Sea Kayaking

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, Travel Guide 1997-1998

Sea Kayaking

There's a certain queasy feeling that comes from bobbing up and down in three-foot swells while ensconced in a slightly wobbly sea kayak. It's not quite seasickness, but it's close enough to make you long for flat water or, better yet, terra firma and a big bed to flop on. Luckily, all three are in ample supply at Slickrock Adventures' sea kayak base camp on Long Caye, a skinny patch of dry land 35 miles off the coast of Belize on Glover's Reef. You can brave the waves on the south side of the island, or paddle the 82-square-mile lagoon inside Glover's Reef, where the Caribbean water is so clear and shallow that you can stop almost anywhere, hook your bowline to a piece of dead coral, and find yourself snorkel-to-fish-eyes with moray eels and grouper in a matter of seconds. If only everything were that easy.

This is the way the world ends: not with a bang, but a modest bargain on a Sanyo CD player. I've just schlepped my way 6,000 miles from New York down to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego — the world's southernmost town — and the place turns out to look like a Scandinavian ski resort in the off season. Only it's wall-to-wall with duty-free stores catering to the hordes of super-rich Argentine tourists who pop down here every summer to escape the heat in Buenos Aires. Apart from Japanese electronics, there's no shortage of Swiss chocolate shops and Italian espresso caf‰s where all those tanned and buffed Argies like to hang out, chain-smoking Gitanes and shouting into their cellular phones. But there's no mistaking I'm in South America — what with those jagged mountain peaks looming over the Beagle Channel and, in the main street, a bust of Evita Peron.
            — Tony Perrottet

On Long Caye, it is. Daily sea-kayaking instruction is comprehensive but painless: No one's barking orders, and by the third morning you'll be planning a half-day paddle to nearby Middle Caye or learning how to do a roll. And instead of cramming the kayaks with tents and sleeping bags for an island-to-island camping trip, your home for the week is a cozy thatch-roof cabana on stilts — complete with private hammock, a kerosene lamp for reading, and the sound of crashing waves to lull you to sleep.

Finding the balance between nap-induced delirium and watersports burnout, however, can be tricky — especially given all the alternative activities. You should forgo long, blister-inducing stints on the windsurfer if you plan on surf-kayaking in the sandy break off the point. Likewise, an afternoon dive at the famed 3,000-foot wall just offshore will require fortifying yourself on fresh conch stew. Linger too long in the shower and you'll miss the evening beach volleyball game.Then again, you can't miss the sunset: The view from the palm-lined outdoor stall is spectacular.

Slickrock Adventures' ten-day sea-kayaking trip to Glover's Reef costs $1,595 per person November 21-April 24; the price rises to $1,695 if you book after January 1. Call 800-390-5715. — Katie Arnold

South of Loreto, Baja California's evocatively named mountain range La Sierra de la Giganta (the range of the giantess) forces Highway 1 and its thin veneer of civilization away from the coast, leaving miles of barely touched shoreline visited only by Mexican fishermen, the occasional yacht, and adventurous kayakers.

Sheer cliffs and desolate peaks are the backdrop for much of the 65-mile paddle from Bahía Agua Verde to San Juan de la Costa, but your more immediate perspective is one of incredible biological riches. Every evening the sea boils with action; enter the frenzy and snorkel with the snappers and angelfish — if you're lucky, you'll see one of the graceful manta rays winging below you or leaping into the air. Or stretch your legs after a day's paddle by exploring the side-canyon oasis of Rancho Los Dolores, where a short hike takes you to a waterfall and the ruins of a Jesuit mission.

Below Rancho Los Dolores you can make the five-mile crossing to Isla San Jos‰, one of the most fertile islands in the Sea of Cortez. Deer, coyote, and scorpions up to six inches long live here. Sandy lagoons pay out hearty jackpots of scallops and oysters. On your way back to the mainland, stop at two-acre Isla Pardito just off San Jos‰'s southwest end, home to a prosperous fishing village, where there's colorful diving in the town marine preserve amid coral and giant lobsters.

Fall and spring are the best times to go; you'll miss the staggering heat of summer and the crippling winds of winter. Baja Expeditions runs ten-day trips for $1,395 per person, double occupancy. Call 800-843-6967 or 619-581-3311. — Andrew Rice

By all reports the coastline of Abel Tasman National Park, on the west side of Tasman Bay at the north end of the South Island, is ideal for nosing around in a kayak — its statuesque headlands overhung with rainforest, pocketed with caves, crawling with tidal life, and relieved by long stretches of golden sand. Penguins dance on the ledges; fur seals crack open mussels for lunch.

Why anyone goes on a camel safari is, in retrospect, beyond me, but they're as popular in this northwestern desert fort community as studio tours in Burbank. Two days with one of the outfitters' glue-factory-caliber beasts is about 45 hours too long; saddle-sore is an immediate understatement, and the "desert"--the sand dunes of your dreams are but a speck on an otherwise scrub moonscape--is filled with brightly clad but jaded locals posing only for rupees. Misogynistic guide Jetma, an Indian ringer for Yosemite Sam, keeps on telling me (but not my wife), "You are happy, I am happy!" We keep smiling, for Jetma knows the way home.
              — Andrew Tilin

So we set out from the town of Marahau in a double, and just then a storm comes in off the Tasman Sea. For the next two days we paddle, heads down, into the wind, into the rain and the cresting swells. We cut across open water to reach camp sooner, skipping the sightseeing, arguing over who's not paddling enough.

Still, the trip is saved, because the Kiwis have this park all figured out. We ditch the kayak on the beach at Onetahuti Bay, where a water taxi will pick it up. Then we shoulder our gear, wade across a tidal inlet, and start hiking the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, through mossy fern forests, past waterfalls, beneath trees with Maori names like manuka and kanuka, to lookout points where we can see other kayakers still playing man-against-the-sea.

That night we leave our tent packed and stay at the convivial Awaroa Lodge, which has a fireplace and a natural-foods cafe. From here it's an easy two-day stroll back to Marahau. But at Abel Tasman there is always another option: When the storm rages on the next day (banana belt of the south Island, my ass!), we grab the noon water taxi back to the car.

Abel Tasman Kayaks runs a four-day trip for three to six people ($345 per person, including all meals and one night at Awaroa Lodge; 011-643-527-8022). Ocean River Adventure Company rents kayaks (two to four days, $55-$102; 011-643-527-8266). Contact Awaroa Lodge and Cafe (doubles, $35-$38) at 011-643-528-8758. — Tom Huth

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