Thursday, April 14, 2011

Kayaking on Lake Manapouri

Each semester, my study abroad program (Brethren Colleges Abroad - BCA) pays for their students to go on some kind of adventure/cruise/trip/awesomeness.  I had been told about it from last semester’s crew and was really looking forward to it.  Within the first week of classes, we received an email from BCA with some good AND some bad news.  Unfortunately, I am only one of three BCA students at Otago this semester, making it impossible for them to book a cruise just for us.  Fortunately, this meant that BCA was instead paying for us to join a trip hosted by the Unipol (our Rec Centre).  After some back and forth, all three of us were signed up for the Sea-Kayaking trip to Lake Manapouri.  And after much anticipation, we finally hit the road - and water - this past weekend.

Friday was a travel day.  After finishing my last blog post, I frantically threw clothes and snacks into a backpack and ran over to the Unipol.  From there, we drove the four hours to Lake Manapouri, stopping for a dinner of takeaways.  (My first fish’n’chips - yum!)  We stayed overnight at a lodge site not 20 meters from the beach...

[Our little cabin, which housed all eight of us.  After a week of freezing rain, it was such a relief to cuddle up in my sleeping bag next to a nice, warm space heater... We prayed for good conditions over the weekend.]

We woke up Saturday morning to BEAUTIFUL weather!  We couldn’t believe our luck!  There were a few clouds in the sky, but they quickly melted away in the warm morning sun.  We made our way over to Fraser’s Beach, (where I did my cold morning dip several weeks ago), to meet our guide, Soph (as in, Sophie).  She outfitted us with wet suits, polypropylene tops, fleeces, paddle jackets, the works!  After a brief instructional safety talk and a not-so-brief attempt to jam all of our gear into the kayaks, we were in the water!

[What a PERFECT day!  The water was as smooth and clear as glass (we could often see all the way to the bottom) and the sun was beaming!  It didn’t take long for my shoulders to start aching, but I barely noticed it as I gaped at the scenery around me.]

[There’s me and my paddle partner, Gareth from Ohio/New York.  Team Yellow Submarine!  We got along great, spending most of our time reminiscing about home and talking about movies, books, etc.  I have some kayaking experience, but none in a sea-kayak.  Gareth controlled the direction with pedals connected to the rudder in the back.  I was in charge of navigation aka seeing the rocks before we hit them.  We made a pretty good team.]
(Photo by Lindsay D.)

[Welcome to Fiordland!  The clouds were quickly clearing out, but not before I caught this shot...]

[To the right, you’ll see a big, tall mountain that I can’t recall the name of, but it is not capped in snow - it’s actually sand deposits.  To the left is a smaller peak called The Monument.  Little did I know I would be scaling it later that day...]

After a few hours of paddling and checking out the views, we chose a nice sunny beach for a lunch stop.  We dragged our kayaks onto shore and tore through the food Unipol had packed for us.  The weather remained almost too perfect while we lounged in the sand and went for a quick dip in the lake.

[Our lunch stop]

[A nice shot of me in my kayaking get-up next to the Yellow Submarine]
(Photo by Lindsay D.)

Before we dozed off in the nice afternoon sun, we crammed back into our kayaks and made our way into Hope Arm, the part of the lake where we would be spending the night.  (This is when I realized that my camera was dead - as were my back-up batteries! I was able to catch a fwe more shots, but this explains why I have so many borrowed pictures...)  Soph stopped us here and there to give us quick history/environmental areas about different parts of the lake.  But before we got too far along, Soph decided to experiment with a new team building activity.  While holding onto each other and our kayaks, we all managed to stand up in our boats without getting the least bit wet!

[Successful team building exercise.  I’m the second one in from the left.]
(Photo compliments of Lindsay D.)

Before it got too late, we pulled onto another sunny beach and made camp.  I paired up with Lindsay, another BCAer I had met in San Francisco on the way over to NZ.  This was Lindsay’s very first camping/lake kayaking experience, so I helped her set up the tent and roll out her sleeping bag.  She kept a pretty good attitude, despite the tough hike that was about to come next...

Before settling down for dinner, Soph led us over to the Monument, shown in a picture above.  We bushwhacked through the woods, up steep forested slopes, and then were faced with vertical rock faces that, yes, we were expected to climb in order to see the magnificent views.

[After pulling myself up some of the rocks, I thought we were there.  The view was already fantastic!  It didn’t take me long to realize that everyone else had moved on above me...]
(Photo by Jack W.)

