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Dispatches: A Daring Sea Kayak Expedition Round New Zealand’s Wild and Barren Stewart Island

On the backside of New Zealand is one other, smaller lesser-known island—mendacity on the sting of the infamously tough ‘roaring 40s’ winds on the coronary heart of the Southern Ocean. It’s known as Stewart Island, a wild and unforgiving place, stunningly lovely, distant and barren. In 2020, within the thick of the Southern Hemisphere winter (with worldwide journey locked down), I led a trio of sea kayakers on an expedition nearer to to house. We got down to see if we had what it took to outlive the barrage of climate in an unsupported and unaided mid-winter circumnavigation.

Listed below are the six largest classes we realized alongside the way in which.

Stewart Island New Zealand sea kayak expedition
Mike Dawson

1. You’ll be able to at all times push your self additional

A circumnavigation of Stewart Island is a bodily grueling journey. It’s a tricky proposition even for probably the most skilled kayaker. Day after day we battled towards sturdy currents, relentless winds and swells. A routine consisting of over eight hours in a laden 200-pound kayak, pushing it additional towards our objective, stroke after stroke, hour after hour.

New Zealand Stewart Island
Stewart Island sits beneath New Zealand’s South Island, uncovered on to the Southern Ocean. Google

Just a few days in, we discovered ourselves with a battle on our arms. The waves and wind had subsided, and it was our likelihood to go for it. Our meals was rationed for 10 days and we had already used 5 with out even getting 1 / 4 of the way in which across the island. With excellent situations this was a important day for the success of the expedition.

Stewart Island New Zealand
Google

We set off early, rounding the Northwest Cape and heading south, out of the Foveaux Strait and into the Southern Ocean correct. A large day as we handed by lovely, distant shoreline en route for Doughboy Bay—a secure harbor for the night time. Our drained our bodies and minds had been distracted as we flew by the bays of Lengthy Harry, the towering pillars of the East Ruggedy Mountains and had been sucked south via the currents of the inside passage, bypassing the huge Mason Bay—an 8-kilometer-long white-sand seaside that pulls a few of the most epic (and remoted) surf within the nation. This direct line noticed us over 10kms out to sea, the island barely seen within the distance as we had been handled to a slight tail swell and the wind swung.

Stewart Island New Zealand sea kayak expedition
Mike Dawson

Our our bodies started to ache, power ranges dropping, the saltwater blistering our arms—however you possibly can at all times proceed. We had been bold, however we knew that if we didn’t push on, the expedition was over.

Stewart Island New Zealand sea kayak expedition
Mike Dawson

2. Persistence is a very powerful device

As the times progressed it turned apparent our largest problem was time. The notorious Westerly that the roaring 40s are recognized for had picked up. Our progress was slowed to a standstill. For 4 days we had been always pushed again by the climate. Our progress alongside the northern coast was minuscule, always slowed by the gusting Westerlies.

Stewart Island New Zealand sea kayak expedition
Mike Dawson

Finally we sought shelter on the aptly named Christmas Village Hut to attend out the storm, recalculate our timeframe, and constantly rely our meals.

Stewart Island New Zealand sea kayak expedition
Mike Dawson

As the times dragged on, the probability of a profitable expedition was getting decrease and decrease. It was vital to be affected person—to attend the storm out. As Shackleton famously stated, “higher be a reside donkey than a useless lion.” We hoped for nice climate however deliberate for the worst. It was mid-winter in any case.

Stewart Island New Zealand sea kayak expedition
Mike Dawson

In hindsight, this time gave us the chance to discover. A second to take pleasure in the place we had been and wander inland and expertise the magical forests that blanket the island. As a substitute of dashing on by.

Stewart Island New Zealand sea kayak expedition
Mike Dawson

3. Timing is all the pieces

On Day 8 we reached the crux of the expedition: the Southern Cape. This was probably the most inhospitable and distant a part of the journey. Towering bluffs which were slammed relentlessly by the highly effective Southern Ocean swells created from raging Antarctic storms. Two storms brewed to the west and we deliberate to time our rounding to perfection—sneaking between every system. It was very important to get us farther south to a greater staging floor. We labored our means nearer, hiding behind scattered Islands to Nickleson Harbour. Right here we waited for the swell to subside earlier than attempting. It is a wild place and there was no means we wished to move out in something however manageable situations. In the future later, the situations seemed good, with variable winds and manageable southwest swell. We went for it and 7 hours later we arrived on the shelter and great thing about Port Pegasus, within the shadow of the enormous granite domes of Gog and Magog. We dropped a line, caught a fish and relaxed after what was a reasonably huge day paddling previous probably the most epic coastal panorama conceivable.

Stewart Island New Zealand sea kayak expedition
Mike Dawson

4. Belief your instinct.

It’s pitch black—darkness so suppose it blanketed us utterly. It radiated the sounds of the Southern Ocean. We couldn’t even see the water, however we may hear its roar. With just one factor to can we pushed off, leaving the security of Doughboy Bay, and entered probably the most uncovered part of the circumnavigation: the ten kilometers of shoreline earlier than Straightforward Harbour.

