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Exploring Ohiwa Harbour
14 December 2014

I've done all sorts of sports from touch rugby to tennis but, the older I get, the more I relish outdoor sporting activity without all the huffing, puffing and praying for the full-time whistle to blow.

The chance to do a bit of kayaking sounded right up my alley. It mainly appeals because one half of your body is immobile, while the other benefit is that you can paddle at your own pace while still getting the heart rate up.

We were staying at the Ohiwa Beach Holiday Park recently, which has the Ohiwa Harbour on one side and the ocean on the other. It's the ideal place to base yourself in the Eastern Bay region, as biking, fishing and water sports are literally a hop, skip and jandalled jump away.

The harbour sent us an invitation we couldn't refuse as early morning sun was bouncing diamonds off its glassy surface.

We called on the expertise of Ohiwa Harbour kayak guide Kenny McCracken to pep up our paddling technique and help us explore the clear blue waters.

We were not the only ones out and about. Fishermen were coming home from an early morning expedition - some in their kayaks, others in boats. While another family were powering their speedboat over the water with a sea biscuit in tow.

Kenny offers all sorts of kayak tours and comes loaded down with all the necessities. Coffee and tea for the adults, hot chocolate for the kids, and muffins for everyone.

We were in double kayaks and the adults had a kid in each. Once you get the hang of paddling, the kayaks are easy to manoeuvre and the kids took to it fast. I even spotted my 6-year-old paddling hard while her father sat back and enjoyed the ride.

Take the chance to stop off for a break on one of the secluded beaches around the Ohiwa Harbour, and you'll want to stay for life.

And that's just what Kenny did. Originally hailing from Scotland, Kenny fell in love with the Eastern Bay of Plenty while hitch-hiking around the country in 1990. Just one look - and that was enough for Kenny to return with his family in tow to live here for good.

Since then, Kenny and his kayaks have become a familiar sight out on the harbour and he can launch from anywhere to eliminate the possibility of tides and wind disrupting a kayak adventure.

Something you will notice about Kenny is that he is very respectful of the Maori history of this area and of the harbour's environmental qualities.

While we were exploring, we tried to spy stingrays in the shallows around Hokianga Island. The harbour is home to a multitude seabirds, shellfish, many different fish species and whales - all of which you can see around its mudflats, salt marshes and wetlands, if you pick the right day.

Kenny offers a variety of kayaking tours and popular with overseas visitors are the moonlight tours, where glorious sunsets and starlit nights are the backdrop to this magical waterway.

I was quite content with our day trip but would advise taking a spare set of clothes for paddling mishaps. If you don't have Lisa Carrington guns or technique, you will more than likely get some of the paddled water on your clothes.

We had a brief stop on Hokianga Island to catch our breath and dry out. However, we didn't explore further into the island as it is tapu and has a historic burial ground on its top. The tiny island was once the home of 800 Maori. It is here that enigmatic Ringatu prophet, battle commander and escape artist Te Kooti came to recuperate after one of his many skirmishes, and where some local Maori believe him to be buried.

This tranquil harbour belies a very different past, as it borders ancestral lands of different Eastern Bay of Plenty iwi. As a result, it was once the place of battle and bloodshed for those iwi wanting to take ownership of this prolific food basket.

As is the case anywhere in the world, the areas with the most beauty and resources are always the scenes of the greatest battles.

The only fight this harbour has these days is to maintain its pristine quality while surrounding lands are farmed. Hopefully, this is a battle that wildlife will win, as this harbour is a glittering jewel that needs continuing care for it to shine.

Bay of Plenty Times

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