History of Sea Kayaking in NZ

This page has been designed for quick browsing through the history with short summaries of each milestone, to read more about any particular milestone either click the heading of the milestone or the “Read More” button. If you would like to read the complete content as a single continuous page then please click here.

Elsdon Best’s classic treatise The Maori Canoe, first published in 1925 and reprinted in 1976, contains detailed descriptions of the construction and types of vessels used by the Maori.

Vaka Moana edited by K.R. Howe, 2006, reprint 2008, has a list of Further Reading concerning canoes coming to and being used in New Zealand.

Pathway of the Birds: The Voyaging Achievements of Māori and Their Polynesian Ancestors by Andrew Crowe, published 2018 explains how islands were found in the Pacific from a distance and why New Zealand probably existed and was worth looking for.

Since the late 1970’s the level of interest in sea kayaking has grown steadily. Several kayak clubs and networks, including Auckland Canoe Club, Bay Association of Sea Kayakers (BASK), Hauraki Kayak Club, Northland Canoe Club, Nelson Canoe Club, Ruahine White Water Club and Canterbury Sea Kayak Network, regularly include offshore trips in their paddling calendars.

The following history of sea kayaking, refers to European-style canoes and kayaks.
In the following, years given are the start of an event or trip.

The Wellington Tainui Club, founded in 1870, is recorded as the first canoe club in New Zealand. From 1880 on, members made regular holiday trips to the Pelorus and Queen … 1870 Read More »
When the Hokitika Canoe Club was formed on 25 August 1886, its first commodore was F.E. Clark who, 20 years earlier, had constructed the first Rob Roy style canoe seen in the … 1886 Read More »
George Park, an enthusiastic member of the Hokitika Club, who built up paddling experience on the West Coast between Okarito and Greymouth, built two Rob Roy style canoes, Mermaid and Sunbeam. He and … 1890 Read More »
The first solo Cook Strait crossing was achieved in 1896 by 16 year old H.V. Shearman in a cedar 18 foot long Rob Roy kayak fitted with a lug sail. … 1896 Read More »
In the post WWII era, Aucklander Ray Forno is acknowledged as the most enterprising sea kayaker. Ray undertook solo trips from Auckland to Great Barrier Island and from Oamaru to … 1950-1960s Read More »
The modern era of sea kayaking in fibreglass Eskimo style kayaks began in 1977 with the arrival of the first Nordkapp mould in New Zealand. It was imported by Grahame Sisson for … 1977 Read More »
Two weeks later, Paul set off solo from Jackson Bay and with a shore-based support party following. He completed the first circumnavigation of the South Island on 24 April 1978. … 1978 Read More »
The following summer, Paul completed a solo trip around the North Island, finishing with a three hour crossing of Cook Strait. The story was published as Cresting the Restless Waves in … 1978-1979 Read More »
1988 The beginnings of an organised group specifically focused on Sea Kayaking in New Zealand came in 1988 with Graham Egarr compiling and sending out a newsletter entitled “The Sea … 1988 – 1991 Read More »
Bevan Walker, over a period of several years, completed an unsupported trip around the South Island in 1991, including a fast 13.5 day trip around the Fiordland Coast with Craig … 1991 Read More »
In November 1994, Japanese paddler Kazu Yoshida set out from Nelson on a solo unsupported trip around the South Island. After completing the east coast leg, he was rescued by … 1994 Read More »
The first unsupported, solo trip around the South Island was completed at Picton, on 5 February 1996, by Colorado paddler Brian Roberts. His trip took 86 days, with 55 days … 1995-96 Read More »
In February 1999, Max Grant and David Herrington completed the first kayak circumnavigation of Chatham and Pitt islands. The trip was completed in eight days, five to circumnavigate Chatham Island … 1999 Read More »
Chris Duff, author of On Celtic Tides, completed an unsupported South Island solo paddle from 5 December 1999 to 16 April 2000, also starting at Picton. His account of the trip, … 1999-2000 Read More »
Waikato paddler Simon Meek achieved a North Island circuit, between 2 January 2001 and March 2004, in a series of stages, not always in the same direction.
Simon Meek completed a solo unsupported South Island circuit in a series of stages between 14 February 2005 to 10 April 2008.
The summer of 2007-08 was a big one for South Island circumnavigations with two solo paddlers and one duo from Britain completing South Island unsupported circumnavigations. Although Babs Lindman had … 2007 Read More »
Kiwi father and daughter team, Max and Melanie Grant launched from Jackson Bay on 29 April 2007, and over a series of stages, completed the first anti-clockwise circuit of the … 2007-2010 Read More »
Swedish solo paddler Babs Lindman left Picton on 22 December 2007 and completed an unsupported, solo circumnavigation of the South Island on 24 March 2008, the first natural blonde to … 2007-2008 Read More »
British couple Justine Curgenven and Barry Shaw launched from Sumner on 26 January 2008. Their trip took a total of 67 days with 20 days off for weather and six … 2008 Read More »
After paddling across Foveaux Strait on 30 January 2009, Simon Meek soloed around Stewart Island and then paddled back to Colac Bay on 16 February 2009.
Tim Taylor launched form Waimarino, near Tauranga, on 27 November 2010 aiming to complete a first solo continuous circumnavigation of our three islands. He came ever so close to achieving … 2010-2012 Read More »
Following a three month paddle through Fiordland, Tara Mulvany set off with Sim Griggs in May 2012 to paddle around the South Island in winter. Massive surf off the Heaphy … 2012 Read More »
On 17 December 2013, Tara paddled north across Cook Strait and began a clockwise solo circumnavigation of the North Island. She had to deal with ‘house sized’ breakers off the … 2013-14 Read More »
Fiona Weatherall and James Corfe completed an unsupported South Island paddle on 24 February 2015 taking 79 days.
Lynn (Red) Paterson set off from Takapuna on 27 October 2015 for a clockwise circuit of the three main islands, accompanied by a shore-based support crew. Lynn completed her full circumnavigation at Takapuna on 31 December 2016. Her trip took 432 days from start to finish.
Fiona Weatherall and James Corfe (UK) set off from Auckland’s east coast on 30 November 2016, and paddled clockwise around the island, completing their un-supported paddle on 7 March 2017.

Sources for information in this brief history are:
Paul Caffyn / http://paulcaffyn.co.nz/nz-kayaking-history/
A History of the Sport of Canoeing in New Zealand 1840 to 1972 by M.E. Fyfe
New Zealand Canoeing, and New Zealand Canoe and Rafting, edited by G. Egarr
Flashing Paddles, by P.J. Lucas (the story of George Park).
The Sea Canoeist Newsletter
KASK Handbook

Scroll to Top