but in North America, it’s trouble with the paw.

Auckland kayak guide Daniel O’Connor is about to embark on a voyage of a lifetime – kayaking the Inside Passage from Vancouver, Canada to Skagway in Alaska.

It’s similar in distance to a circumnavigation of Ireland, but it’s not the long 25-30km days that worry O’Connor – it’s the wildlife.

“I’m going to write a will – just in case. It’s a real risk you have to be prepared for, and it’s all part of being on an expedition where things can go wrong,” he says.

Bears are O’Connor’s biggest concern, and camping with dangerous wildlife is not something he’s had to worry about on previous expeditions.

“The key is to not attract them by taking any smelly stuff – so no deodorant or shampoo – and by managing my food. I can’t cook or eat near my tent, and my food has to be stored hung up in a tree.”

Bear spray will be his only protection, but it’s only effective if the predator is seen.

“Big cats are probably more dangerous, but if you spot them it’s probably too late,” he says.

While dealing with predators is the worst case scenario, O’Connor anticipates a “sore arse” and tight legs will be the biggest stress of the journey, and there is little he can do to prevent the discomfort.

“My legs get tight after about an hour of kayaking, so sitting for eight, 10, 12 hours is going to be painful. I’ll have to wriggle around a bit, and just grin and bear it.”

He also expects loneliness to creep in, but is confident the experience will make the solitude worthwhile.

“It might be hard not having somebody to share those moments with, but they will be ingrained in my memory, and I will be able to tell stories and paint pictures, and people will find themselves in the same moment,” he says.

A Snickers bar, gives instant
gratification, but you’re left with a single use wrapper which
could end up in the ocean

Sustainability will be a key focus of the journey, and hours of research have gone into reducing O’Connor’s environmental impact.

“I don’t think I could have done it any other way,” he says.“I would feel too guilty going on an epic journey like this, knowing I was leaving a bigger impact behind me. I want to leave the environment in better shape than I find it, and I can do that by picking up trash along the way, and not leaving any.”

To minimise waste, O’Connor is avoiding plastic packaging in favour of recyclable jars, silicone ziplock bags, paper and honey wraps.

He plans to eat home-dehydrated snacks and meals, and buy fresh produce along the way.

“Your daily choices have an impact on the wilderness environment that you don’t see,” he says.

“If you grab a Snickers bar, you’ll have instant gratification, but you’re left with a single use wrapper, which could end up in the ocean.

“If you eat an apple instead, you’ll be better for it – you’ll have more energy for a longer period, and you’re not going to leave a trace.”

O’Connor has spent the last four years guiding seasonally in Auckland and Norway.

His favourite spot is Great Barrier Island – “a sea kayaker’s dream” – but also rates Waiheke and Motutapu highly.

Once the Inside Passage is complete, O’Connor is considering circumnavigating Ireland or the North or South Island.