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May 2016 Issue
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Island hopping

There are plenty of places to pull ashore on Urupukapuka Island. Photo: Matthew Pike
Urupukapuka Island
Cable Bay is a 30-40min paddle from Kaimarama Bay, at Rawhiti Rd end. Ferry services from Paihia to Otehei Bay where kayaks can be hired

Sea kayaking Urupukapuka Island, Bay of Islands, Northland

Just the name Bay of Islands conjures romantic images of a winterless world of secluded beaches, draping pohutukawa and leaping dolphins. For me, the idea of gently paddling into every crevice of every island over several days was more than a little alluring.

Alas, by the time my friend Matt and I arrived, the MetService made it perfectly clear that if we went kayaking on days two or three we may never be seen again. So a day trip it was.

We took the ferry over to Urupukapuka Island, seeing a small pod of dolphins on the way. Urupukapuka is the only island in the bay on which you can camp, so we hired kayaks from Otehei Bay, where the ferry dropped us off.

Of the three campsites on the island, the best is Sunset Bay. It’s the only one with golden sand, it’s smaller than the others and, as the name suggests, it’s perfectly placed for viewing the dropping sun. It was understandably booked out for Waitangi weekend, so Cable Bay, a little further round the corner, provided a good second option.

The water was enticingly calm, so we set off, first exploring Poroporo Island. We travelled along the north-eastern shore, following the jagged ridgeline of this perilously narrow islet. It doesn’t seem long (geologically speaking) before the sea breaks through its orange-tinged cliffs altogether.

Heading north-east we rejoined the Urupukapuka coastline which is covered in forest on its western flanks. We passed Paradise Bay (one of my very favourite beaches on the island), and the grey Otaio Bay before rounding Te Akeake Point with its secluded bay, golden and enticing. One of the features we noticed is how dramatically the colour of one bay can contrast with the next; some are golden, some grey, some – such as Paradise Bay – a cream colour.

We continued into Waewaetorea Passage, where we stopped for a bite to eat and a quick snorkel, before continuing further north-west into Okahu Passage – a narrow strip sheltered between the outer Waewaetorea and Okahu islands. The long bay leading to the narrowest part of the channel on the Waewaetorea side was a delightful place to stop – very open and surrounded by rolling grassed hills.

By now the weather was gloomier than before and we were tempted to head back to the shelter of the campsite. But, determined to make a proper day of it, we decided instead to cut across the northern side of Motukiekie Island, heading for the narrow channel between this and Moturua Island.

We knew this would take us over open ocean. The wind was low, so this didn’t concern us, until we reached a third of the way across and the 1.5m swell kicked in. Neither of us had paddled in these conditions before and we frequently looked nervously over our shoulders at the relentless walls of water rolling our way.

Despite our fears, we were always fairly confident of being in control. When approaching the channel, the gap between the wave-battered rocks seemed terribly narrow, but in fact allowed plenty of room for our meandering vessels to make it through unscathed.

We both breathed a sigh of relief when we reached sheltered waters again and stopped on a small beach at the southern tip of Motukiekie where a couple of attractive archways in the rocks invited exploration.

We expected more swell on the return to Urupukapuka, but this time the islands protected us and we made it easily back to the campsite.

Despite gloomy conditions and the odd patch of drizzle, it had been a marvellous day’s paddle, passing few other boats. We could imagine busier waters on a sunny day, but Andy, who lent us the kayaks, said the busy season is surprisingly short. With average highs of around 20°C in the shoulder season, autumn seems to still offer warm conditions only with fewer tourists. It gives me a good excuse to head back and explore these islands more thoroughly.