© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

Whakatane Forests by Kayak and by Night

© NZPocketGuide.com

282 Days on the Road

A morning at Ohope simply has to involve getting out on the water. With long-stretching beaches and Whale Island no too far out into the distance on one side of the settlement and Ohiwa Harbour on the other side with numerous islands on the other, there is just too much water to ignore! Luckily for us, we are following a trailer-load of kayaks on the way to a boat ramp into the harbour.

Kayaking the Ohiwa Harbour

We park up and get kitted out with buoyancy aids while our guide, Kenny from KG Kayaks, unloads the kayaks. Although Kenny insists the paddle to Whale Island is a stunner, the swell is just too big and unsafe to tackle. As Kenny shows on a map to plot out a route to take us, the sheltered waters of the harbour have a few great areas to explore too.

Unlike many of the sea kayak trips we have done during our 365 Days: 365 Activities, we get into our own open sea kayak. As much as we like team work in double kayaks, we are starting to think we like the comfort of stretching out our legs and being in-charge of ourselves in a single open sea kayak a lot more…

On the lookout for wildlife

From the launch point, it’s straight across the harbour, keeping at a bit of angle as to not get pulled by the incoming tide flooding into the harbour. As we cruise along the harbour, Kenny tells us about the human history of the Bay of Plenty, as well as an interesting story about Uretara Island that we are paddling towards. Kenny often sees stingray in the shallow harbour waters so we keep an eye out for those too.

The mangrove forest

As we get closer to Uretara Island, we notice leaves just poking out of the water’s surface. These leaves get denser and denser until we are surrounded by the tops of these bushes. We are kayaking through a mangrove forest, trees that grow from the water. With heaps of splashing on the water, the mangroves are a hotbed for wildlife. We drift along with the tide for a bit, trying to see if we can see any kowhai or stingray. Although we don’t see any of the larger sea creatures today, we do see schools of smaller fish almost jumping into the mangrove bushes as we pass.

Mingling in the pohutkawa trees

Kenny leads us away from the mangroves and onto another type of impressive tree, the pohutukawa tree. Ohope in particular is famous for having many of these large trees with dramatically winding branches that have been growing for hundreds of years. As we approach some pohutukawa trees that are growing horizontally from the land across the water, we can see that these trees just don’t know when to stop growing!

This is where we get to test how maneuverable our kayaks really are. Kenny is leading us under and around the large branches of the pohutukawa tree. It certainly is a majestic tree once you get engulfed in the sight of its branches, especially as these branches seem all the more grander by reflecting in the water. It would have been the perfect place for a 360-degrees photo, as we show you on every blog post, but our 360 camera malfunctions much to our frustration.

Back to land and onward to Whakatane

When it is time to paddle back to the boat ramp, the tide starts to turn threatening to pull the kayaks in the other direction. It only makes it slightly harder to paddle back but hey, we need the exercise. With that we land back where we started, thank Kenny for showing us such a cool inlet of the Bay of Plenty, and hit the road to Whakatane. The drive takes us over a forested hill to one of the main hubs of the region.

A change of plans

We check in at the White Island Rendezvous Motel, but after a few tours are cancelled and we have some rearranging to do, we find ourselves driving back over the hill at around 7.30pm to do a night walk with the Whakatane Kiwi Trust. Yep, that forested area that we drove past is actually the Ohope Scenic Reserve and we doing a guided walk with some wildlife experts to experience a New Zealand forest after dark!

New Zealand after dark

We arrive at a magnificent entrance to the Ohope Scenic Reserve marked with an archway of Maori carvings, meeting Bridgit, a kiwi-spotting extraordinaire, and Russell, the “bug man”! We head into the forest with our companions armed with an antenna for tracking kiwi and a whole lot of knowledge for wildlife.

It’s such a simple concept that we can’t believe we have neglected during our 365 Days: 365 Activities. New Zealand is known for having heaps of nocturnal wildlife but not once have we thought about walking through the forest after dark to see how different it is! With Russell’s impressively keen eye for spotting the night’s creepy crawlies, we see just how alive the forest comes at night.

Wild wetas and sheet-web spiders

Within five minutes of the walk, we walk under a overhanging tree trunk where Russell points out some huge tree weta! These native insects are mesmerising to watch with their long legs bouncing their bulky bodies across the underside of the fallen tree. After that, we are spotting more species of this insect, in all sizes, throughout the walk. Robin even plucks up the courage to hold the fascinating creatures. And that’s just the wetas.

Along the way, we spot more spiders than we can count – huge spiders that we had no idea existed in New Zealand! We have a lot of encounters with the sheet-web spider, named for their sheet-like webs cast is impressive sizes between branches. We imagine they would make a great trampoline!

Following the kiwi trail

As the night draws on, the forest comes alive with sounds – that of the native owl, the “ruru” or “morepork”, and that of the kiwi bird! Although the odds are not in your favour for seeing these elusive birds in the wild, Bridgit still increases our chances by tracking a kiwi bird with the antenna, following the sounds of the kiwis calling, and playing her own recordings of kiwi calls. When we think we are close to one, we turn off our headlamps and wait to see if one rustling in the bushes will come toward us. Unfortunately, and as expected, the kiwi passes right by unnoticed. You can’t blame us for trying!

Finding rare eels

Nevertheless, there are more bugs, slugs, arachnids and large centipedes to discover, as well as some slithery friends living in the stream. We follow Bridgit through a super shallow stream to various pools where longfin eels are hanging out. These beautiful creatures are actually more rare than kiwis are, so we can consider ourselves even luckier than if we had seen a kiwi!

The adventurous stream scramble brings us back to the archway where we entered. We leave the forest absolutely blown away by the amount of wildlife seen and heard at night – more than what we often see during the day! New Zealand is always finding new ways to surprise us!

Let’s see what surprises are in store tomorrow as we take a railbike tour in Whakatane. Join us then!

Tracing kiwis through the forest

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