Testing the water on kayak trails

By Andre Hueber

Peter Townend believes Auckland could become a tourist mecca for sea kayaking.

The founder of Yakity Yak Kayak Club and editor of New Zealand Kayak Magazine has been helping Auckland Council plan a regional kayaking trail - linking existing trails and forming new ones - from Mahurangi to Maraetai.

The scheme was started by the former Auckland Regional Council five years ago and became one of Len Brown's first 100 days' projects. Local boards are considering it.

"It's about recognising what we have and why people like it and enhancing it," says Mr Townend.

"Tourism is already one of our biggest earners. At the same time it's about encouraging Kiwis to drop the PlayStation and utilise what's available."

He points to the success of the activity in Abel Tasman Park. "It's all available in the Hauraki Gulf.

There's probably more wildlife and experiences here - there's certainly better fishing."

Ministry of Tourism figures estimate more than 100,000 people take part in sea kayaking in Auckland every year. The term includes recreational kayaking, canoeing and waka ama (outrigger canoes).

Mr Townend says the plan joins the national cycleway as an economical way to explore the country. He is passionate about using "muscle versus fuel" and says the more Aucklanders understand the area around them, the more they'll want to protect it.

Yakity Yak is Auckland's biggest kayaking club. It has about 1000 members, mainly middle-aged and older.

Members regularly paddle around the Hauraki Gulf - or further afield to Whanganui River - even Fiji or Tonga.

Mr Townend says planning overnight trips in Auckland can be tricky, with permission often required from private land owners and multiple agencies. The one-stop website proposed under a regional system will make that easier.

Members of Yakity Yak and the Auckland Canoe Club have spent a year identifying existing local sea kayaking stretches - including the North East Coast, Waiheke Island, South East Coast, Manukau Harbour and Great Barrier.

"The biggest problem is finding places where it's easy to get from the water to the campsite. Boulders or mud can make it difficult. Newbies and families need a gentle sloping beach with a campsite beside the water."

He says careful planning is important, so Auckland doesn't become like Seattle, which is renowned for sea kayaking but, with too few places to stay, people end up freedom camping.

Auckland clubs have been looking at existing campsites, toilet blocks and places to pick up water - and how they could be added to or improved. Some facilities are already available - such as Dacre Cottage, run by Yakity Yak at Karepiro Bay between Okura and Stillwater - and Vine Cottage, run by the Auckland Canoe Club at Mahurangi East Regional Park.

Mr Townend, also chairman of Keep Okura Green, says Dacre Cottage can house 12 people, but will travel

anticipates the exclusive gated community popping up behind the cottage may take issue with more.

"Pohutukawa Bay, on the Long Bay side of the river, would be a good replacement - it has no neighbours and is at the end of a long walkway with easy boat access."

Sandra Coney, Auckland Council chair of parks, recreation and heritage, has been a proponent of the kayak trail idea since chairing the former Auckland Regional Council's parks committee five years ago. She visited Orere Regional Park, towards the Firth of Thames, where plans for a coastal walkway had been abandoned.

"There were nice paddocks with trees and a boat ramp at the bottom and we thought why not use the good sea access and set up a campsite and make it available for kayakers?"

She says the ARC established six campsites - from Omana Regional Park to Orere Point (44km south by road.) It was hoped to start the trail closer to the city at Okahu Bay, but the Harbour Master advised against it because of clashes with ships.

Ms Coney says it was decided not to mix the sites with areas that had vehicle access. "People in cars have lots of equipment but kayaking is low key and back to basics. When you arrive in your boat you want to hear the water quietly lapping, not the sound of a ghetto blaster hooked up to a car."

Ms Coney says the idea of paddling around without a motor exploring is a romantic one. "The solitude and involvement with the sea is good for people's souls and sense of adventure - and it doesn't leave a footprint."

Auckland Council's manager of parks, sports and recreation, Ian Maxwell, says new work for the trail includes pull-out areas for kayaks at Sylvan Park on Lake Pupuke, Sanders Reserve near Paremoremo - and a small campground at Omana Regional Park near Maraetai.

The council is negotiating with the Department of Conservation to form a basic campsite near Mansion House on Kawau Island. A campsite on the back-end of Waiheke is also being looked at, but the land's private owners would need to agree. A site there would allow people to circumnavigate Waiheke and could be used as a stop-off for more experienced kayakers heading to the Coromandel or Great Barrier.

The plan includes the improvement of portages between Henderson Creek and the Upper Harbour, Waikato River and Waiuku and Tamaki Estuary and the Mangere inlet. People can cart their kayaks on wheels between harbours.

Mr Maxwell says some "zealots" have been known to kayak from the Waikato River to Takapuna Beach in one day.

He says the council plans to compile information already on the city's individual kayak club websites to create a single site.

People will be able to comment and where a need is detected, the council will act.

An outline of the plan is being distributed to all Auckland local boards, and it will be up to each one whether to allot discretionary funds to support projects in their area.

Mayor Len Brown says the long-term plan will expand regional sport and recreation options and tourism experiences.

"Long-term, it has the potential to connect all Auckland's kayaking and waka ama clubs, which is exactly the sort of unified thinking an amalgamated Auckland is all about."


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