Kayaking and Camping: Bay of Islands New Zealand

We didn’t know if we could actually go ahead with kayaking and camping overnight on Urupukapuka Island in the Bay of Islands until a day and a half before – and after we had flown into Auckland, New Zealand. We packed our tent and sleeping bags anyway, and let customs run the tent under their microscope for biohazards before they let us out of the terminal. But as soon as we got confirmation that yes, the forecast looks decent, and that yes, the winds look under control, we shot to the supermarket to load up on groceries and the camping store to pick up a bottle of fuel.

So it was with much anticipation that we loaded up our kayaks – a single and double – on Long Beach at Russel, and pushed off towards Motuarohia Island, the first island on our Bay of Islands 2-day kayak/camping expedition. There was a slight breeze playing about, but the currents were light and we crossed the channel easily. This was a popular first stop for many guided kayak and sailing trips, for the cove had many good snorkeling spots and there was a trail people could hike up to for a good vantage view of the surrounding islands.

Motuarohia Island, Bay of Islands New Zealand
View atop Motuarohia Island, Bay of Islands New Zealand

We aimed for Moturua Island next, intending to pull up along a beach for a spot of swimming. But we made good time, and felt strong, and so decided to push on instead to Waewaetorea Island. Beautiful stretch of white sandy beach filled with sea shells. While Chris lay in the sun to try to soak up the heat, Jeff and I eagerly plunged into the waters for some snorkeling. Loved how clear the waters were, and how the sun rays filtered through the water like spot light on sections of sea grass and schools of fishes.

Paddling off Waewaetorea Island, Bay of Islands New Zealand
Paddling off Waewaetorea Island

When the clouds started to roll in, we jumped back into our kayaks again and pushed off towards Urupukapuka Island, the only island in the Bay of Islands with campsites. As it was the shoulder season though, the campsite was mostly empty, save a couple tents on far ends of the huge bay and a group of rowdy septuagenarians from a rowing club in the Sunshine Coast. They had arrived at the site a couple days before us, and were planning to stay a total of five nights, using the island as a base to explore. So cool. We want to be them when we grow up. 🙂

But anyway, we had the pick of the sites, so we pitched our tent right at the edge of the beach, by the water tap and an outdoor shower. 😀

Setting up camp on Urupukapuka Island
Setting up camp on Urupukapuka Island

Urupukapuka Island is one of the larger islands in the Bay of Islands, with many walking trails we could wander up on. So we did just that, after refueling ourselves with some hot vitamin C drink and soup. It was lovely to stroll through the sheep paddock in the golden evening light.

And even lovelier, when we’d filled up our tummies with more hot food and the stars popped out of the inky blue sky. We kicked back, relaxed, and luxuriously stretched out our sore muscles as we gazed up on the milky way, listening to the waves gently lapping onto the beach. Try as we might though, we couldn’t keep our eyes open for long, and so packed it in just before 10pm.

Milky Way off Urupukapuka Island

Milky Way off Urupukapuka Island

Milky Way off Urupukapuka Island
We couldn’t ask for much more – a beautiful day out paddling around the Bay of Islands, cooling off in the crystal clear waters snorkeling, and relaxing under the stars by the beach

In the morning, we all woke up early to try to catch the sunrise. I hiked up the hill again in search of the beautiful golden light; Jeff went for a long swim in the still chilly waters in the cove, while Chris parked herself at the edge of the cliff to watch the sun’s first rays hit the water.

Seeing how invigorated Jeff was from his swim, I wanted in on the action too, and so grabbed my mask and snorkel and dove in. The water felt brisk on my skin, but my head was clear as I swam, marveling at the fishes darting in between the waving sea grass. Imagine my shock then, when all of a sudden, I swim on top of the largest sting ray I’d ever laid eyes on. It was calmly resting on the sea grass – crushing it in fact. I didn’t dare get too close to it, but from where I hovered 10 feet above it, it looked bigger than my wingspan. It was the short tail sting ray that we’d tried to no avail to spot in Jervis Bay a couple weeks ago! I yelled across the cove to Jeff who was now dressed and by the tents. He looked like he was hesitating to go back into the water again though, so I just continued on my swim. But he changed his mind and swam out to meet me. Alas, we couldn’t find the ray again. We did spot a couple other smaller species though, chasing fishes. Perfect way to start the morning.

We’d perhaps luxuriated too long in our island campsite though. By the time we packed up and pushed off, it was already 1045am. The winds had picked up from the day before too, causing larger waves to form against the eastern back of Urupukapuka Island. We’d planned to circumnavigate our way clockwise around it, but turned back soon after we saw how much rougher it was.

Probably a good thing. We needed all the time we could get to make our way back to Long Beach on Russel for the kayaks pick-up. Especially all the more so when I mis-read the map and had us fight the currents to Parekura Bay instead of Moturua Island. Ugh. Lesson learnt. Bring a compass next time. 😦 Still, that little misadventure did not damp our high spirits for what turned out to be an incredible start to our North Island adventure.

Our kayak route around the Bay of Islands
Our kayak route around the Bay of Islands

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