Kayak trip a great experience

SONIA BEAL
Last updated 07:22 16/01/2012
SONIA BEAL
EMMA ALLEN

Sights and Sounds: Sonia Beal paddling in Grove Arm, sometimes with stingrays for company.

SONIA
EMMA ALLEN
Not so shabby: Sonia Beal takes in the Queen Charlotte walk, within cooee of home, Pelorus.

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Kayak trip a great experience Natural, just as it should be Swimming with seals an exhilarating gig Glimpse of a luxury world Cook's spot great for a picnic A great way to explore the Sounds Perfect glimpse into the natural past French Pass full of delights A spot of sun, sea and peace It's a hell of a view from 900 metres up

Shunting aside my predispositions to the Pelorus Sound was a force to reckon with when preparing myself for a kayak/trek combo in the Queen Charlotte Sound with adventure tourism business Wilderness Guides.

Coming from a family that lives and earns their living in the relatively isolated and unsullied Pelorus Sound, the commercialisation of the Queen Charlotte Sound has always, well, bugged me.

But now, I take that all back.

Setting out from Blenheim on a day forecast for heavy rain, photographer Emma Allen and I arrive at the company base at the Picton Railway Station at 8.30am, beseeching the weather to hold out.

After filling out the required paperwork, we hop into a van with four other adventurers and guide Craig Martella, who gives us a mini history lesson about Picton and the Sounds while making the windy 15-minute drive to Ngakuta Bay.

When we get to the bay, we're handed over to our kayak guide, the effervescent Aaron Price, someone who clearly loves what he does – so refreshing!

Clad in some of the most ludicrous looking and sounding gear, including the likes of `spray skirt' and `buoyancy aid', which quite frankly I'd call life jacket, and with instruction and safety brief over, we push into the water about 10am, which luckily at the time and for most of our trip, is like a mill pond, calm as calm.

The last time I kayaked was about four years ago in Rarotonga, so steering the double kayak I was sharing with Emma took a bit of getting used to, going every which way for the first few hundred metres until settling down, much to the relief of mycohort.

First up, we paddle out to Houhou Point, taking a break before crossing the Grove Arm "highway", to head down a scenic stretch of land where we are met with lush native forest, and a shag colony towards our destination, Umungata Bay. Aaron pretty much chats to us uninterrupted during the journey, engaging in a balance of banter and information.

The two hours of paddling rocket by, and about 20 metres from our destination, I let out a surprised shout when I see a black stingray glide under my end of the kayak. A real beauty, about 1.5m wingspan.

Naturally, we ignored our guide's calls to head in, clamouring for the chance to stumble upon another stingray find. Alas, we find only one other stingray less than half the size, so we parked our kayak on the beach and said our goodbyes before heading on an independent hike of part of the Queen Charlotte Track.

It's a fairly moderate route, which takes us about three hours including the numerous photo op stops and a lunch break at the lookout. The highlight is definitely the brief glimpses of the Sound through the trees, the birdsong of the tui and bellbird and the tranquility you are blanketed with in such a setting. The amount of foot traffic on the track was surprising, with around 60 people coming from the other direction, excluding the group from the Outward Bound programme busying themselves with conservation work part way through the track.

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After some uncertainty about whether we were going in the right direction, we are relieved to arrive at Mistletoe Bay, where a number of campers have pitched tents or made themselves slightly more cabin-comfy.

The Beachcomber collects us from the jetty and takes us back to Picton about 4pm, when we make a bee-line to the nearest cafe for a much-needed caffeine injection.

Thankfully, the heavy rain held out for the day, with only three brief spurts of misty rain from start to finish.

All in all, a big day, but an extremely gratifying one at that.

The Queen Charlotte Sound experience exceeded all my expectations – it's an opportunity not to be dismissed.

- The Marlborough Express

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