2011 Rock and Roll Coordinator’s Report


2011 R & R Coordinator

Now that it’s over I feel I am having withdrawal symptoms – no more reading masses of emails, sending letters, organising, coordinating and worrying about everything that could possibly go wrong.

What a great event, even I couldn’t stuff it up: terrific weather, record crowd (one hundred and sixty attendees), four platinum sponsors (Expedition Kayaks, Mirage Sea Kayaks, Nadgee Kayaks Australia and Roaring 40s) and two silver sponsors (Flat Earth Sails and Hybrid Kayaks Australia). Members had a great selection of kayaks, sails and other accessories to check out.  Even with having a biathlon on at the same time all went without a hitch, we didn’t run over any swimmers or crash into any jet skis.

Friday evening started with the beer and pizzas supplied by Expedition Kayaks, well attended by hungry, thirsty kayakers.  While some of us were busy handing out tags and doing the registrations, David Fisher was busy under the marquee with his Master Chef classes. A little slow on attendance at first but as the smell of hot popcorn and damper wafted around the site the numbers grew.  Maybe we will see David on the real show one day. He could give them a run for their money if he can convince them to cook out of a kayak while afloat.

We all woke up early to a great sunny Saturday with the crowd scrambling around the marquee eager to ensure they all got onto a trip. Matt did a great job and had plenty of trips arranged and with a good number of trip leaders I do believe everyone was catered for.

Conditions were great and everyone seemed to come back quite exhausted after long trips, so much so that I could not get the Fractured Paddle event up and running, my only disappointment for the weekend. So now, I have lots of bling (ten gold and silver medals) to hang around my neck when clubbing.

The afternoon injury prevention session was run by Sally Jacobs and well attended with all gaining something of value. At one point in the afternoon while I was sitting on the grass she shoved a thong (the one worn on the feet) up my butt (under actually) to show how it tilted my pelvis and made for a better seating position. It actually worked so I now have an old thong sika-flexed to my Mirage seat.

The feeding of one hundred and fifty hungry paddlers on Saturday evening went well despite some who had to put up with a little more beverage consumption while waiting due to the long lineups.

The meal was followed by an interesting presentation from Richard Barnes showing the type of paddling adventures that can be had in a kayak. This was followed by Stuart Trueman’s ongoing adventure paddling around Australia. We all wish him a safe journey and look forward to hearing about the ending.

Sunday was much the same as Saturday: lots of trips, good weather and plenty to do afterwards. A couple of groups went into the rock gardens for a bit more excitement lead by visiting Tsunami Ranger Jim Kakuk and club leaders. Some people started to leave in the afternoon due to work commitments.

Paddle stroke correction classes were organised by Michael Eggleton which showed many of us that there is always room for improvement.

Jim Kakuk gave a great presentation in the evening about what can be done in the rock gardens. One point Jim made I felt was valuable and one that is possibly not given much importance is that if you can’t swim in it, you shouldn’t kayak in it. Food for thought.

Lastly I thank the committee, the speakers, the volunteers, the beach masters, the trip coordinator, the leaders, the sponsors and all members for their help and continuing to support Rock and Roll and making it the great event it is.

The Experiences of a Newbie


It was my first Rock and Roll and who would have thought when I bought a sea kayak last year that I would be sitting next to Captain Jim Kakuk of the Tsunami Rangers discussing our respective pre-launch rituals.  I was able to share with the Captain my pre-mission nervous pee strategy and we chatted about the additional flexibility offered by his wash deck.

It was great to catch up with some of the squadron from our introductory basic skills weekend led by Rear Admirals Stephan and Dee last November.  There is an unspoken bond shared by those that have faced this experience together and it was quite moving to be reunited with Lance Corporals Leona, Zorka and Angus.

Angus was looking pretty fit and capable so I was doing my best to talk myself up in the all important pre-paddle chat around the marquee.  I did suffer a slight credibility setback when Angus suggested we carry both kayaks down to the beach at once and I had to ask whether he would mind if we did them one at a time.

Thankfully I bumped into Gary Roberts and was able to impress him with tales of my Western Australia circumnavigation paddling backwards.

Down at the beach and I ran into Anne “Spider Woman” Cumming who was about to test a new kayak.  Last time I saw Anne she was calmly paddling to the shore to remove a Huntsman that was hiding somewhere under her spray deck – I still squeal like a pig when I recount the incident to my therapist.

Anyway, I offered to stand in the water to help Anne practice rolling the test kayak and Mark Alchin came up and said he knew what I was doing standing in the water and he wasn’t coming closer.  I slinked back to a full beach of onlookers and received a couple of knowing looks and strained half smiles.

Finally out onto the water and the expedition into the southerly wind made me feel like I had connected with Stuart Trueman when he talked about his exhaustion on day one of his current trip.  Luckily for me I was able to revitalise myself with an orange juice popper and a cheeky little camembert and sundried tomato focaccia.

