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Cook Strait

Written by Tim Taylor on December 12th, 2013.      1 comments

Way back in April, Grant first contacted me about this trip. He gave me the rundown and asked if I would be prepared to guide him and Alan across. A quick google search quickly told me that these guys had both climbed Mount Everest (Alan has done it multiple times) so I knew they would be up for the challenge. Fast forward 7 months and we were on the beach at Makara looking out to an angry sea. We had given ourselves about a 15% chance of completing the trip in the timeframe that they had, but surprisingly, there was a perfect weather window of 12 hours where I thought we could make it.

4.45am and we were on the water. Conditions were far from ideal so I said "We'll give it a go for an hour, if it's too rough we just turn back and haven't lost anything by trying." This was readily agreed upon. About 1/2 an hour out from shore I put through a call to Wellington Maritime to put in a trip report. That taken care of we started to crank our bodies up and prepare ourselves for battle. Well an hour later and things were bearable, just. "We can go for another hour and by then we should be half way. If its gets worse, we  just turn back." So again we headed off.

In the next hour we came up against some massive seas and very turbulent seas. Sitting in the front of the double kayak, Grant was often completely out of the water, and would come smashing down in a big spray of froth. Despite this, both he and Alan seemed to be handling things well and remarked that they felt very safe in the big kayak. Grant asked "what do you call these sorts of conditions?" I replied "Confused! There's no reason for them being so big, so I can only put it down to the tidal flow ripping through the strait. I predict in the next 1/2 an hour we will find it calms down as we move further from land." And that's exactly what happened. By the time we stopped for our 2 hour break, it was considerably calmer. So much so that we took some photos and enjoyed a good munch of chocolate.

By hour 3 the conditions had turned from ugly to sublime. The ocean flattened out to leave us with nothing but a slight rolling swell. We were all on a high and we were making excelent time. Arapawa Island was growing in size with every paddle stroke. The only thing we couldn't figure out was were Tory Channel was. This is because it is slightly turned towards the south and was obscured by headlands. "What we need is a ferry to show us the route" Alan remarked. On cue, the Interislander appeared behind us and over the next half an hour it zoomed past and showed us the way.

At hour 4 we were only 5km out from Tory Channel. Because of our previous speed, we were a bit early and had the last 1/2 an hour of outgoing tide to battle with. Once it turned, we speed up remarkably and were sucked into Tory Channel. I put my call through to Wellington Maritime to thank them for their watch and with huge smiles we rounded East Rock and were in. Landing in a small bay on Arapawa Island, we were stoked. None of us could believe what we had just done...and all with apparent ease. One of the hardest paddles in NZ and it had only taken us 4.5hours! Looking around at the fantastic conditions, Alan remarked "I could be anywhere in Thailand right now." "Yes, but you'd just have to replace the pines with palm trees" I replied.        

Sitting on the beach, snacking away and still not believing our luck, I pointed out that we were only 11km from our intended campsite. "Well, we could gently cruise there and if we still feel good why not continue on to Picton?" Grant suggested. "As it was only 10.30am, we all though it was possible so quickly qeared up and got back on the water. Once out in Tory Channel again, we found the incoming tide was really cranking. Without paddling, we were doing around 2km/hr, and with paddling I estimate somewhere around 10km/hr. We were absolutely flying; the faster we went, the faster we wanted to go, and sweat was quickly pouring off us. We passed our campsite and didn't even give it a second look.

Out of Tory Channel and into Queen Charlotte Sound, we hit the forecasted Northerly wind that I had been worried about all day. But now that we were so far inside the sound, this actually turned out to be a blessing as it pushed us all the way towards Picton. Surfing waves, and having a great time, we were all drunk on adrenalin. Spying some houses and a marina, we were on such a high that we didn't even realise that it was the wrong bay until we were right at the head of it. But do you think we cared...not when we were having this much fun! 15 minutes later and we were back into the northerly winds and this time we pushed around into the right bay and finally spied Picton.   

At 2.55pm we ground ashore in downtown Picton. It had been 10 hours and 10 minutes of good times. Grant and Alan had handled themselves superbly were an absolute pleasure to guide. Not only top athletes (with great stories of Everest) they were also top blokes. Not in my wildest dreams could I have guessed that we would get our whole trip done in one day, especially in December. This will go down as an all time great trip.    


Melissa Wellington says ...
Thanks Tim for helping to guide these blokes and keeping them safe for this extraordinary journey.

What our customers say

quote Now I've stopped running I wanted to drop you a line to say a massive thank you for your incredible guiding services to get us across the Cook Strait. You put faith in us, with a lot of unknowns, and it was so cool how we pulled it off. It adds such a special twist to what I've achieved, and I think it will be very difficult to re-create.
It's been a very special adventure and we're so grateful for your contribution towards it.
Best wishes,
Jez Bragg. 
North Face ultra-marathon runner.
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