A group of Far North youngsters embarked on a waka journey from Cape Reinga to Whangarei as part of their mental and physical preparation for the upcoming waka ama championships in Rarotonga.
The kids of Kaihoe o Ngati Rehia, a recently formed waka ama club, are determined to compete at Vaka Eiva later this year.
But there's not a lot of money in their hometown of Te Tii, a Maori settlement in the northern Bay of Islands, so they resorted to some fairly extreme measures to pay their way to the Cook Islands.
Chief among those was a three-day paddle on open ocean from the Cape to Whangarei - a fundraiser and the ultimate training session.
The 12 young kaihoe (paddlers) were backed by some top adult paddlers and two support boats.
One of the experienced paddlers kept a diary of the awesome paddle. Get an insight into their journey.
Thursday 4th October 2012, 77.28km
The planning and preparation was over. We all met at Whitiora Marae, Te Tii, for a short powhiri before travelling north to Maitai Bay.
Kaumatua Arena MUNRO blessed the t-shirts we were all going to wear and spoke to everyone about the journey. Hemi Wi Epiha spoke of the epic voyage in 1990 on Mataatua from Mangonui to Waitangi. He said that people still remembered that voyage, and that the people of Ngati Rehia were once again preparing to travel by sea. After karakia we were on our way.
At Maitai Bay the waka were lashed, and local kaumatua Timoti FLAVELL gave another karakia and blessed the waka.
The wind was blowing hard from the North West so it was decided to use a large number of experienced crew for the first leg, 38km to Taupo Bay. At Taupo Bay we would meet the boys who would do the next leg with a few adults. Our huge land crew took off to prepare kai and pick up our second contingent of paddlers. It was a daunting task to paddle into the middle of Doubtless Bay, with such a strong wind and swell, and barely a sight of the southernmost point. The first leg saw us riding some huge wind swells which took the waka up to 17 km an hour, as we threaded through the ocean swells.
We made good time and arrived as scheduled at Taupo Bay. Some of our more experienced young paddlers had proved themselves well up to the task. Both waka stayed strong and fast throughout the morning. All our blades were locked up, and in time.
There was time for a quick chat and lunch at Taupo Bay. One of the waka had been accompanied by a pod of dolphins which really blew the boys minds. It had been daunting to disappear into the middle of Doubtless Bay with only the dimmest sight of land. Dark clouds had also formed on our Northern flank. Everyone commented on how similar the land mass looked when it was unfamiliar and so far away. It would become common for us to see land points so far away they were almost invisible, with the knowledge that we would have to paddle beyond them, before we had finished.
The next leg saw a new crew of boys on the waka. The weather had broken but the wind was still blowing and swell had lined up. We were all amazed at how the boys attacked what was still a significant ocean swell. The stern of the two waka were jumping in the air as the boys pushed themselves onto the ocean swells. Everyone was yelling out and enjoying the sight. We all now knew that it would be possible to complete our journey. The boys were up to it.
To give everyone a paddle we had divided the second leg into two, being two sets of three adults and three young men. We stopped at Matauri Bay and once again changed crews. The ocean swell was still running and we were making great time. Our scheduled finish was Tapuaetahi. Not far out from Matauri Bay the wind shifted to the South West. The waka had taken a straight line to Tapuaetahi and were a long way from land. The wind was hitting us straight on the nose. The boys were presented with their first big challenge. A rising head wind and no other way to get home than to punch into it. Even the support boats were struggling into the stiff breeze. Once again the boys showed the strength and courage to stick with the plan and push for home. They arrived exhausted and cold.
We were picked up by our land crew and taken to Whitiora marae at Te Tii for the night. Our supporters had made a beautiful meal which everyone tucked into. After dinner we had a meeting. We congratulated the boys, told them of our plans for the morning.
Friday 5th October 2012, 66km
The next day was an early start. We met at 6.00am for karakia on Tapuaetahi Beach with our kaumatua, and headed out into a dark sea. As some of us were locals we knew this part of the coast well and were able to navigate our way into open water.
We pushed hard out to Lion Rock and the as the sun rose began our push to Cape Brett. Once again it was a daunting sight to barely pick out Piercy Island (Motukokako) in the distance knowing that we had a significant paddle after that point.