Relieved to eventually scramble back onto dry land it was good to see so many of the people who have been so helpful and welcoming to me.  I reckon you can tell a lot about a club by the way it treats its new members and I am very grateful to have received such a friendly introduction and for the punt some experienced paddlers have taken in asking me along to things and in particular to the amazing Wayne Bennett of sea kayaking, Rob Mercer.

Rock and Roll was a great chance to catch up with people I have met and to put faces (and in Laurie’s case hair) to the names of the people I had heard about.  The more I see the more I realise there is to learn and the skills, stories, trips and photographs (particularly those taken by Guy Reeve) on display were inspirational.

A big thank you to those who organised and ran R&R and I’m looking forward to seeing where the path to next year’s event leads me – which I am sure will be a more varied journey than the one taken by Stuart Trueman’s perpetually returning cigar.

Now I can Twist as well as Rock ‘n’ Roll


Just got home from work, cold, tired and wet.  Quickly check my emails (no, I don’t twitter or twatter)…Spam, bit more spam, ‘you are the millionth lucky winner…’ Yeah, yeah…delete… ‘Want to grow an extra….’ No, nick off, not interested…delete…  Oh, here’s one from Dee reminding me that I did promise her a piece on Rock ‘n’ Roll and the deadline is fast approaching… it seems such a distant but fond memory now.

But what to write about that would do the weekend justice?  I was thinking that as this was my first RnR it should have a catchy title, something like ‘Losing my virginity at RnR’ but that’s a bit Branson-ish.

No words can truly capture and describe everything that went on: what we did by way of paddles, the scenery we saw, the stories we heard, the people who entertained us (some unintentionally with their midnight gardening prowess). Good job I took heaps of photos though and sent them to Dee.

There were photos of us having a lazy Friday afternoon paddle with some of the crew who got there early.  What an afternoon, low swell, sunny and relatively calm. On returning to the camp area there were more people so I took a couple of photos of folks setting up camp, having a post-paddle relax, a beer on the beach as well…all manner of paddlers.

That night I grabbed a photo of Selim being presented with a ‘massive’ birthday cake (for one) by Claudia and wasn’t he stoked – that smile is quite infectious.  I was aware of a couple of giggles behind me and there were Claudia and Peter’s two boys laughing at the whole spectacle, enjoying themselves running around the camp site.  I’m surprised after the day on the beach that they had any energy at all.  Bet they (and their parents) slept well.

There’s a photo of the camping area and some of the goodies on offer. And didn’t I have fun playing ‘John West’ with what was on offer from Expedition Kayaks, Mirage, Nadgee and Hybrid.  There’s a photo of about eleven boats of which I tried nine.  John West was spoilt for choice.   I did reject eight boats to decide on a boat that weekend but to the dismay of Mick McRobb (Flat Earth Sail manufacturer) I will not be putting a sail on it.

Flicking through the photos I am reminded of the Pizza and Beer afternoon put on by EK.  That pizza guy couldn’t believe his luck – two weeks of pizzas in one afternoon, well, almost.  Have a look at all those empty boxes.

That night I snapped a few of Stu Trueman dropping in from his current circumnavigation of Australia by kayak.  How amazing to follow the blog via NSWSKC website, hear reports and then meet the star of the gig.  His girls must have had the most amazing ‘Show & tell’ at school.

Well, being a sea kayak club we did enjoy quite a few paddles but as I did not bring my waterproof camera I did not manage to get photos of the paddle through the rock gardens, to the Tollgate Islands or of surfing the bar.

Suffice to say, been there, done that, doing it again next year.

The Dreamtime Voyage

25th Anniversary Edition: Around Australia Kayak Odyssey


The Dreamtime Voyage is Paul Caffyn’s story of one of the most remarkable journeys ever undertaken by kayak, the first kayak circumnavigation of Australia, a 9,420 mile 360 day epic. It is an inspirational tale of one man’s dogged determination to fulfill his impossible dream against all odds, including tropical cyclones, raging surf, sharks, sea snakes, crocodiles and three long sections of sheer limestone cliffs.

In early December 2007, the Victorian Sea Kayak Club organised a 25th anniversary celebration of the completion of the 1982 Round Australia Kayak Expedition (RAKE) at Queenscliff. On a beautiful sunny morning, Paul in his round Australia kayak Lalaguli, with Andy Wood alongside, paddled back into Caffyn Cove to receive a marvelous reception, with Lesley waiting on the beach, champagne flowing, two pipers on the top of the headland, a canon shot and big mobs of well-wishers.

At the cliff top, Paul unveiled a big lump of basalt with a superbly inscribed plaque on top, noting the significance of the 1982 around Australia paddle, which had started and finished at Queenscliff. Led by a lone piper, Lalaguli was carried in a solemn procession to the Queenscliff Maritime Museum where Paul formally handed over his kayak to go on permanent display.

After Paul self-published The Dreamtime Voyage in 1994, the first print run sold out inside two years. A second print run also sold well, with the book going out of print in 1998. On-going requests for the book and huge prices requested on overseas websites for very rare secondhand copies led Paul to consider a new edition, especially after the wonderful 25th anniversary celebrations.

