Going with the Flow in New Zealand

Golden Bay New Zealand

Three months ago I got a job down in Golden Bay in New Zealand through a series of long distance phone calls and confused time zone emails. Now I’m here in Takaka and after a hectic couple of weeks of exploring, learning and kayaking, I’ve finally got enough time to write about my first impressions of this incredible country.

My first kiwi interaction was at border control, a nerve-wracking place at the best of times. New Zealand enforces a very strict border to protect their unique island nation from invasive plants, animals, and bacteria. Not a speck of foreign mud or crumb of outside plant matter is allowed in. Just a brief wander through native bush will show you why; Scottish gorse chokes out native ferns and flax plants and introduced possums and rats prey on the largely flightless New Zealand bird population. I’d been pre-warned, so I queued up to enter the country more than a little nervous about how much of my well worn, dirt ingrained outdoor gear was going to leave the airport with me. All of it, it turns out, and when I asked a border control officer a question about my visa, he laughed, told me my paperwork was ‘sweet as mate’ and sent me on my way.

A Hitch Hikers Paradise

From banter with border agents to the easiest hitch hiking I’ve ever tried, the people I’ve met in New Zealand have been welcoming, friendly, and eager to share their home with me. Looking around, it’s easy to see why. New Zealand is formed of two islands which sit bang on top of a fault line, which makes for some amazing geological formations and a huge diversity in habitats, with the mountains very close to the ocean and a good chunk of rainforest or ‘bush’ thrown in for good measure in between. The aspiring British Columbian in me feels right at home here, despite the occasional minor earthquake.

While the landscape is familiar, the wildlife is not

It’s a very strange feeling to walk through the bush and not recognise a single plant or birdcall. The bears and old growth trees of British Columbia were bigger than the badgers and woodland of England, but they at least made sense. Here there are ferns that have grown into trees over hundreds of years, parrots that can’t fly, and tiny ground birds called weka that I find adorable but locals assure me will steal anything shiny right out of your hands. It’s so exciting to learn about a whole new ecosystem, although I think if I get wekas (the cute thieving bird) and wettas (horrible saw-legged grasshoppers) confused one more time my co-workers might throw me into the sea.

I’ve ended up in Takaka, a happy little town in Golden Bay full of hippies and dairy farmers tucked away on the north end of New Zealand’s south island. In many ways it’s a lot like Quadra; people are open and friendly and often wearing clothes made from hemp. Both places thrive on a summer influx of tourists. And I may be biased but both offer beautiful sea kayaking (with great guides). The kayaking itself is pretty different though. Rather than the relative shelter of the Okisollo Channel where tidal currents are the main concern, down here we’re keeping an eye out for the wind. As guides we’re constantly on the lookout for a black ‘squall line’ on the horizon, which normally means we have 45 minutes before white caps and strong winds roll in. I’ve replaced starfish and my beloved sea cucumbers with blue reef herons and spotted shags (cormorants to us northerners); it’s very strange to kayak looking up at the sky rather than down into the inter tidal zone. The precise paddling skills I picked up from Brody and Kyle to manoeuvre around our rocky coastline have come in handy down here to manoeuvre through it; we paddle through beautiful eroded granite rock formations, gaps and arches. Happily the tours I run still offer delicious snacks and while it’s no Everything Sandwich or barbequed cedar plank salmon, I’m really enjoying sampling Anzac biscuits and lolly cake on the beach.

Just a little home sick

So much of New Zealand feels foreign to me, but with its friendly locals, Majestic Mountain to ocean scenery, rich wildlife and delicious food, my new home in Takaka feels enough like Quadra to tide me over until the Canadian spring.

Written By: Kat Osei-Mensah