History NZ Sea Kayaking

The following brief history of sea kayaking, refers to European-style canoes and kayaks. 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.

[Source: Paul Caffyn / KASK Hand book.]

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 Charlotte Sounds.
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 Antipodes, from plans sent to his father in Tasmania by a former schoolmate, John MacGregor. In 1865, after John MacGregor…
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 his brother, Will, used these canoes to cross Cook Strait on 23 February 1890 in 30.5 hours, a feat which…
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. Prior to the crossing, he had taken out an insurance policy for 100 pounds for his mother in case, “I…
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 Christchurch.
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 three Nelson Canoe Club paddlers, Vic Hague, Brian Joyce and Brian Ogden, who were aiming to paddle around the Fiordland…
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. His story of the journey Obscured By Waves was first published in 1979.
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 1987. His trip took 86 days, with 63 paddling days and 23 either weather-bound or rest days. At the completion…
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 Hornblow. Bevan features on the cover of the 3rd edition on the KASK Handbook, paddling into a nor’wester in Thompson…
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 a fishing boat in February off Breaksea Island in Fiordland and aborted the trip.
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 paddling and 31 rest or weather-bound days. His Fiordland paddle took 26 days, half of which were waiting for weather…
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 and three to kayak across Pitt Strait and around Pitt Island and its adjacent islands. The first Stewart Island solo…
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, Southern Exposure – A Solo Sea Kayaking Journey Around New Zealand’s South Island was published in 2003.
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 announced her plan to be the first woman to paddle around the island, German paddler Freya Hoffmeister jumped the gun,…
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 South Island on 19 May 2010. Their trip took 81 days altogether, 71 days paddling and 10 days camped during…
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 complete the circumnavigation.
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 days in the Invercargill Hospital for Justine. They completed their paddle back at Sumner on 1 April 2008. Justine and…
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 that goal but was stymied for six weeks by massive surf on 90 Mile Beach. He completed the circuit the…
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 River mouth led to a five day separation when neither Sim nor Tara knew where the other paddler was or…
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 Manukau and Kaipara harbour mouths, but rounded Cape Reinga on 4 February 2014. Tara became the first woman to complete…
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.
Fiona Weatherall and James Corfe completed an unsupported South Island paddle on 24 February 2015 taking 79 days.
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