Discerning readers will observe a vast improvement in the reproduction of the black and white photographs in this new edition. Mysteriously, one of the original colour photos could not be located – the start of the Baxter Cliffs – but Andy kindly consented to the replacement R18 launching photo. Reader discretion is advised.

A two-page preface to the new edition, with five photos, describes the 25th anniversary celebrations and updates Paul’s recent paddling history. To continue the tradition of including a 1st edition book launch photo, as with the 2nd edition of Obscured by Waves, Paul has included a photo of the 1994 launch of The Dreamtime Voyage at a KASK Picton sea kayak symposium, with details ofthe bribery note received after Paul was photographedwearing a suit, tie and shoes.

Two editions are available:

– a laminated soft cover

– a very limited hardcover run, each copy of which will have a book plate affixed to page i, and which will be individually signed and numbered.

For information on prices and delivery, please email Paul at: kayakpc@xtra.co.nz

Devonport to Hobart, the West Coast Way



The dark Southern Ocean swell was peaking up in front of Harry in a menacingly high wall of water. Its steepening lip looked as though it was just about to collapse like a brick wall and smash him into oblivion.  Not far to his left, a massively powerful wall of foam was sweeping towards him along the length of the wave as it broke.  He was cutting it awfully fine. I picked up my camera.

Harry dug his paddle deep into the steepening wave, muscling his 5.8m kayak, crammed with two weeks of food and camping gear, as hard as he could toward the peaking green lip.  Harry is a big, strong, fit lad, but his boat and gear weighed something like 80kg.   If he didn’t make it, a massive volume of water was going to smash him backwards toward the reef and almost certain destruction. His loaded boat would crumple under the impact of the tons of water in that wave even before it hit the rocks.  It was Harry versus the Southern Ocean, and from where I was sitting in my boat about fifty metres to his right, the odds were not looking particularly favourable: he probably had a second or two to make it.

But suddenly the bow of his Mirage punched out of the back of the wave like an overloaded missile launched from a submarine.  I squeezed the shutter button. For a second he was airborne as his momentum carried him through, before the boat smashed down into the trough beyond with a crash that sounded like it would split the fibreglass hull in two.

Dropping my camera on the deck, I hastily grabbed my paddle and dug it deeply into the cold, dark water as hard as I could to get my boat moving again.  The dark line of another swell top was racing inexorably towards us, and with about thirteen seconds between each peak, I wanted to be in much deeper water, and quickly!

An hour ago, four of us – Harry, Keith, Wildey and I – had paddled out from behind the sheltered headland of Green Point, near Marrawah, under a purple dawn.  Marrawah is just south of the north-west corner of Tasmania, a little way down the west coast and is the most westerly village in Tasmania.  With a pub, a phone box and a general store, there’s not much to it, but it has two claims to fame.

Firstly, the last Tasmanian tiger was apparently captured here.  But more relevant to us is the fact that Marrawah is the first stop for the huge southern ocean swells which have travelled about 16,000km from South America.  As a result, it is now a world-famous big wave surfing destination.  The biggest recorded wave at Marrawah clocked in at an almost incredible 19.5m in height.   Almost, but not quite incredible: we learned later that the waverider buoy off Cape Sorrell, half way down the west coast, stops working at a wave height of 19m because the massive walls of water prevent it from communicating with its base station on the mainland!

So after three frustrating days weathered in at Marrawah by a continuous 20 knot southerly, it was with both some relief and no little trepidation that we had set off into the Southern Ocean earlier that morning. We needed to exploit the forecast window in the weather and make some progress southward down the west coast of Tasmania.

We had set off from Devonport ten days before, and were making for Hobart – a distance of 850km or more, so at Marrawah we were roughly a quarter of the way into the trip.    From here, the only resupply point available to us before Hobart was Strahan, around 170km to our south, and there was no guarantee that we could get in there, hence we needed to carry at least two week’s worth of supplies.

The previous night’s Bureau of Meteorology forecast suggested that we now had just three days of east to north-east winds to make the 170km to Hells Gates, the entrance to Macquarie Harbour on which Strahan is situated, before the wind turned back to the south and increased again preventing further progress.

If we didn’t make Hells Gates, we could be in big trouble, as there are very few landing spots on this section of coast which are viable in a big swell.  A 4-5m SW swell was forecast, slowly decaying over the following three days to 2-3m. This would still be a formidable challenge on a coast exposed to the power of waves which on their journey here have amassed an incredible amount of energy – some of which we were just beginning to witness.

It is for this reason that the west coast of Tasmania is such a committing kayak expedition.  Kayaking here has been described, by one of the few people who have paddled it, as ‘playing chess with the weather’ in which your decision to make a move is based on a weather forecast which can change rapidly.  Once committed, landing options are limited, and being caught out by the weather can have dramatic, and potentially fatal, consequences.