[Part of the track was SO steep and made up of too big rocks that they installed a chain (on left) in order for us to go any further.  As in my shoulders weren’t already burning...]
(Photo by Jack W.)

[Lake Manapouri from the top!]

[More of Fiordland and Lake Manapouri]

[Me perched on a rock, just taking in the view...]
(Photo by Steph S.)

We VERY slowly made our way back down as the sun set.  We got back in time to grab our headlamps and begin our fantastic dinner of ravioli, sauce and salad.  Once we were full and cleaned up, we made our campfire and swapped stories.  Soph taught us my new favorite Kiwi trick - the TimTam Slam.  TimTams are these YUMMY cookies sold over here.  They’re layers of chocolate wafers, and then more chocolate, and come in many flavors.  You make yourself a big cup of hot chocolate, bite off opposing corners of the TimTam, stick it into your drink, and then suck up through it like a straw.  Once the hot chocolate hits your tongue, quickly shove the TimTam into your mouth.  Gooey, chocolatey heaven!  After a couple of those, I made my way to bed early so that I would be well-rested for another full day of kayaking on Sunday...

We woke to slightly cloudier skies than the previous day, but it was still looking nice.  We quickly packed up camp and got back on the water.  We paddled deeper into Hope Arm and we took our time checking out the beaches at the end. Then all of a sudden the wind picked up and our kayaks started violently rocking.  The skies stayed pretty clear, but soon we all had our rain jackets on and we struggled to get turned around in the water.  As the front person, I began to swallow a LOT of lake water, (no worries - we were encouraged to drink it!)  We attempted to make it out of the bay we were in, but it took us 45 minutes to do what we had done previously in ten.  It wasn’t long before we weren’t moving at all, despite our frantic paddling attempts.  Instead, we ‘rafted up’ by pulling our kayaks alongside one another (to avoid capsizing) and rode the waves back to beaches we had been at nearly an hour before.  We pulled everything onto dry land and ran to an empty hut nearby in the woods.  Soph used her satellite phone to ring for help, and thankfully her boss was able to send us a rescue boat.  When it arrived, we had to kayak out to it, then stand in our boats and climb onto their deck.  The crazy wind and waves were NOT helpful - but thankfully we had practiced standing!

[The waves look like nothing in this picture!  But I promise you, down in a two-person kayak, they were pretty scary.]

The boat took us safely back to shore, where our Unipol escort came to meet us.  We packed everything way, put some warm, dry clothes on, and left for Dunedin!

[A picture of the crew.  Right to left: Julia (Germany), Colleen (CA), me, Lindsay (VA), Jack (TX - goes to Juniata, too!), Soph (NZ), Gareth (OH), Steph (NY), and Tim (Denmark)]
(Photo compliments of Steph S.)

We got back a little early thanks to the unexpected wind.  It was such an AMAZING trip - the whole way home I was smiling and wiggling in my seat.  I could not believe I just went sea (er, lake) - kayaking!  It had been such a big adventure - a much bigger adventure than some of my other trips.  When we were attempting to paddle out of the bay the first time, I was a little scared, but not upset.  I knew Soph would figure it out, but I was also too distracted by it all to actually be worried about the situation.  While another nice day like Saturday would have been cool, the craziness of Sunday added a completely different element to the trip.  A very wild, enjoyable element.  

The only bad thing about the trip were the sandflies.  They were EVERYWHERE.  I came back absolutely covered in bites - I had 26 on my hands alone!  I even had to visit the pharmacy on Monday because the itching kept me up all of Sunday night.  But they were just a part of the environment that we had to deal with.  I wouldn’t trade the trip for anything.

[The sunset as we drove back to Dunedin.  The perfect setting for the end of a perfect trip.  We even all sang along to Coldplay as we rolled into town. (I told them the music would help my carsickness :) )  Couldn’t have asked for anything better...]
(Photo by Jack W.)


  1. Just when I think you cannot possibly top the last adventure, you post another amazing story with simply incredible photos! I don't think we ever imagined your visit there would be this fantastic ~ so happy for you! And look at you ordering fish'n'chips ~ am I going to know you upon your return?!? So proud of you for making the most of this experience. Cannot possibly imagine, especially with knowing your plans, what the next stories will bring. Penguins or no penguins ~ you will remember this forever. Loving you, Mom...

  2. These are such beautiful photo. Seeing the boats makes me look forward to our annual Memorial Day float trip. Dry clothes the best when you disembark. Keep posting your fun times.