Poor Knights Crossing 2019 "the single most epic thing I've ever done!"

After a paddle with my Tassie Moving Targets group on Tuesday morning, I got myself to the airport and on my way to NZ via Melbourne. On arriving in Melbourne, I found that my flight to NZ had been cancelled and I was now leaving early the next day. Lucky for me I had time up my sleeve, and other than collecting my car and ski, my plans for the next day were very loose. After being put up in a hotel for the night, and a good sleep I was in the air again, and on my way.

Everything went smoothly with the collection of the van that I had organised (bright green and purple!) and it was an easy drive to Fergs’ Kayaks to go and collect my Epic V10 sport that I hired for the week. There is something very cool about being in a different county and still getting to paddle a boat that you are used to! It was great to spend a bit of time in the shop and get some local knowledge of areas to paddle, and an idea of how long my drive that day was going to take. So, with my boat securely attached to the roof of the van I was heading over the Harbour Bridge and north toward Tutukaka! 

Stopping at Langs Beach for the night on my way north, I got to Tutukaka early on Thursday. The Tutukaka township is very small, and based beside the mariner. It has a hotel, a small general store, a couple of galleries, dive charters and a café/pub. First stop was for coffee…...and it was very good coffee!

For my first paddle of the trip I decided to head out from the mariner. There was a strong northerly that was getting stronger, so my plan was to play it safe and get the travelling stiffness out of my body. It was great to get off the water, having played in the rebound, wind and swell, feeling good about my boat and the conditions. A good solid session that was made easier being in an area that is truly beautiful. The colour of the water an amazing turquoise, and it felt warm, especially coming from the colder water of Tasmania, It was also great to paddle out of the bay, look east and for the first time, see the Poor Knights Islands and how far away they appear – I’ll be there in 2 days!

Generally speaking the Northland area in September has consistent, but not overly strong wind, daytime temperatures in the high teens to low 20’s and minimal rainfall. My first two days there saw an abnormal weather pattern that bought stronger wind, so I went for a run instead. 6km north of Tutukaka is the township of Matapouri, with the most beautiful bay and beach. I ended up having 3 paddles here, it turned out to be one of my favourite places to paddle from. As I had decided not to paddle today, this was where I ran from. A great little track took me onto a headland that gave fantastic views all the way up and down the coast, and across to the Islands. I spent quite a while at the lookout, watching the water, watching the clouds and admiring where I was. Standing this high on an exposed point making me feel like I was on holiday, and getting excited about the race.

After leaving the headland I headed down a track to Whale Bay, somewhere that my pre-trip plans had a ‘must do’ next to. It was stunning, just like in the brochure, but unlike the brochure image, it was wild! The wind blowing straight into the bay had it looking so dynamic and dramatic. For me watching a wild windswept beach is one of my favourite things to do. Heading back up the track with a smiling heart, I retraced my steps back to my car, downhill all the way back to the beach. I felt thankful that I had running in my training program for this event, as this mini adventure had been fun!

Staying at the holiday park in Tutukaka meant that I could get showered dry and warm, then walk to the pub for registration, dinner and the briefing. Race director Tim Eves has an absolute passion for this region, the Islands and the environment. He chooses to have the ‘Poor Knights Crossing’ event plastic free. The registration bag is now in my collection of calico shopping bags, no race stickers or numbers (that can potentially end up in the sea), actually nothing in the bag that wasn’t essential. I did love that the pack included the obligatory bright orange Tee, and as a first in my experience we all received a tree. Yes a tree! The Kowhai tree is locally significant as well as having meaning. When you receive a Kowhai tree from someone that person is showing you that they respect you and have trust in your abilities and judgement. I do wish I could have bought it back home with me!

Onto meeting new paddlers and having dinner before the briefing. What I discovered is that most of the paddlers are paddling waka (Outriggers) not surfski, and that the connection to their land is incredibly strong. This was a briefing like no other I’ve attended. The first part was a Maori welcome and blessing, and despite not knowing a word that was said, I knew it was special and had a lot of meaning. You couldn’t help but be moved by it. Then on to the usual ‘need to know’ information. It was long, but had my attention the whole time. 

As I was drifting off to sleep the wind was howling and it was raining…...just like the night before I completed Mauritius Ocean Classic last year. Yes, I was nervous about embarking on something I had not previously done, but I had done the training, the forecast was within the realm of achievable for me, and I was as ready as I could be for this challenge. I love it when I decide something is worth attempting, scare myself silly, then achieve it!

Race day dawned mild, and the wind had dropped to the forecast. Scrutineering of mandatory gear and ski was from 8am. First wave of paddlers off at 9.00am, then the rest of us starting at  9.30am.

Here I was on the start line, actually feeling controllably nervous, about to start a race that was going to challenge me and also make me grow as a paddler......the feeling when I finished was incredible! Completing the event really deserves its own article so please head here to check out my full race report.

Waking up after achieving something that is truly challenging, both physically and mentally is quite an incredible feeling. The postrace dinner and celebrations were relaxed and fun, with the obligatory beers and banter....a night to remember. Poor Knights Crossing will stick in my memory alongside the MOC as a significant moment in my paddling life. I was certainly fatigued, but also full of energy. And I still had a couple of days left to paddle more, and see more of the Northland region!  A trip north to Russell, a township around the Bay of Islands giving me a taste of places to visit again. Beautiful, picturesque driving, fabulous cafés and art work, good wine (just one glass over lunch) and then the question of where to stay that night. I found myself back at Matapouri, where I managed to fit in one last paddle, sitting in the mouth of the bay, one last look over at the islands, this time it was warm, sunny and still…...I was pleased we didn’t have it this still on race day!

I am really looking forward to heading back to this area next year, experiencing the warmth of the NZ people and getting to paddle along coastline that is simply stunning!

Roz Barber, Next Level Kayaking

More Poor Knights Crossing 2019 articles and pictures from Roz:

First day in Tutukaka 

Pre event nerves

Post race high!

Full event report

If there is magic on
this planet, it is
contained in water.

Loren Eiseley