Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Five days, four nights, three campsites and one boat built for two

Our first big adventure of 2015 was a kayak camping trip in Marlborough Sound. We rented a tandem yellow kayak and packed it with our tent, sleeping bags, camp kitchen, a mess of clothes and plenty of food, water and wine. Then we gently shoved off into the ocean at Picton, a port town on the northeast side of New Zealand's South Island.

The Marlborough Sound looks a lot like the Puget Sound, or at least the San Juan Islands. The water is pretty blue surrounded by peninsulas and islands made of rolling forested hills. The first difference I noticed was that the water is much warmer. On our first day, we didn't set off until after noon and the wind was picking up. Often the wake from other boats would wash over the front of our kayak, splashing me in the face. I was relieved that the water was not frigid, but rather lukewarm. At times we paddled through gusts of wind so fierce that I had to squeeze my eyes shut, turn my face away from the wind and clutch my paddle tightly so as not to let it blow away... all the while trying to keep us moving forward. Luckily, Josh was in fairer conditions in the back seat of the boat where he could steer and power us along despite my lack of assistance. When we arrived at camp, I was completely drenched and floating in a 6-inch puddle of salt water.

The second day was an easier paddle. We got on the placid water before 9am and most of our journey was flat and mellow. We saw a few good swells, but no more than two feet in height and I stayed blessedly dry beneath my splash jacket and neoprene spray skirt. Before noon we had settled into our campsite for the night on a small island with another couple of kayakers. We swapped recommendations for adventuring in New Zealand over lunch and I took a nap while Josh explored the island.

The beach on Blumine Island and our kayak overflowing with camping gear.

Encountering wildlife while camping is not a big deal in New Zealand. There are no bears, mountain lions or snakes here. Just a few possums, songbirds and the highly prevalent Weka, which looks like a brown spotted chicken. Weka are flightless birds that are curious and utterly unafraid of people. We'd encountered them before and knew the Weka liked sparkly things and had a reputation for stealing shoes and other smallish things there could carry off into the woods. So, like good campers, we tucked all our stuff into the boat hatches at night and kept a clean camp. Our kayaking mates, however, weren't accustomed to Weka and had to chase down their shoes in the morning which had been squirreled away in the bush by some mischievous Weka.

And so our adventure went, mostly peacefully and amidst a beautiful backdrop of green hills, aquamarine water, lapping waves and sea birds. We had one blustery day and so spent two nights on the lovely Blumine Island with the other American couple as our only company. Fortunately we liked them quite a bit and hope to kayak-camp with them someday back home.

As for wildlife, we mostly saw Weka. We also spotted a solitary Hector's dolphin, the world's smallest dolphin with its distinctive rounded dorsal fin. That same day, paddling to our final camping destination, we watched a fur seal sunbathing on a rock and floated atop a cloud of jellyfish. Yes, it was literally a cloud of jellyfish so dense that they made the water look light blue from a distance. The jellyfish were magical, something I was wholly unprepared for as jellyfish have always been a frightening sight for me. But safely encapsulated in our yellow boat, the hordes of jellyfish inspired only curiousity and awe. They are graceful little beasts.

Water thick with jellyfish as seen from the safety of our yellow kayak.

Our last night's camping was full of life... human life. A large family was camped there and I have to say it wasn't my ideal wilderness camping experience. Still we made the best of it and Josh found us a delightful little clearing to pitch our tent with a view of the ocean through the trees.

Josh is an expert tent site finder, as evidenced by this lovely view from our tent (in the shadows bottom left).

That night, Josh spied our first of many possums. They are an introduced species here, like all the land mammals, and they were imported from Australia for their lovely fur. Now they are considered a pest animal and efforts are underway to eradicate them.

NZ possums have fluffy tails and pointy ears, more like a raccoon than an American opossum, so they are actually cute rather than creepy.

Our last day on the water was a short one, with us arriving back in Picton before lunch. There we rounded up our gear, all 150+ lbs of it, took quick cold showers and then hopped an early ferry to the North Island.

Lovely views from the ferry as we exited Marlborough Sound and entered the Tasman Sea enroute to NZ's North Island.







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