You can see the green-blue silhouette of Moutohorā/Whale Island from all along the coast of the eastern Bay of Plenty. Nine kilometres offshore, it’s a much-loved icon.

That distance used to be about as close as most people could get to Moutohorā, but no longer. White Island Tours now cruises to the island for a superb guided trip, with the chance to see kakariki (red crowned parakeet), saddleback (tīeke), and other rare birds, as well as tuatara and geckos.

Barry Cutfield of ProSail yacht charters has a lifetime of experience on the water

A completely different perspective comes by experiencing Moutohorā from the water. Kenny McCracken of KG Kayaks and Barry Cutfield of ProSail yacht charters recently teamed-up and offer sailing–kayaking trips.

Often these stunning trips don’t use any motorised power at all.

With Barry – Cap’n Baz – skippering Centaurus, a smart 11-metre-long, six-metre-wide ocean-going catamaran, groups sail out and park up near the island. Kenny unloads the stable sit-on kayaks, and groups enjoy a two-hour guided paddle. Then there’s time to land on the island for a swim before returning to the mainland by sail power.

“So long as there’s wind, we can sail. It normally takes about 40 minutes to an hour to sail out,” says Barry. “So much depends on the customers and what they want. If people want to get out quickly for a paddle, we’ll use the (yacht’s) motor. If they want to sail for longer, that’s great – we won’t go out to the island direct.”

Groups help with the actual sailing. No prior experience is needed, Barry emphasises, just enthusiasm. “It’s a skippered charter – but it’s hands-on.”

Paddling off the shore of Moutohorā/Whale Island. The stability of an 11-metre ocean-going catamaran

Ideal conditions for the trip are a breeze under 10 knots and a swell less than 1.5 metres. “The good thing about Whale Island is that there’s always a calm side,” comments Kenny. “If we get out and it’s windy, we just go on the sheltered side of the island.”

The island’s coastal environment is rich in bird and marine life. Brown fur seals typically bask on rocks that jut from the water. Shags perch in pohutukawa trees. The coast is craggy and broken, with high cliffs and spectacular formations.

When conditions are right, you can paddle several metres into a sea cave, “always an exhilarating experience,” Kenny comments. Trips finish in the calm water of Sulphur Bay, where they can land, and where there’s a good chance of seeing Eagle rays.

“It’s a good fit, using non-motorised travel to go to a place that’s full of environmental value,” remarks Barry. Several years ago, Barry and wife Jill sailed Centaurus back from the Whitsunday Islands. “We did the Pacific Islands cruise; this was home to us for about seven months,” he says.

Kenny set up KG Kayaks over 15 years ago after visiting New Zealand from Scotland and falling in love with the eastern Bay of Plenty. Most often, he guides kayak trips on Ohiwa Harbour, or around the coast from Ohope to Otarawairere Bay and Whakatane. Moonlight paddles on Ohiwa are increasingly popular. Moutohorā is something completely different again.

Paddling under Elephant Rock

Trips are all about creating an experience, he says. It’s about bringing the area to life by sharing some of the history and what makes it special.

“My wife Lizzie bakes, so there’s fresh baking, as well as five different kinds of tea and real coffee. We bring fresh fruit from the garden. It’s a very flexible format. People can bring the whole family. If they want, some of them can just sit in the boat. There are single and double kayaks. The kids or granddad can just sit in the kayak without paddling.”

The South Seas tranquility of Moutohora’s Sulphur Bay

There’s no set age limit; suitability is open to discussion. “I’ve had eight- or nine-year-olds who are fine in a double kayak with mum or dad. The oldest we’ve taken out would be close to 80 years of age. It’s the teenagers who are often harder!”

Sailing–paddling trips are $180 per person for groups of between six and 12.

KG Kayaks are official partners to Motu Trails (www.motutrails.co.nz), which is part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail.

Kenny often takes groups paddling on Ohiwa Harbour Kenny McCracken’s KG Kayaks is one of Whakatane’s top visitor attractions

Where can I take my dog?
• Pikowai Camp Ground is located further along SH2 West towards Tauranga and is administered by Whakatane District Council.
• Murphy’s Camp ground is in the same location along the Matata Straights.
What about campsites?
The only DOC campsite in Whakatane is a no-dog area.
Who do I contact for further information?
• Whakatane DOC Office – +64 7 307 2770

Freedom camping – restricted areas
Certified self-contained freedom camping is permitted in four designated areas:
• McAlister Street Car park
• Maraetotara Reserve
• Port Ōhope Boat Ramp
• West End Car Park (camping at West End car park is prohibited from the beginning of the third week of December until 31 March).
These restricted areas are subject to the following conditions: 
• Vehicles must display a current self-containment certificate, only be parked in designated camping areas, maximum stay of two consecutive nights in any one location.