As we crossed from North of Nine Pin the wind began to rise. Once again we were blessed with a wind at our back. It was running slightly on our port stern allowing us to neatly fit our waka into the swells, pushing hard for the Cape. Working with two six man waka was proving a benefit as all six paddlers pushed against the accompanying canoe.
At the Cape we couldn't resist paddling through the hole in the Rock, a unique experience for waka ama paddlers. The call to the paddlers to change sides with their paddler rang out through the cave. Then it was off to Whangamumu for a change of paddlers.
The remaining boys had been picked up by the huge launch which had met us in the middle of the bay. The boys had been shown around the launch and had been given the helm by the skipper. By the time they were ready to paddle in Whangamumu, the skipper was sure the boys had emptied the boat of food and were looking really at home.
In the protection of Whangamumu we changed paddlers and the boys were off. We were down to a core group of paddlers and the boys would have to paddle for a sustained period of time. Out of the lee of Whangamumu the waka was suddenly fully powered up with some spirited paddling, and plenty of swell to catch. We headed straight for Bland Bay with the two waka racing each other over what was at least a two hour paddle.
Inside Bland Bay the boys beached the waka. We met up with our land crew and the waka were transported overland to Whangaruru while our support boats went around the headland. Off the boys went for the last leg for the day to 'The Jetty' in the upper harbour.
We were met by local iwi who took us to our accommodation at 'The Farm' where we were given a powhiri and a beautiful meal. Everyone set up for the night. Our supporters made another beautiful snack as the boys played volleyball with some of the adults, while the older paddlers rested and chatted. Preparing enough liquids and food for such sustained paddling was proving a big job for our support crew. Another big job was keeping enough fuel on board our support boats and keeping them safe in unfamiliar harbours.
After dinner we had another meeting. We told the boys how proud we were of them, and what we expected of them the next day. Once again we asked for another lift in intensity from the boys.
Saturday 6th October 2012
Once again Saturday was an early start, at 6.00am. W
e went down to the jetty and the boys jumped straight onto a following swell. The boys were growing in confidence and their newfound teamwork was adding up to additional speed in the canoe. Just inside of Rimariki Island the boys once again encountered a huge pod of dolphins who tracked the boys for several kilometres. It was great to weave our way through the pinnacle rocks North of Whananaki. None of the adults could believe it when the boys arrived at Kowharewa Bay after 38 kilometres of paddling, neck and neck, racing each other with their blades at sprint pace, and no one faltering. They had delivered the extra intensity we had asked of them.
After lunch the adults took over, due to a strong forecast South west wind. Due to some challenging conditions the waka made an unscheduled stop in the Pataua River, which was more than made up for by a visit to one of the locals' spa pools to warm up and dry our paddling clothes.
Sunday 7th October 2012
Sunday dawned with a start scheduled for 10am. We met up with an support crew from our host club for the Whangarei leg, Parihaka. The canoes were lashed as 12 man double hulls. We set the teams as evenly as we could for a run up the Whangarei Harbour. The race was close with the lead changing hands several times. The boys once again showed that they could handle whatever the adults threw at them. At Kissing Point we stopped to put all the boys in one leading waka. We attached the taonga that had been given our Ngati Rehia waka ama club by Kaitaia's Nga Hoe Horo. The taonga is a carving from a piece of wood that had fallen off Tane Mahuta, a taonga that originated from our host club Parihaka.
We paddled off behind the boys up the remaining part of the Harbour to a hero's welcome at the footbridge in the town basin. The boys raised their paddles in salute to their whanau and friend's applause, and the karanga calling us in.
Then it was round the corner to the Whangarei Swimming Pool for a powhiri by Hatea Kapa Haka group. It was spine tingling to see the boys with their paddles raised high, and the kapa haka group singing waiata prior to us paddling in. The significance of what we had achieved was really starting to sink in.
There were photos, kisses, and hugs from whanau and friends, and then a meal inside the pool complex. Everyone who participated felt part of something significant. It marked a return to the early days of waka ama where people were brought together by a collective love of paddling. When we left, everyone knew that we now shared a bond that was unique to us as a group, and would live with us forever.