Stewart Island New Zealand sea kayak expedition
Mike Dawson

This was a must-make transfer of the expedition. The west coast is relentless. Nobody lives right here, nobody visits. And there’s a motive it’s so remoted. It’s an in inhospitable place, wild and rugged—a shoreline always bashed by the roaring 40s mixed with big waves reaching their first landmass since being drummed up in Antarctica. Towering rocky bluffs imply there is no such thing as a secure place to move again to shore. We had been uncovered—utterly on the mercy of the oceans and our capacity to battle them south.

Inside moments of setting off, the swell was constructing, the wind constructing and getting large—actually large. The wind beat us down, 40 knots of bitterly chilly southerly proper within the face. It’s powerful to make progress and the group was exhausted. Dialog developed to simply important shouts mentioning obstacles. The large rollers shifting in from the southwest had been smashing our laden boats round, earlier than crashing into the west-coast bluffs and refracting again, making a turmoiled mess of water. My sea kayak was constantly threatening to flip, and with each large set, solely bought pushed nearer to the unforgiving cliffs.

Mike Dawson Stewart Island
Mike Dawson

The icy, inhospitable waters of the Southern Ocean had been alive, and we had been in our factor, possibly, working the gauntlet, making an attempt to move 10 kilometers of uncovered shoreline, making a beeline for the South Cape and secure harbor, between two storm programs in our effort get south, and hold any possibilities of rounding the South Cape alive. There was no turning again, no fail secure, no choice however to proceed. We wanted to get to shelter and quick. Eyeballing the shoreline, we noticed the channel into Kundy Island. We crept towards the shore, getting surfed down big, breaking swells that had been peaking with the opposing present and shallower waters. Two kilometers later, we pulled into the shelter behind the island. Immediately in calmer waters and will loosen up. The day was one for the books.

Stewart Island New Zealand sea kayak expedition
Mike Dawson

4. Embrace your environment

As we rounded the South Cape, the ocean had gone quiet, the wind dropped—from a raging beast to a caring buddy. We had been on the southern tip of New Zealand’s third largest Island. A great distance from wherever; it was time to simply sit again and revel in. Embrace the second. Not a single signal of civilization. Simply us, the ocean and its unbelievable creatures. We labored our means north, exploring bays, seashores and Islands.

Stewart Island New Zealand sea kayak expedition
Mike Dawson

I ended for a second … let the group paddle forward, simply to take all of it in. To take pleasure in the place we had been.

Mike Dawson New Zealand
The creator, soaking it in

 

5. It’s at all times value it

As soon as crossing the Southern Cape, we discovered ourselves within the relative security of the Jap Coast. Increasingly more fishing boats started to appear, working the sheltered shoreline to feed the worldwide demand southern crayfish. It appeared as if we had been on the end line, that it was plain crusing to get again to Oban—Port Pegasus to Lords River, Lords River to Oban. However in actuality, these had been two big, bodily taxing days. Leaving Port Pegasus, a pod of dolphins surfaced and began swimming towards us, main us out of the harbor and again into the ocean. They stayed with us, swimming alongside our boats, guiding us towards Lords River. Lords River is really spectacular—some of the lovely locations on the journey. The river snakes its means inland. Arriving on nightfall, a cray boat pulled in and a bag of crayfish was tossed to the seaside subsequent to us. Dinner was served: six prime-sized NZ cray tails. This was to be our final night time earlier than one other large however achievable day would see us in Oban. It wouldn’t be lengthy earlier than our journey can be over, earlier than Oban would seem on the horizon, earlier than we pull the boats as much as their last resting spot—and head to the pub for a beer!

 

6. Seize the second

For me capturing an expedition is as a lot of a problem as getting it achieved. To inform the story of being on the market with out taking away from the genuine expertise of simply having fun with it. Stewart Island was a spot the place we had been alone and remoted. Simply us and nature, exploring someplace new, untouched and delightful.

Mike Dawson sea kayaking Stewart Island
Mike Dawson

For me the query is at all times, ‘What digicam setup so as to add to the monstrosity of apparatus packed into the boats?’ In the end, within the wild world of journey pictures, much less is normally extra. The easier, extra numerous equipment, the higher. Stewart Island taught me the significance of the minimalistic strategy to documentation: a setup that will get the shot however doesn’t sluggish the group down, that’s accessible to shoot and fast to get taking pictures ensures the power to seize the second.

Stewart Island New Zealand sea kayak expedition
Mike Dawson

Capturing from a kayak is a harmful recreation. There’s nothing fairly as daunting as taking off the spray deck of your kayak far out within the Southern Ocean. Sacrificing the one factor stopping the icy chilly sea water from dashing in, sinking my brilliant little kayaking simply to get the shot—to entry my digicam, balanced precariously between my legs. And there have been loads of photographs missed. Magical moments on the water the place I couldn’t dare get my digicam out, not to mention take a hand off the paddle. Scary moments the place the only focus was survival.

However that’s all a part of the sport—of sharing the story.

Stewart Island New Zealand sea kayak expedition
Mike Dawson

 


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