A nervous kayaker, Cate Foster found herself loving her day out on the tranquil waters of the Puhoi River.
The Puhoi river valley scenery is a pleasant distraction from tired arms.
Heading north for a trip in a Puhoi River kayak on one of the first hot days of early summer I felt a twinge of nervous anticipation. You don't go through life suffering from a terminal lack of co-ordination to not know your weaknesses. Add that to the fact that I can barely swim and you get the picture.
But I needn't have worried. Cody of Puhoi River Canoes explained everything so soothingly that I even began to relax a little as he checked my life jacket and demonstrated how easy it was to paddle. Determined to get moving I set off, watching all the while somewhat apprehensively (but excitedly) for the stingrays Cody had told us to look for.
Overtaken in quick succession by a group of super-fit elders, closely followed by a bunch of 10-year-olds, I dipped and swayed and then, eureka, I had the hang of it. From then on it was all plain paddling.
After about half an hour of slow progress into the wind but with the tide helping behind, the wide blue mouth of the Wenderholm estuary narrowed and the green hills of the Puhoi River valley closed around me.
Native bush right down to the water's edge gave way to impossibly lush river meadows with kingfishers dipping and flashing across my bow and grey herons pacing in the shallows.
However, despite the distance I had come, it was not until I paddled under the SH1 bridge and passed into the ever narrowing bends of the river near Puhoi itself, that I could see what this little village in its secret valley must have been like in times gone by - wide green lawns leading down to the river, willows and oaks, white villas and little docks. Happy as a clam but with my arms beginning to ache I looked forward to my lunch.
But first I had to park this thing, and under the eyes of what seemed like a bus load of tourists I endured an entanglement with a willow, worked out how to paddle in reverse (not to be recommended) and went round in circles a few times. Finally I got close enough for one of Cody's ever encouraging helpers to snare me and I was back on terra firma.
A five-minute walk away I recovered my equilibrium with a gin and tonic and awaited my well-deserved lunch of mussel fritters and salad on the veranda of the historic and famous Puhoi Pub. But renowned as it is for long merry afternoons and longer nights, today the dimly atmospheric main bar with its wall to wall display of antique agricultural items was quiet. Everyone was outside and the tables in the gardens were crowded with patrons of all ages. Toddlers stumbled, dogs lolled and families of all configurations enjoyed the sunshine and the hearty bistro fare on offer. After my two hours of paddling I couldn't think of a nicer place to be.
Puhoi is about 35 minutes north of the Harbour Bridge if taking the new toll motorway ($2 each way, ph 0800 402 020).
Puhoi River Canoes: A one-way trip between Wenderholme and Puhoi takes about two hours: single kayak $50, double kayak $100. Hourly rates out of Puhoi: single $25, double $50. Ph Cody and Kathy on 09 422 0891, 027 284 1672, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Times dictated by the tides.
Places to visit in Puhoi
The Puhoi Pub: Ph 09 422 0812.
Bohemian Museum: Open 1pm-4pm.
Marvel at the grit and resilience of the early settlers.
Mustardmakers: Ph 09 422 0069.
Delicious mustard using mainly home-grown ingredients.
Puhoi Valley Cheese Company: 275 Ahuroa Rd, ph 09 422 0619.