We had been told that two kayakers had found this out the hard way the previous year when they were unable to find Granville Harbour, one of only two or possibly three realistic landing options between Marrawah and Strahan.  With darkness upon them and hypothermia setting in after one of them had capsized and come out of his boat, they activated an emergency satellite beacon.  Although the rescue authorities knew exactly where they were, they could do nothing to help because the rescue helicopter was not equipped to winch at night.  So the kayakers were forced to endure some appalling conditions until they could be extracted at first light. They were lucky to survive.

Harry’s big wave was our first taste of really big west coast swell.  Even though we were all old and crusty and between us had more than 120 years of paddling experience and done some very committing trips before, we were still very apprehensive about the conditions we could face here.  The cumulative effect of locally wind-driven seas on top of a big swell that has travelled for thousands of kilometres can deliver some fearsome conditions.  Today’s swell was fulfilling our expectations, although we were very fortunate not to have to deal with anything more than light winds of 5-15 knots.

After Harry’s close call as we rounded West Point, just about the most westerly point of Tasmania, we headed out wide, in awe of the intimidating mountains of water that rolled in from the south west.  And they were not just tall, they were fat as well.  I think Keith counted a dozen paddle strokes from trough to crest, about six to eight across the top, and a dozen from crest to trough.  Occasionally a big wave would darken ominously and we would hastily swing our bows seaward to face any potential break head on.  In spite of many years paddling on various oceans and big volume white water rivers around the world, I found the sheer mass of these waves and their unpredictability very intimidating.

The uncertainty was the most nerve-wracking aspect.  Our chief enemy here was statistics.  When the Bureau forecasts a 5m swell, the forecast height is for the average of the highest one third of the expected waves.  That naturally means that some waves can be significantly higher than the average.  This can have potentially devastating consequences if a kayaker finds themselves near a bombora or reef that is not breaking under ‘average’ wave height, but which will potentially erupt without warning into a breaking wall of white water when a significantly higher than average wave passes over it.  Which they do.  Many times a day!

Accounts by the few previous kayakers to have made this journey all suggested that the biggest threat on the west coast is this random breaking of waves in otherwise apparently calm areas of ocean.  As a result, we were very alert to signs of shallower areas.  We avoided lighter green areas that were obviously shallower than the surrounding deeper dark blue water, looked for traces of foam on the surface which might indicate recent breaks and frequently checked the GPS and marine charts for rocks, reefs or shallow areas.

However, the charts were of limited use.  Even in 2011, much of the area that we were travelling carried the cautionary, and unsettling, word ‘Unsurveyed’ in many places.  As a taxpayer, it made me wonder what the Royal Australian Navy’s hydrographic survey ships had been doing since Bass and Flinders had sailed around Tasmania in 1798-99.

Today we were not to be disappointed by the statistics.  As well as the massive explosions of energy where the swell broke against the rocky coast, areas of white water could be seen erupting far off into the distance to the south, as well as out to sea.  We paddled on, as briskly as we could with loaded boats, to make the 65km to the next realistic landing option at Sandy Cape.

Nine hours later we finally pulled in behind the headland at Sandy Cape.  With the knowledge that we would sooner or later be confronted by some of the legendary surf landings for which the south west of Tasmania is famous, it was a great relief to find only small waves after a long day and so many muesli bars.  After making do with snacks on the hour every hour to keep fueling our bodies, we were quick to set up our tents and get a brew on before cooking dinner and tuning in to the weather forecast on the short wave radio: there was definitely no mobile coverage here!

I for one was grateful to finally settle into a warm sleeping bag and try to get some rest before another 5a.m. start the following day.  We would need to start at first light again to crack the 55km to the next landing at Granville Harbour with a decent safety margin.  But we couldn’t realistically set off any earlier because of the risk of inadvertently paddling over a shallow area and being taken out by a breaking wave in the dark.

Next day, our landing at Granville Harbour, scene of the previous year’s near disaster, was interesting. Granville Harbour is not so much a harbour as two rocky headlands about 300m apart, each with their own point break, and separated by a rocky ‘beach’ with a nasty breaking bombora roughly in the middle, along with a smattering of other smaller reefs and rocks.

After eight hours of business-like paddling, we arrived in mid afternoon, somewhat weary, but were suddenly perked up by some swell-induced adrenalin as we neared Granville.  As we paddled closer to shore the detonations of huge waves crashing onto the rocky coast resonated with a resounding crump not dissimilar to artillery fire.  After some cautious observation, we committed and paddled hard through the entrance before threading our way through the rocks toward the makeshift boat ramp, which was overlooked by a few shacks.

It was a typically cold, grey, wet, and windy west coast day.  While cadging some fresh water off a local shack owner, we were interested, and a little unsettled, to discover that Granville would close out with only another half metre of swell.

With the swell at around 2.5m as we landed, the middle of the forecast range, it would not have taken too much more for the ocean to deny us access to pretty much the last safe haven before Strahan.  If we couldn’t get into Granville, the next option, Trial Harbour, would probably be out of the question too.  Even Macquarie Harbour 55km further south could hardly be described as a safe haven, as getting there required paddling through the Hells Gates, its notoriously dangerous entrance which, according to a retired fisherman we had met in Devonport, has killed countless sailors.  This reinforced the importance of having accurate local knowledge on which to base our decisions.

