A sea kayak is the perfect craft from which to explore our
beautiful coastline and observe our rich marine life. Dunedin
kayaker Maggie Oakley shares her favourite voyages close to
A kayaker coming out of the southern end of the Big Eddy,
heads towards the approaches light beacon. Photos supplied.
Close to Dunedin, there are renowned conservation and
eco-tourism areas where kayakers are privileged to view a
remarkable range of wildlife, including royal albatrosses,
yellow-eyed penguins, seals and sea lions, water and wading
birds. We can enjoy a unique experience close to the water and
with silent speed.
While we treasure the times when we are bow-to-nose with
wildlife, kayakers need to follow a few simple rules to
ensure any encounters are enjoyable for the birds and mammals
with which we share the seas.
Cornish Head marks the northern point of "Big Eddy"
There is a stretch of water from the entrance of Otago
Harbour going north to Waikouaiti for about 20km in a straight
line north to Cornish Head to be exact, which provides a
sheltered area in which to sea kayak. I think of it as the "Big
It is less affected by the predominant northerly-going tidal
current and you can paddle north or south with ease, while
rocky headlands protect river bars and beaches from the worst
of the prevailing southerly swell.
A sea kayaker can hug the coastline within Big Eddy, enjoying
sandy beaches and interesting rock stacks, and can also weave
and potter among the many rocky outcrops that would be unsafe
for larger craft to venture near.
With a favourable Port Chalmers marine forecast (less than 15
knots), I have travelled this coastline and kayaked on and
off almost all of the beaches from Cornish Head to Aramoana.
Anyone with an interest in this coastline will find that a
sea kayak can really come into its own as a craft for
observing our abundant marine wildlife, up close and
sometimes even personal.
Cornish Head to Warrington Beach and return.
What you'll see: Rock features, fur seals and
Getting there: The quickest route to launch your kayak
from the beach at Cornish Head is to take the northern
motorway from Dunedin and turn right from State Highway 1
into the Waikouaiti township.
Go right into Edinburgh St and continue on into Matakana Rd
until you reach the car park at the end of the road. This is
45km from Dunedin and a 40-minute drive.
If choosing to launch from Karitane, the coastal route from
Warrington provides wonderful views of the coastline. There
is a formal parking place to leave your vehicle before
launching into the Waikouaiti River.
Journey: The head of the bay is a sandy beach backed
by dunes. At the north end is a narrow entrance to a tidal
lagoon, around which stands the township of Waikouaiti. At
the south end of the beach there is a narrow sandy peninsula,
south of which the Waikouaiti River enters the bay.
The township of Karitane stands on the west bank of the
river, close within the entrance.
Landing: The surf anywhere in Waikouaiti Bay is
generally good for launching and landing kayaks. If not, use
the river at Karitane for stress-free access.
The south side of the river is best for entering or exiting.
Once at high tide, while kayaking around the peninsula, I saw
two interesting blow holes. From here the coastal paddle to
Warrington has spectacular rocky features, at Green Point and
Closer inspection often reveals many New Zealand fur seals
resting up. Spring and summer, during the breeding season, is
when we need to be careful and more thoughtful to the
consequences of our paddling close to these rocks.
For example, a stampede of adult seals from rock to water is
a sure sign we have disturbed these animals.
Crafts: Either enclosed or sit-on-top kayaks are
suitable craft to use.
Level of experience: While the surf zone for getting
on and off the beach can be intimidating at times, "Big Eddy"
provides alternative and safer options for less-experienced
Journey time: This is dependent on wind speed and
direction. And your paddling speed is based on your fitness,
ability, and kayak characteristics.
Swells: The New Zealand Pilot advises "swells are
constant, heaviest in autumn and winter, between south and
west often of height 2-4 metres".
It is the high cliffs forming the peninsula that provide the
shelter from southerly winds and the landmass of the
peninsula providing deflection of the swells.
Safety: Never go with fewer than three people, check
the marine forecast before you go, wear a buoyancy aid at all
times and let someone know where you are going and when you
will be back.