An illuminated journey

A trip through the light fantastic – A glow-worm canyon by sea kayak.

Travel writer Michele Sainsbury finds an amazing sea kayak tour outside Tauranga.

The rich environs of the Bay of Plenty region in New Zealand's North Island (Te Ika-a-Māui )  can be reached easily. From Auckland city, the two and half hour drive South on State Highway 2 passes through the Karangahake gorge between the towns of Paeroa and Waihi. With stunning views of the crystalline river below cascading over dramatic rock formations, and dense native bush as a back drop, the stunning river view sets a tone for the natural bounty to come.

And more breathtaking. The central hub, the port city of Tauranga is surrounded by a vast expanse of sea or moana. The harbour fans out to a marine mecca for adventurists. Nearby seaside town and surf central - Mount Maunganui situates the revered mountain landmark of Mauao. It is a magnet for locals and visitors, with a walking track around the base to view the spectacular sea.

There are also tracks to the summit, where elevated views give a brilliant perspective of the oceanic mecca below. Islands are dotted through out, including Mayor Island –Tuhua its Māori name originating from the black volcanic glass – obsidian, present there. On a clear day, the turqoise shimmery ocean ramps up the Pacific feeling. Forever white sanded beaches make for a dreamy scene. If this area appears to have it all, it does, and then some.

The sub tropical climate and soil fertility gave rise to the kiwi fruit industry in New Zealand, where nearby town Te Puke is known as the kiwi fruit capital. It is indeed a creative and entrpeneurial region. The innovative and hugely successful Comvita, the wellspring of bee products, began in nearby Paengaroa in 1974. The Bay of Plenty was given its name from Captain Cook back in the day when the Endeavour anchored off the coast. Today he may well add the Kiwi phrase - 'sweet as'.

If there was a dilemna for the visitor, it might be the bountiful number of adventures on offer and sights to choose from. Discovering that Waimarino Adventures offered a trip that combined a whole lot of amazing – in the form of sea kayaking through a glow-worm canyon, I seized the very rare opportunity.

Ten minutes from the city centre on the banks of the wide Wairoa River, the visionary kayak adventure company established in 1975 and has become a popular kayak and recreational destination. Wairoa meaning – 'long water' is the longest watershed into Tauranga harbour. Close proximity to sea and rivers in the surrounding  area also enables a range of guided kayak tours, which they do with great regional knowledge and skilled expertise.

The tour begins at the picturesque Mc Larens Falls park lake. We meet at the Waimarino base and with kayaks and excitement loaded, leave for the park.
It's a scenic drive through the green heartland of the lower Kaimai ranges, offering differing views of the upper reaches of the Wairoa river. The chatty, sporty Kiwi guides share their local knowledge and passion for kayaking relaying their adventurous pursuits, and the world class kayaking available in the area - grade 5 / class 6.

Mc Larens Falls park comprises of 190 hectares of exotic and native trees on pastoral land, and on this balmy summer evening beside the still lake at dusk, has a dream like quality. Even more so as we are treated to delectable wine from local winery Mills Reef and New Zealand cheeses. Strictly kiwifruit juice for the guides who leave us travellers from differing corners of the world to mingle, while our double kayaks are set up.

Expertly and safely prepared and donned with head torches, the kayaks slide onto the lake. The night retains enough light for trees to be sihouetted and white wingtips of swans taking flight ahead of us to be seen. Senses heighten with night falling, the sound of the paddles entering the water in unison, the swans settling back on the water ahead, amidst serenity.

It's an easy and smooth 3km (2.2 mile) kayak towards our destination at Mangapapa canyon, the air scented with sweet aroma from rich native bush on the canyon walls. Quietude only broken by trickling water from the bush. And our oh wows.The intermittent lights begin emanating, and we are serenaded along as they multiply abundantly, rising higher up the canyon walls.

It is a celestial moment. We stop to revere the millions of tiny glowing lights, on either side of us. Stars above are reflected in the glassy water around.

It is awe inspiring. Our guides explain the Māori word for glow – worm – 'titiwai' means lights reflected in water. There is a surreal sense of actually being enveloped by the magical lights, as we are suspended in a universe of visual splendour.

The glow-worms continue to weave their magic, leaving a sense of awe as we paddle back to our launch point. As the night sky unfolds above, it displays a perfect crescent moon, and a sparkly Southern cross amidst the constellations. A magnificent finale for an evening of amazement.

[Thank you to all at Waimarino Adventures]
• Waimarino operates the glow worm kayak tour year round and almost all weather conditions.
• The refreshment tour is NZ $120.00 per person (minimum 2 people) as at September 2014.

New Zealand based travel writer Michele Sainsbury writes in both online travel and print publications. This article is not to be republished.

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