The BOM forecast that night brought the realities of this part of the world into sharp focus.   The wind was forecast to change from a 15 knot westerly to a south to south-westerly by ‘late morning’, increasing to 15-25 knots in the afternoon, and 30 knots by evening.   In other words, our choice was to race the change to Hells Gates and hope we got there before it did, or stay put at Granville for another two to three days before more favourable winds returned.

We debated the options and potential consequences.  In the words of Stuart Trueman, who at that stage was paddling around Australia and who had paddled this coast himself, “If you waited for a good weather forecast in south west Tassie you’d never get anywhere.”

In the end, the consensus was to go for it and try to make it to the fleshpots of Strahan before the bad weather set in.  But based on our previous average speed over the preceding couple of days, we were going to need to leave Granville at 4a.m.  Oh joy!  That meant a 3a.m. start.  Early to bed, trying to avoid Granville’s vicious mosquitoes.

The next day didn’t so much dawn as start with an irritating alarm at dark o’clock.  At least it had stopped raining, and there was no wind to speak of, but it was dark. Very dark.  In fact it was the darkest night I think I’ve ever seen.  There was no moon, no stars, no ambient light of any sort, and we could just make out a misty sea fog.  Our head torches bobbed around in the gloom as we hastily packed up and rammed down some form of breakfast even if we were not exactly hungry yet.  We would definitely be needing some fuel in the tank.

At 3.50a.m., we were ankle deep in water at the boat ramp.  We adjusted head torches and other forms of illumination so we could see each other in the pitch darkness.  There was a pause.  Wildey said something like, “It’s very dark.  Anyone volunteer to navigate us out of here?”

Before I’d turned in, my mind had been running through all the ‘what if’ scenarios.  It was not hard to come to the obvious conclusion that at 4a.m. it would be very dark, which would make it slightly more interesting to negotiate the rocks and reefs, and avoid the big breaks to make it safely out to deeper water.  Notwithstanding the ribbing I’d inevitably get for ‘following the purple line’, this was obviously a job for the GPS.

So with the benefit of the previous day’s track and visibility of the rocks and reefs from our campsite, I’d spent a few minutes creating a GPS route that we could follow to ensure we missed the nasty bits.

“Yep, I’ll do it.  I’ve got a route plugged in to my GPS so as long as we keep together we should be fine.’

We launched and tentatively groped our way out into the darkness.  There was absolutely no horizon or point of reference to be seen whatsoever.  It was disorienting, paddling by feel alone, except for the small colourful screen of the GPS glowing brightly from my spraydeck.  Our head torches were not much good for illuminating anything beyond the boat but at least meant we could see each other.

I had spent too many years in the army blundering around on dark nights in unfamiliar places, and was only too familiar with the potentially disorienting effects of darkness and unknown terrain.  Tonight was to be no different.  We needed to snake our way out north from the boat ramp for about 250m to avoid a couple of small rocky reefs close in, and then turn sharp left to head west south west and track out of the harbour to miss both the break on the southern headland and the bombora out in the middle.

It was not a massively complicated route, but the first couple of hundred metres was sufficiently disorienting as to raise doubt as to whether I knew where I was heading.

“We’re going round in (no prizes for guessing the expletive) circles!!” cried a voice from the darkness.

A fairly brisk conversation followed, this was not the place to stuff around; I rafted up the team, held up the tiny glowing screen so they could see the route and explained where we, or rather I, the volunteer navigator, were aiming to go.  I should definitely have done this before we launched!  Hopefully all on the same page, we headed off again into the darkness.

I had to concentrate hard to ensure the little blue triangle that represented me (or rather my GPS) did not deviate too far from the purple line which represented the pre-programmed route out of Granville.  It was like some weird kind of computer game, and staring at the screen produced a worrying disorientation in my already fuzzy head.  After a while, instead of focusing on the tiny screen, I tried to steer a course using my deck compass. But even with a torch fixed on the compass and my vision a bit squiffy from staring at the GPS, it was almost impossible to read the bearing accurately enough.

Fortunately it was not too long before we were far enough out to be reasonably safe from the break on the headland, which we could hear booming and hissing somewhere in the darkness to our left.  We altered course to head to Hells Gates and paddled on into the dark, dark, darkness on a fortuitously oily swell.  If there had been any wind to speak of, it would have been a different story.

Seven hours later, two of which were in darkness, we had still not seen land because of the sea fog.  Blessed with an oily, rolling swell, we paddled hard into the nothingness in the expectation that the sou’westerly was due at lunchtime.  I think we were all somewhat relieved when the Cape Sorrell lighthouse, still some 20km away, resolved itself out of the mist around 11a.m.  So we still had a way to go before we could say we had beaten the change!

