What am I doing out here?! It’s dark out, even the stars were tucked away behind a brick wall of clouds overhead. My kayak partner and I continued to zig zag across the Hauraki Gulf towards Auckland one stroke at a time. Logan, our fearless Auckland Sea Kayaks tour leader, forged ahead to lead the way while in another kayak, behind us, Lizzie and Sarah belted out in song as they paddled into the shadows of the wrong direction. Night time sea kayaking – it seemed – was not for me.
Just three hours before we dined happily on sirloin steaks in Rangitoto Island, Auckland’s youngest and largest volcano. An hour hike upwards to the summit offered a purple sunset sky brushed over the city skyline. We lingered to enjoy the view before making our descent down the unlit island, when we were still hopeful that a small boat would be waiting to ferry us back and save us from kayaking another hour and a half. Surely Logan was kidding when he said we would kayak back in the dark – it was strenuous enough to do it in broad daylight! Those Kiwis have such a sense of humor, though as our guide demonstrated throughout our time together we never really knew when he was joking or not. As it turned out he was not kidding and that’s how I found myself bobbing along in a banana yellow kayak surrounded by darkness with nothing to guide us but a bulb of a fairy light and questioned whether I’m adventurous enough to be in New Zealand.
We flew into the city of volcanoes (over fifty in fact) three days earlier and in a flash was initiated to Auckland via Burger Burger burgers, Brothers Beer beers and designer ice cream from Giapo. It was the start of autumn in New Zealand but the summer breeze clung on. In between meals and flat whites we tested our penchant for adrenaline-filled adventures.
New Zealand island of wine: Waiheke Island
The Island of Wine was our first port of call. Waiheke Island, just a forty minute ferry ride from Auckland, was initially home to a band of hermits and hippies in the 80s but is now renowned for its wine and hakuna matata vibe. “We’re a bunch of tree huggers” our EcoZip instructor remarked as she gave us a walking tour through the lush Waiheke forest we had just zip lined over.
I loved flying. It lasted only about 30 seconds at a time over three ziplines of increasing intensity but the thrill stayed with me well into our astounding high tea & bubbles lunch at Batch Winery – my elation was perhaps further amplified by wine tasting and clear views overlooking the island. I always suspected that island life suits me but now it is clear only an island of wine will do.
Adventures in the Bay of Islands
Further up north in the Bay of Islands, an enclave of 144 sub-tropical islands where the first European settlers reached New Zealand, is where my favorite part of our adventure awaited us. A quick forty five minute flight from Auckland got us into Kerikeri for a roadtrip in the Northland. We jammed to Taylor Swift as we passed flat farmlands, traces of Hawaiian flair and not many other cars.
The Bay of Islands has much to boast about considering its vineyards, 90 mile beach (a misnomer since it is really just 90 kilometers long) and deep rooted Maori culture & history. But it was the Ahipara sand dunes and Ultimate Sand Safaris excursion that got our heart rates drumming.
We strapped ourselves in a four person dune buggy, helmets on with GoPros blinking and Lizzie at the helm driving down a stretch of wet beach with our tour guide in another dune buggy leading the way. Our collective nervous energy bubbled along with every jagged bump and dip on ground but we squealed and laughed all the way up to the summit. (By the way, if at any point your Kiwi tour guide points to a sand dune hill in a 90 degree slope and tells you to step on the gas – it’s likely that he’s kidding but know that it is impossible to tell because they are all masters in monotone delivery and undetectable sarcasm.)
We’ve reached the part where my words and photos will fail me. I can tell you how exhilarating it was to sand board head first down a steep dune with only my feet acting as brakes. Or how hard I laughed and struggled as we all tried to book it back up the hill only to realize gravity and shifting sand does not work in our favor. It was only because we desperately wanted to toboggan down again that we persisted in reaching the top. But to get the full picture of our adventures in New Zealand and how much we all enjoyed the full experience this video does better justice:
New Zealand made me do it. All of it from zip lining to sand boarding and leading up to sky diving. That was my favorite standard excuse when friends asked how I gathered the courage to do it when I returned fresh faced and flushed from adrenaline country.
STA Travel offers a 21-day Active New Zealand package from £3149 per person including activities, accommodation, meals, a local guide and all transport between destinations and to/from activities. Add on return economy flights from London Heathrow from just £575 per person. The tour starts in Auckland and finishes in Wellington. Book now and travel before 30 June or between 07 November and 08 December 2016. To book visit www.statravel.com.