Paddling from Picton in ancestor's path

LAST LEG: Paddlers Steve Moffatt, left, and Steve Gurney, finish their paddle from Picton to Nelson. The pair have also crossed Cook Strait.
LAST LEG: Paddlers Steve Moffatt, left, and Steve Gurney, finish their paddle from Picton to Nelson. The pair have also crossed Cook Strait.

The re-creation of an historic canoe voyage tackled in stages from Mana to Nelson has revealed that changes in technology are both good and bad.

Adventure mates Steve Gurney, of Coast to Coast fame, and Steve Moffatt of Canterbury glided into Nelson yesterday largely unnoticed at the end of the final leg of the journey from Picton to Nelson. It started 3 days earlier, but was delayed a little by strong southeast weather which the paddlers struck after coming through French Pass.

They made it to the Nelson Yacht Club ramp yesterday afternoon after starting from Whangamoa Heads that morning. It was the final stage of the trip started in Mana several weeks ago, with the aim of crossing Cook Strait.

The pair have given their love of adventure a purpose by following in the footsteps of early explorers, most notably Moffatt's great, great uncle, George Park. Moffatt used a replica canoe of the original used by his ancestor for the voyage, while Gurney paddled his hi-tech version.

In 1890 Park and his brother William became the first Europeans to canoe Cook Strait. Moffat and Gurney have now sailed and paddled the same route.

George and another brother James were also famous for a South Island crossing in 1889 when they carried wooden kayaks from the West Coast, up the Taramakau river, over Harper Pass and then paddled down the Hurunui via Lake Sumner and all the way out to the east coast.

The modern-day pair struck similar weather to George Park's 1890 voyage from Marlborough to Nelson, which he did alone after William had to return to his Palmerston North bookshop, after the successful crossing of the Strait.

Gurney said there was a danger they might have been blown out to sea during the strong southeast wind they struck this week, but it helped to know the advice George might have given them.

"What was really going through our minds was, ‘what would George have done?'

"He would have just sat it out."

The pair camped ashore at night during the trip.

An early written account of George Park's journey suggested it was a little ad hoc.

"There were no signs of the previous day's storms when the day broke clear and calm, so George Park decided to set off for Nelson."

Moffatt said yesterday the difference between that era and now was that "George had nothing to do, so he paddled for Nelson".

They, on the other hand, had planned it for some time.

George Park's canoe had a small sail which eased the paddling burden from Maud Island to Bulwer. Moffatt and Gurney also had sails, but Gurney's canoe being modern and more advanced on the technology scale, can also sail upwind.

Moffatt's wooden replica of the original is capable of down-wind only. "There's a marked difference in how they sail," Gurney said.

On his arrival, George Park was invited by the Nelson Cycle Club to a supper at the Trafalgar Hotel arranged for some visiting cyclists. Moffatt said locals were willing to help George Park wherever he stepped ashore.

Gurney said by using both types of canoe they were able to draw comparisons between old and new, and while technology had been a help in many areas, such as electronic navigation and communication systems, it had also been a hindrance.

"It's good that we can now gauge progress and our position, but we have lost some stuff as well, such as not being as aware of the weather and conditions and being less in tune with the environment."

The pair have another adventure planned, to be revealed next summer.