At about 3p.m., after eleven hours paddling during which we averaged a measly 4.9km per hour against a mysterious northbound current, we finally plodded up through the outflowing waters of Hells Gates.  With high water due later that afternoon, we had expected the assistance of a flood tide.  However, local knowledge suggested to us later that, with the volume of water from power generation on the Gordon River above Macquarie Harbour, Hells Gates tends to offer an outgoing flow most of the time.  You live and learn!

The remainder of the trip was full of such adventures, marked by long days on a beautiful and sometimes threatening ocean, or weathered in to a sheltered bay, both dominated by stunningly rugged mountainscapes wreathed in cloud.

We experienced everything from the ferocity of 30 knots or more of pure, clean Tasmanian wind threatening to rip the mast stays from our decks to the serene companionship of gliding albatross and wheeling flocks of mutton birds.  We felt both trepidation at the prospect of big surf landings (most of which, by the greatest of good fortune, never eventuated), as well as the relief of finally paddling into the calm haven of a hidden river mouth at the end of a long day to discover a grassy, pocket handkerchief-sized campsite tucked into a fold in an otherwise forbiddingly harsh landscape.

Only once were we unable to land where we had hoped. Perhaps predictably, this was at a place called Rocky Boat Harbour. Not for the first time, as we got close in the swell seemed to peak up and smash across the whole width of the boulder beach.  It didn’t look very inviting. So we decided to push on to South Cape Rivulet, or failing that, Cockle Creek.  Denied our landing, at 2p.m. it suddenly looked like going to be a very long day.  But by the greatest of good fortune, and with a delightful irony, we unexpectedly found refuge only a few kilometres further on when Harry spotted a narrow gutter along a headland of Surprise Beach which made an exciting run into a rain-lashed beach.

The trip was full of memorable moments like paddling through Mosquito Passage on Robbins Island, rounding Cape Grim and sneaking in through a gutter behind a reef to avoid some massive surf at Gorge Point.  But rounding South West Cape under sail provided a particularly memorable, if fairly anxious, moment.  It was intensified by an ocean which had initially lured us southward with enticingly favourable sailing conditions, before the swell and seas combined to produce a confused battleground of water. At the same time, the wind rose up to shove us around the corner with bullets of 30 knots or more while breaking waves whacked one or two of us sideways for 30-40m in some of the most challenging conditions any of us had ever experienced at sea.

But for me the real highlight of the trip was to be sustained over twenty-six physically and mentally demanding days by the unerringly good humour, energy, determination and seamanship of my companions.  Wildey’s ability to get back into a cold, cold ocean at the end of a long day’s paddling and dig up a feed of abalone was only slightly less miraculous than his ability to fry up said abalone with garlic and chilli and provide us with a tasty and welcome change from our dehydrated diet.  Harry’s eye for a landing and dry sense of humour were instrumental in preserving our physical and mental integrity under some trying conditions.  And Keith’s energy and enthusiasm could not fail to carry you along on a wave of optimism, no matter how miserable the weather.

This trip was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, physically and mentally, but not to be missed for the world.

Abel and Mabel in New Zealand


I’m not sure what Abel Tasman would have thought about having a national park named after him. The fact that four of his crew were killed and eaten by Maori, at Whariwharangi Bay, might tend to put you off a bit. Certainly something that I personally would prefer to forget about, or at least not put my name to.

However, as New Zealand’s smallest national park, it is a stunning place. It combines ranges of low hills, rocky outcrops, spectacular beaches, blue sea and vivid green rain forest, often to the water’s edge. Though Marahau, at the southern end of the park, can resemble some sort of outdoor theme park, due to the number of kayakers, bushwalkers, aqua-taxis, you name it, it seems to be happening there, much of the park retains an atmosphere of well-trodden splendour.

Now if you are looking for a story of strength and derring-do, you can stop reading right here. The Abel Tasman National Park is about as sheltered, used and administrated as you can get. From Marahau in the south to Separation point in the north, is only about 30km in a straight line. However if you add all the islands, estuaries and bays, you could probably double this, so a return trip from south to north could total 120km if you are into exploring and that is certainly what we did.

In fact, my wife and I had come to New Zealand to catch up with old friends and do some ‘tramping’. After a four day circuit of Nelson Lakes National Park we thought we would give our legs a rest and check out some paddling.

A quick search on the net soon revealed Abel Tasman Kayaks Freedom Rentals who were happy to give a discount to an Australian sea kayak instructor and provide a very solid fibre-glass double, a Sea Bear, and all the gear including waterproof maps, hand pumps, flares, comfortable buoyancy aids, spray jackets, reasonable paddles and a spare, for a five day hire.

Though the ‘Sea Bear’ is not a sporty boat, it must be close to a metre wide, it is a real pack-horse. You could load a carton of beer into it without even taking it out of the box! [Australian kayak designers take note]. Really the design is ideal for its use, often with novices, in such a sheltered location, though the seats are huge and I would recommend a Thermarest or foam padding, to make them more comfortable.

