An upstream river paddle is fun and games on a budget for all the family, writes Rob Cox.
Those with some energy (but not cash) to burn while in the Bay of Islands, should look up Bay of Islands Cruise and Kayak tours. We tried out their Twilight Safari, - a river kayak followed by a unique waterfall experience. It sounded a bit daunting but the photos on their website looked stunning so we gave it a nod.
Wonderful couple Taylor and Ruby picked us up in their shuttle and took us to the rivermouth where we climbed aboard their custom-built kayaking adventure craft. They went through the history of the area and explained the ins and outs of kayaking while we slowly cruised upriver. It was autumn so the sunset was great but the air fairly fresh. Then it was on with wetsuits and lifejackets and one by one the kayaks went in the river beside the boat.
After some instructions on how to get in without falling overboard, we paddled away among the mangroves, heading upstream. The river is full of life, fish pop their heads up, shags nest on branches overhanging the river constantly threatening to "whitewash" on you; even a turtle and has decided to call this river home.
Beautiful bends and nooks all need investigating, you don't even notice yourself starting to tire. Then you hear it: that sound of a waterfall. It's a good job we're heading upstream or I would be panicking by now. Around the last bend, and there it is. To be honest, it's not that scary, it's a fantastic waterfall that sweeps around the entire river, like a mini-Niagara.
The highlight of this experience was paddling up to the falls, then shooting straight into the side of it, and - if you're lucky - hiding right in behind the falls, pushing off the rock and being spat out into the whitewash.
I wasn't so lucky and basically got drenched, stuck in the eye of the fall for about 30 seconds, - long enough for my mates to die of laughter - before being ungracefully spat out again. My second and third attempts were slightly more successful.
The kayak back downriver was a breeze thanks to the outgoing tide.
That waterfall experience was hilarious but does leave you a tad soaked. Waiting for us on board the boat at the end was Ruby with home-made soup ... legend.
This was a great way to spend the afternoon, it's perfect for families; a woman in her 90s gave it a go, so anyone should be fine.
It doesn't matter how fit you are, if you're knackered by the time you reach the falls they just bring the riverboat up to get you, simple as that. If you're on a budget and have a few kids to entertain, I couldn't recommend it enough.
Getting there: Paihia is a three-hour drive from Auckland.
Details: Bay of Islands Cruise and Kayak offers a number of tours.
The writer travelled with help from Bay of Islands Destination Marketing Group and Maui.