Sometimes, in the line of duty, I meet people I'd happily swap jobs with - and that's saying something, because I really enjoy my work. But when I crossed paths with Nic Mead recently, I thought I'd like to trade places. As founder of Auckland Sea Kayaks, he leads aquatic adventures all over the greater Auckland area. And, when it's winter in New Zealand, he nips over to Norway for a few months and takes people paddling over there... but that's another story.
Because I can't swap lives with Nic, I opted instead to follow in his wake for a spell, along Auckland's recently opened kayak trail Te Ara Moana, aka The Sea-Going Pathway.
Te Ara Moana is an easily navigated waterway around the long white eastern beaches, and says Nic, "it's even better than the Abel Tasman and only one hour from central Auckland". Nic even goes so far as to claim that New Zealand has some of the best kayaking in the whole world. And he should know, there are few places he hasn't paddled.
The full 51km trail, opened officially in April this year, begins at Omana Beach and goes all the way down to Waharau Regional Park following a traditional Maori trade or food-gathering route. These days, every eight to 14km you will find campgrounds, some only accessible by boat, with a basic loo, a little shelter and running water.
Meeting at Orere Point Rd (27km from Clevedon), we parked our cars, then headed to Waiti Bay where our expedition began.
Nic kitted us out with spray skirts, beach shoes, lifejackets and waterproof jackets and gave us a very thorough lesson in paddling safety. We then stowed a swag of provisions in our hatches - quality kai is also important to Nic.
Dipping into the tide, the launch was so well-managed we barely got wet.
Paddling east for about an hour we had the sea to ourselves the whole way, the land to our right a combination of sand, rock and bush and, beyond that, lush farmland where autumn was giving way to the green dampness of winter.
It is a stunning patch of coast and from this section of the Tamaki Strait we had views over to Ponui Island and beyond that the island sanctuary of Rotoroa. Further beyond was Waiheke while, off in the east, the Coromandel hunkered down, seemingly close and yet so far.
Making land at the Tawhitokino campground we pulled our boats clear of the tide and carried lunch up to the shelter.
The rock pools and trees here would keep younger campers occupied for days, my little fella happily skimmed smooth river rocks into the water, while Nic set about making a most delicious lunch. And before we'd even had a chance to start spotting fantails and weka (both resident here) we were drinking real coffee, followed by a delicious curry laksa on rice.
There's nothing so good as hot food consumed well away from civilisation.
As this campsite is only accessible by boat, it will be paradise come summer and, because visitors must book, it's unlikely they'll be overrun. Anyone who makes the effort to paddle to their holiday home has to be a decent sort of person, don't you think? Although do take insect repellent as the sandflies were as hungry as we were. And talking of hungry, did I mention the muffins and the beautiful brownie?
All up we paddled about 7.5km, which took close to three hours and it never felt like work, only pleasure. When we arrived back at Orere Bay, I asked 7-year old Theo how his day had been; he replied that it'd been the best weekend ever - which is high praise indeed, considering we'd only been gone half a day.
Te Ara Moana
The Sea-Going Pathway
Te Ara Moana is best done over three to four days. Auckland Sea Kayaks rent all the equipment, and provide comprehensive briefing, charts and return transport to where you started if you want. The kayaks have water-tight hatches for your gear, so are suited for multi-day touring. Many of the camp sites along the route don't have road access, so it's crucial to have a sufficient equipment. aucklandseakayaks.co.nz
For downloadable map, safety tips, coastguard information and suggested itineraries, see regionalparks.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz
• Elisabeth Easther was a guest of Auckland Sea Kayaks