So with a safety briefing from a cheerful Kiwi guide, Hiho, we loaded the boat onto a trailer towed by a tractor, jumped up beside and were given a lift along the road, down the beach and into the sea, our loaded boat then lifted straight into the water. They know how to do things in style, these Kiwis!

During summer season (1 October to 31 March) it is necessary to book all your intended campsites with the Department of Conservation (DOC) and at time of writing this cost $12.20 per person per night.

The campsites all have good toilets (some even flushing), fresh water, tables and several are only accessible from the water, others getting regular use by walkers. In total, there are twenty campsites to choose from, as well as a number of huts, though in high season it can get busy. Totaranui Beach campsite caters for up to 2,000 campers over Christmas and New Year. We visited in mid November and there were 3-4 people on all the smaller campsites. Although you must nominate your camping places for each night, there is leeway for kayakers if rough conditions make your intended destination difficult or dangerous to get to.

Normally rental kayaks are not allowed to go beyond Abel Head, but Freedom Kayaks allowed us to go as far as Separation Point, though beaches in the north of the park tend to be quite steep and there are often small, dumping waves which might require a good brace if you get caught.

So for five days we lazed, explored, paddled gently, walked, read, skinny-dipped and enjoyed the beauties of the park. Over that time we were entertained by a big pod of dolphins, who seemed to be competing with each other for which one could leap highest from the water, sleepy seals sunbaking on weather-sculptured rocks, many nesting sea birds and vast numbers of other New Zealand fauna and flora. As a family destination, or for a pleasant cruise with good friends or a partner, it would be a hard place to beat. And as for Mabel, we didn’t actually meet her, but I’m sure she is there somewhere.

A Personal Journey


“Expect mosquitoes, sand flies and March flies. Take plenty of repellant and sunscreen”. Owen’s warning nearly put me off the week-long 230km trip down the Murrumbidgee. No one said anything about rain. Gradually all eleven participants arrive at Nanangroe Reserve to a steady drizzle. Although Claudia and her 2½ year old twin boys won’t be paddling, the other eight still make up the largest group ever to take part in an expedition of this duration: Michelle and Owen, the trip leader, Cecilia and Geoff, Brian and Wendy, Peter, Claudia’s husband, and little old me.

Over dinner beside a roaring fire we decide on short day trips, with cars waiting at each campsite. Claudia kindly agrees to help shuffle cars, speeding up this process considerably.

“With the help of the current we should make the 30km by lunchtime”, quips Peter next morning. Breaking camp with two young boys in tow is no mean feat, so it’s 10.30am by the time we push off onto the muddy river. Signs of the recent flood are everywhere. Uprooted trees in the water, large branches and grass deposited high up in the river gums lining both banks.

Owen carefully guides us through the numerous rapids, slowing our progress to a crawl. Sea kayaks are understandably reluctant at being coaxed around tight bends, tree trunks and rocks ready to devour fragile hulls. To our credit, only a couple of us take a tumble all day. Lunch time passes with 20km still to go. The final kilometres into a stiff south-westerly, a low sun turning the water into liquid silver, are sheer agony. After six hours on the water shoulders ache, arms feel like lead and I’m numbed by the day’s happenings; please let it be over.

Over a cup of tea Brian and I discuss mutiny. Today wasn’t the fun we had signed up for. Tomorrow’s planned 42km promise to be sheer hell. Owen listens to our gripe and points out the options open to us: exactly zero. Resigned to our fate, Brian has the next day off and Geoff needs the day to get his car fixed. Locking your key in a car equipped with an immobilizing alarm system in a tiny country town is definitely to be avoided. The local auto electrician, not too fussed by Geoff’s predicament, promises to look at it later when he’s not so busy. I wonder if gentle Geoff risked a quiet expletive. If he did, by late afternoon he’s in full control while dealing with a broken tent pole.

The remaining five get an 8.00am start next morning. The river narrows; the current pushes us along at a good clip past tall she oaks and river gums. Birdlife is spectacular this early in the day. The raucous shrieks of cockatoos wheeling overhead become even noisier with the appearance of a pair of eagles. On our approach, flocks of large shags roosting in she oaks become agitated. Suddenly a bird drops dead into the water and disappears into the murk, then another. Another hits the water just metres from Michelle. We can’t help laughing at this odd spectacle. It’s raining shags! Adult birds are evidently trying to divert attention away from their young. Nothing could look more ungainly than this dead-bird-bluff. Michelle and Wendy decide to dedicate a Dropped Bird trophy to the person getting dunked the most on this trip.

Later, hundreds of ducks rise from the water and disappear around a bend ahead. I never tire looking at the magnificently patterned bark of the huge gums lining both banks. The odd fallen giant lying on its side revealing its root ball cause me to avert my gaze, much as when a gust of wind lifts a woman’s skirts. Some things are not meant to be seen. We reach our camp, somewhat worse for wear, around five o’clock.  The twins, though quite reserved, love the attention as we watch them eating their dinner with gusto. Something in their behaviour makes me squirm; what’s that about? My packet noodle dinner being truly forgettable, I head for bed.

