BAY OF ISLANDS, New Zealand — After a solid first day of sea kayaking and getting the lay of the land, we decided to mix it up the second day.
It was great in theory, but kayaking for miles in high winds all day was exhausting. Carrying the kayaks by hand up the beach, over the rocks and then five blocks back to the hostel we were staying at was excruciating.
When we repeated the next day, even higher winds blew us onto an island. The island was absolutely covered in sea glass, and after I filled up a small bag with it, we shoved off again.
Fishing was decent, but impractical. The wind didn’t let up, and we were forced to land on another beach.
Little did we know that we were about to start an international incident.
The beach we’d taken our reprieve on was Waitangi Beach.
For those not familiar with New Zealand’s history, the country is unique among white-settled nations in that white settlers didn’t rape, pillage, enslave, and subjugate the natives. Instead, the native Maori and the white settlers signed a document called the Treaty of Waitangi, which basically served as the country’s founding document.
Every year, on Feb. 6, a ceremony is held at the location of the original treaty when a war canoe is launched from a sacred beach. A beach two fishermen had unintentionally landed on in a windstorm — in early February.
We failed to realize what we’d done until a procession of Maori began carrying a ceremonial canoe down to the beach and a large procession of officials joined them.
There were cameras and around 100 people in tow to celebrate the birth of their island nation.
My Kiwi friend from college, David Clarke, was mortified and I was mortified. Once we realized the gravity of the situation, we hopped back in the kayaks and paddled like mad, making comically slow progress with the cheap plastic kayaks in light of our exhaustion and a powerful headwind.
The wind was blowing at 30 to 40 miles per hour, right in our faces, and it took us almost two hours to paddle the 3 miles or so back to the beach from which we’d launched.
No police awaited us, and we assumed we’d made it away unscathed.
Once we landed, we decided to leave the kayaks on shore for a while and see the Bay of Islands and the collection of small towns therein.
We took a ferry to the town of Russell, where we grabbed lunch and fished from the wharf there. David landed a fish the locals called a spot, while I landed my second species of the day, a jack mackerel.
Fishing was mediocre at best, so we grabbed takeaway (to-go) fish and chips and made our way back to our hostel in Paihia.
Real food was too expensive for us, so we had another lunch of grilled frankfurters, mustard, and sauerkraut and washed it down with the Red Bull David’s brother, New Zealand’s regional rep for the company, had loaded us up with then went to check out the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.
Though the museum was incredible and full of interesting history and Maori culture, perhaps the most exciting moment came when one of the employees recognized us as “the blokes with the kayaks.”
Just as we began to die of embarrassment, fear and shame, he started laughing and said “Sweet as, bro!” the Kiwi slang for “Awesome!”
We shared a laugh, finished the tour and I thanked God the trip down under didn’t turn my world upside down.