Kayaking Whale Island

The rain couldn't stop this smile - finally made it to Whale Island!

The rain couldn't stop this smile - finally made it to Whale Island!

Rain jackets with hoods up sums up a January summer in New Zealand these last few years. We had a big storm just a couple of days ago, so I knew the water would still be a mucky soup of driftwood, but the rain stayed with us as we kayaked around Whale Island.

Whale Island (Moutohora) is a dormant volcano (although there are active fumaroles) about 9km offshore from my hometown of Whakatane. It is currently a Department of Conservation Nature Reserve, and landing on the island is by special permit only and subject to strict quarantine conditions. Owner and operator of KG Kayaks, Kenny McCracken, is allowed to land on the island, and the tour includes landing on a couple of beaches, which includes Hot Water Beach on Onepu/Sulphur Bay.

The tour begins at the Whakatane Yacht Club, where Baz, the skipper of Centaurus, a 38-foot sailing catamaran, took us through the equipment quarantine. I haven’t been out at sea for a few years, so I made sure to bring Fisherman’s Friend with me in case I got seasick. It took about 45 minutes to get out to the island - which always feels longer on the way out.

I was first onto the water with my kayak - they are purpose built ocean kayaks which I have used in previous trip with KG Kayaks at Ohiwa Harbour (which were much calmer waters I must add). This was my first time ocean kayaking, and consider myself very much an amateur. It took about 15 minutes to get everyone off the catamaran - which gave us all plenty of time to get used to the conditions.

As we kayaked past the seal colony, there was a distinctive, pungent smell from the rocks. The swell picked up significantly and to be honest, I enjoyed the challenge. However as we were about to round the bay and head to the other side of the island, our guide, Kenny, made the call to turn around. I didn’t realise how much the swells had taken their toll on a couple of members of the group - so we decided to head for calmer waters instead.

We landed at Onepu/Sulphur Bay at high tide so couldn't dig our own hot pools on the beach. This is a short walk up a marked track to show you the path to the old quarry.

We landed at Onepu/Sulphur Bay at high tide so couldn't dig our own hot pools on the beach. This is a short walk up a marked track to show you the path to the old quarry.

We landed at Onepu/Sulphur Bay at high tide, so wasn’t able to dig our own hot pool on the beach. I did notice a lot of kelp had washed ashore as well a few blue bottle jellyfish. The group took a short walk inland, and the landscape reminded me of White Island.

After the tour, we had homebaking and hot drinks onboard Centaurus. After a few hours in the rain, the body (and stomach) definitely enjoyed it! I’ve been on a few tours now with Kenny, and his wife (the master baker) always comes up with the goods - loved your apple muffins by the way.

KG Kayaks operates from Port Ohope, Ohope Beach - other guided tours include: Moonlight (Ohiwa Harbour), Ohiwa Explorer (Ohiwa Harbour) and Coastal Adventure (Ohope/Whakatane coastline). I’ve done the Moonlight kayaking and highly recommend it. Kenny also shares a lot of local and historical knowledge which, even for a local, I found really interesting. They also have freedom hire options. For more information on services and pricing, check out their website.

ProSail Skippered Yacht Charters (Centaurus) run skippered charters for up to 12 people. For more info on services and pricing, check out their website.

Centaurus, a 38-foot sailing catamaran, is skippered by Baz from ProSail Skippered Yacht Charters.

Centaurus, a 38-foot sailing catamaran, is skippered by Baz from ProSail Skippered Yacht Charters.