From the June 2012 issue of biv/mail, issue 28.
On Wednesday the 29th February 2012 Adventure Philosophy – Bivouac Good for Life Scholarship recipient Tim Taylor finished a 15 month, 5,529 km trip around New Zealand in his kayak. Completing this adventure made him only the second person ever to achieve the feat. He is also the youngest person to have done it – and in record time.
While floating down a river I once asked a mate “do you think it’s possible to kayak around New Zealand?” In a very nonchalant tone he replied “sure, it’s already been done.” That pretty much ended that line of conversation and I didn’t think about the idea for another ten years. It wasn’t until I was sitting on a beach in Greece and having another conversation with another mate that it cropped up again. In a matter-of-fact voice, he stated “we need to start ticking off things from life’s to-do list, especially while we still can!” I couldn’t agree more and eighteen months later I found myself placing the first paddle stroke of what was to be a 5,529 km journey.
I paddled out from Tauranga heading south along the coast on November 27th 2010. If all went well it should have been a journey of around three months and I would have been able to claim the record of being the first person to kayak around the whole thing in one go; North, South, and Stewart Islands. The legendary Paul Caffyn was the only person to have kayaked around the country at this stage and he had done it in stages over a period of three years way back in the 1970’s. Since then a few people have paddled around the South Island, but that’s about it. Paul admitted to me that he didn’t think it possible to do it in one continuous loop, but in a typically Kiwi fashion I was determined to prove him wrong. Well six months later and almost 10 kg lighter, I had to admit that he knew what he was talking about. It had been six months of massive highs and deep lows, but sadly I just couldn’t quite make it and had to pull the pin at Ninety Mile Beach. I had crossed both Cook and Foveaux Strait twice, been stranded on isolated beaches during relentless storms, smashed in huge surf, robbed by some dodgy old lady in Oamaru, and, with less than 800 km to go, I had to admit defeat. I returned to Ninety Mile Beach in February of this year, during the only period of summer that NZ actually saw, and I smashed the final leg back to Tauranga in three weeks. I still reckon it can be done in one go but for now I’ll have to settle with the fact that I did it in two.
My plan for paddling around the country was pretty simple – I would paddle a set distance each day, then camp up on shore each night. After dedicating the whole of 2010 to planning and training I was well organised and had marked out where to spend every single night during my expedition. A typical daily distance was anywhere between 60–80 km. When I was on the trip I jokingly told people that I paddled a marathon and a half every day. In many cases I didn’t have much of a choice where to stop. Much of our coast is far too rugged to land on and it was often a case of just choosing an arbitrary spot as it was the only one that actually had a beach. I knew I would have to rough it and on many occasions – and I did. Where I could, I also called in on friends and family bludging a decent bed for the night. As a backup I also loaded every single reserve and campground along the coast into my GPS as I figured I would probably get sick of sand after a while. These spots proved to be a lifesaver on a few occasions.
My kayak was a Mission Eco Bezhig. She was named Waverly after a particularly hard training session where I noted that ‘she loved the waves’. Before I got her however, I went through a period of testing and had decided that I was after a kayak that could handle big seas and carry a big load – two things that Waverly does very well. Made in New Zealand and designed for New Zealand conditions, I don’t think it would possible to find a better kayak for this sort of expedition, and having now done over 10,000 km in her I reckon she’s proved herself. Inside Waverly I kept all my gear – roughly 2 weeks worth of Back Country Cuisine meals, tent, sleeping bag, clothes and all my emergency gear. At any one time Waverly’s total weight, including the gear, was over 60 kg and many people struggled to lift her when they offered to give me a hand. They should have tried doing it on their own with big surf smashing up behind them!
Throughout the expedition I had many different experiences. People still remark to me that the kayaking must have been amazing and I must have so much to tell them…but the truth is the paddling actually became boring. Hour after hour of doing nothing but swinging a paddle is not exactly entertaining, and I started to call it my day job. What I will never forget however, are the people I met. Right from the beginning I met people from all walks of life, and through these encounters I was to learn some amazing facts about life and about the Kiwi culture.
The first instance I can remember is when I spent the night camped up at the Motu River mouth on day three. I made the smart decision to walk up to the local marae, found the local kauma-tua and checked to see if it was OK to camp. At this stage I figured it was just a courtesy. He very generously said that it was no problem, so I set up my tent right on the beach. I soon discovered that the Kahawai were running at the rivermouth and the beach was virtually a highway as
people came and went – cars stacked with buckets full of fish. One rather big, pissed-off looking chap stopped to ask me what I was up to. After I had explained, he said in a much more friendly tone “bro, because you asked you won’t have any problems…you will be safe on this beach.”
Life lesson #1: even if the beach is public, the locals still treat it like their own, so always be respectful. I very quickly learnt it’s amazing how far a bit of respect goes and that it often got me a feed, a shower or even a bed for the night.
Life lesson #2: Kiwi’s still love a good adventure. From the people that looked after me for the night, to the hundreds of emails people sent me, it seemed that everyone wanted to be in on the adventure. As I kept being told “you are doing it the hard way, so we just want to help in some small way.” I will never forget a chance encounter with Ken Tustin, aka ‘the Moose Man’. After getting stuck at Bull Creek I met a few locals who generously hosted me for the night. One of them asked “do you know of the Moose Man?”…to which I replied “sure do, he’s been a hero of mine since I was a young bloke”…“Well he lives just down the road so we should go and catch up with him.” At this point I was marched down the gravel road, wearing only wet boardies, a ripped thermal, and bare feet. Ken answered his door, looked at me and simply said “Tim, I’ve been watching out for you all day!” Now this was a bloke whom I’d never met, but had looked up to for a long time, someone who is well known for his own adventure – apparently he was just as interested in mine. His binoculars were sitting on the kitchen bench and he hadn’t left the house all morning in case I went by. We had a great afternoon yarning it up and it seemed he knew just as much about my adventure as I did. From that point on I stopped thinking of it as just my expedition, it belonged to everyone that chose to be a part of it. Ken and his wife Marge were just two people who chose to be a part of my trip, and without people like them it would have been day after day of paddling. I’d just like to say a huge thanks to everyone who was involved…you made it the adventure that it really was.
Looking back on that beach in Greece, it feels like an extremely long way away now. I have since put a major tick in life’s to-do box. I have pushed myself to the very extreme of my capabilities – often wondering if I could come back from it. When people ask why I did it, I can only reply “because I could”. That’s about the best advice I can give anyone…if you want to do something, get out there and do it, just because you can.
Paddle hard everyone. Tim.
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