After the first day’s paddle Owen, leading in his unobtrusive style, steps back as we take turns leading the group through each new rapid. Confidence builds quickly as our skills improve, resulting in much speedier progress. Rarely giving orders, Owen makes suggestions and asks for opinions in order to reach consensus. A great teacher, he knows when and how to present useful information. Intensely private, yet open and approachable, he’s a bit of an enigma. Moving through camp, limbs swinging as though attached by rubber bands, he’s the most relaxed person I know. I can’t imagine a more effective trip leader.

A few hours into day three brings us to the junction with the Tumut, whose waters are noticeably colder. The extra water lifts the current to at least 3km/hour. Our increasing fitness makes each day easier now. Just as we enjoy the faster waters, shooting down a rapid curving right, a huge log-jam or strainer bars our progress. For once, I’m last to enter a rapid and have time to react to the confusion ahead. Peter is caught under overhanging willow adjacent to the strainer, others have managed to park in a quiet eddy. I head for the by now crowded eddy just as Owen reaches Peter. One wrong move and he’d be caught and forced into the log-jam by the powerful current. No boat would survive that. Those in the eddy paddle upstream, cross the fast flowing main channel and make it into a bypass. Owen, moving hand over hand through the willow until out of the clutches of the fierce current, has his hands full extricating Peter. Soon we’re all cruising downstream again, aware of how close we’d come to disaster.

Gundagai Common, with hot showers and proximity to shops, is a welcome break from minimalist existence. Brian parks four metres from a tree, just the right distance for my hammock. Living out of his truck, I’ve been granted a generous amount of space for my gear. He boils the water while I supply the tea bags. A nap after lunch, then into town for afternoon coffee and some provisions. Later I join Wendy and Brian for dinner at the bowling club. The Thai stir-fry is great, with enough left over for a hearty breakfast next morning.

While pleased with my increasing fitness, I’m amazed at the stamina of our women paddlers. Slight of build by most standards, they’ve been keeping up with us men, but without the complaints; and then there’s Claudia. She surely is remarkable. Entertaining her sons Nikolas and Jonas all day, she builds camp in the afternoons, cooks dinner, gets the boys to bed, up early for the car shuffle, pulls down a large tent, then does it all again. A day’s paddling sounds like a romp in the park in comparison. Claudia, I dip my lid.

My habit of paddling way out front, waiting impatiently for everyone to catch up and promptly scooting off again into the distance, has been worrying me. Antisocial show-off comes to mind. Recalling the twins’ attention seeking, it falls into place: I’m just like them.  The morning of the fifth day Cecilia asks if I would do it all again. Looking up into the open faces of my companions, any doubt disappears.  “Yes, I would”, I reply, fighting back tears. It’s not about who’s fast or slow, expert or beginner. It’s about taking part, about valuing each person’s contribution both on and off the water. Knocking myself out paddling is okay, comparing myself with anyone else is not. With that insight my attitude changes, and for the next three days I have a ball.

Nikolas and Jonas have lost their initial reserve. Waving us off each morning, they greet us happily on our arrival at the new camp. Cecilia sings and tells them stories, Michelle and Wendy show them lots of interesting stuff while Claudia’s busy moving cars; we’ve become part of their family. Not a spoiled bone in their little bodies, they’re a delight to play with and just watch being boys.

We complete the 42km double section Wattabadgery to Green Flat to Oura Beach Reserve in six hours plus rest stops. Apart from me reversing onto the only rock in the middle of a long stretch of flat water, requiring minor repairs at camp that evening, today is all smooth paddling. Cecilia and Geoff move one step closer to winning the Drop-Dead trophy by just, well…falling in.

We’d been warned of the “Gummi Race” taking place today on the final 9km stretch into Wagga. I heard the bull-horn starting the race around 10am while still a couple of kilometres away. A high-clearance bridge formed the starting gate around which numerous strange looking craft were getting ready to join the fun. A powerboat headed straight for us manned by police. “The river is closed today for the races”, we’re informed by a constable.

My heart sinks as I contemplate the ramifications of that statement. After promising to keep to the right hand bank, moving in single file, we’re allowed to proceed. Gummi is German for rubber. Any craft is allowed in the race as long as it’s kept afloat by inner-tubes. Craft designs abound, from plain tubes of various sizes to large platforms with sun shades and elaborate seating arrangements. Most are moving only just faster than the current, promising to make this a long race. No one seems to mind; a great time is had by all.

Owen puts on a rolling demonstration for a large group of spectators and camera operators on the left river bank. I follow suit, fluffing the first attempt, getting up by the skin of my teeth on the next. Soon we arrive at Wagga Wagga Beach, not much of a beach but crowded nevertheless. Carefully inching past swimmers of all ages, we land for the final time.

A week on this river has left a mark on each of us. I can only guess at its effect on my companions, but know I’ll never forget them or the river. Its exciting rapids, obstacles, changes of direction and long quiet stretches mirror life itself.

Then you drop off your perch.