Travel Diary - kayaking to a natural wonderland



  1. keep safe from harm or injury.

It’s an idea we know all too well here in New Zealand when it comes to the greater outdoors.

What would New Zealand be without its environment and wildlife?

Ingrained in our culture is a natural respect for Mother Nature. Right from an early age we are taught just how important it is to protect it at all costs. Yet it’s so easy to forget how important our taonga really is.

Thankfully people like Dan Steele, who I will introduce you to in a second, are put on our beautiful earth to remind us of that very important lesson. That’s what he did for me.

I’m Aziz Al Sa’afin and I am on leg three of my journey Rediscovering Ruapehu. I’ve teamed up with Torpedo7 and Visit Ruapehu to explore what’s in our own backyard, and discover the gems within it.

I started my journey three weeks ago in a Waka on the Whanganui River, with a man called Willie Huch, in Owhango.

The following week I found myself camping in the Ruatiti Domain with amateur photographer Alex Pearce and adventurer Tom Patrick from Torpedo7. What I’m quickly learning about these adventures is just how important it is to have right gear. It’s great to have Tom from Torpedo7 here who is explaining things to me that I’m actually usually too embarrassed to ask about because this isn't usually my world. From the right kind of shoes and size of the kayak, to paddling technique and everything in between. The greatest thing is experts like Tom exist in Torpedo7 stores around the country, which is incredibly important for people like me who may be giving adventures like this a go for the very first time.

Now Tom and I find ourselves in Blue Duck Station, one of the most remote places I have ever been to.

Not a single bar of reception surrounded by what I would confidently class as prehistoric land, areas in which haven’t been disturbed by any sign of human life for hundreds of years. And then there’s Dan Steele.

In over ten years of broadcasting, I can also quite confidently say Dan is one of the best people I have ever interviewed. Trust me, I’ve been around, I’ve spoken to the likes of Oprah, Justin Bieber, and Len Brown (mildly joking), so I know the gravity of the statement I just made. 

There are people you meet in your life that you instantly know you will remember even on your deathbed. People you instantly fall in love with and want to be around constantly and learn from. People whose energy’s are so pure and refreshing you yourself feel instantly reset. Dan is all of that, and then some.

Kayaking right into the mouth of a waterfall.
Kayaking right into the mouth of a waterfall.

Blue Duck Station is every adventurer’s dream. It’s got everything you could possibly want when it comes to adventure tourism. If you’re a keen cyclist, the Mountain to Sea trail is but a stone’s throw away. If hunting is your thing, the region is rich with wild deer and boar.

Today Torpedo7 Tom Patrick and I were going back on the Whanganui river, this time in a kayak. I’m mildly concerned about it as I haven’t actually done this kind of kayaking in what I’m calling prehistoric land. But there’s also something quite exciting about that.

We arrive at one of the most beautiful spots I have seen in a long time. Hidden by native bush and shrouded in birdsong, this area really is the definition of what it means to live in paradise. Dan takes us right up to the mouth of the waterfall, and as we approach he tells us to slow down and look over in the distance, and we see it, an actual Blue Duck.

Already our experience is starting out to be a magical one. We have found the area’s namesake. Embarrassingly I know nothing about the Blue Duck and so I ask Dan to explain why it’s so special.

He asks me if I go shopping, and instantly think to myself what an odd question to ask, until I click. Of course I know about the Blue Duck, I see it almost every week, and so do you. The native bird is plastered all over our ten dollar bill. The Blue Duck is actually one of the country’s most endangered species, even more than the Kiwi.

This is where I fall in love with Dan again. He speaks with such conviction and passion when it comes to our environment and instantly you see his love for the greater outdoors. He says to me we are all playing in mother nature’s playground, and so as its visitors we have a huge responsibility to take care of it. We have abused the land for decades, and so for him it’s all about giving back and rejuvenating what we’ve lost. He describes it as one of his main missions in life.

He really is one giant kid in one big playground.

When it comes to the Blue Duck, Dan is leading the charge to ensure the little guy survives. That’s why he created the Blue Duck Station, and it’s the reason why he does what he does in the Ruapehu region. The bird has been around longer than the Southern Alps.

It’s why places like this exist I think to myself, and it’s so incredibly important for every one to make the time to actually visit regions like this, and let go of all of life’s stresses, and stop and appreciate what’s right in front of us.

We load up with the kayaks in hand, and make our way down to the foot of the waterfall. I have to laugh because here we are literally climbing down a cliff face, awkwardly holding these big boats in the bush, following a very humble rope that’s showing us where to go. It couldn’t be more New Zealand if we tried.

New Zealand's very own Narnia.
New Zealand's very own Narnia.

We get to the edge of the water and it truly is magically, like something out of Narnia. The water hitting the lake with the mist making little tiny rainbows amongst all the native bush.

I’m now more excited than ever, and ready to get in. Tom talks me through what I need to know, how to get into the kayak, paddling technique, what to do if I flip. He then hands me my gear, including a life jacket, a merino top long sleeve to keep me warm, and water booties (you know I love a good bootie), all thanks to Torpedo7.

I think to myself if all doesn’t go to plan, at least I look the part, and at least I’ll be safe if I fall in.

Luckily for me that didn’t happen. We make our way down the river, and I have to constantly remind myself this isn’t a dream. Coupled with the incredible stories Dan is telling me, and Tom’s expertise in the water, this really is becoming a trip of a lifetime.

As we turn back towards the waterfall, Dan says something that really resonates. He says remind yourself of what’s important.

And he’s right. This is just the reset I needed.

It dawns on me in this moment just what it means to protect places like this, and why it’s so important for us to ensure they are viable habitats.

Travelling locally is so incredibly important now more than ever.

And it’s all here, it’s all in New Zealand.

This article was created for Torpedo7 and Visit Ruapehu