Facing a New Frontier: Fiord Kayaking in New Zealand

Facing a New Frontier: Fiord Kayaking in New Zealand

Updated August 2, 2023

I just had an adventure: a 3-day kayaking /camping trip in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park located in the southern-most portion of country’s South Island — basically at the bottom of the world. Out of all of my adventures, this was definitely the most *hard core*… And that’s saying something!

Four of us (1 guide / 3 kayakers) spent 3 days and 2 nights out on Doubtful Sound, which is the second most trafficked of all 14 of New Zealand’s fiords. But don’t let that fool you. We still saw scant people. We journeyed over a mountain pass and enjoyed two boats rides to get out there.

By the way, Doubtful Sound, like Milford Sound, is really a fiord (or “fjord” if you’re from Norway). A fiord is formed by a glacier carving away the mountain rock, while a sound is formed by river water.

Only for the Hearty

The night before we set off, a cyclone was scheduled to hit NZ’ North Island, bringing with it plenty of wind and rain for the entire country. Which is exactly what we got upon arriving at Fiordland: wind and rain. And lots of it. Although this is supposedly pretty typical “summer” weather.

We also got a lot of sand flies. I’ve come to find out that sand flies are a slow form of torture. They are ever-present and bite incessantly, nibbling on every bit of exposed skin. Actually only the males bite. The females burrow and try to plant their larvae in you. Either way, as a meaty human being, you’re pretty miserable when you encounter them.

The sand flies forced me to wear a face net for a lot of the time. Really, it’s not a good look, even in the middle of no-wheres fiordland. But I was super lucky to have my face net, as our guide Tara said she had never seen the sand flies so bad before (in 3 seasons of guiding). Yikes!

Yet despite sand flies and the stormy weather, I experienced two of the most amazing moments of my life during those 3 eventful days.

Moments of Bliss

1) Discovering Myself in Middle Earth

My first moment of bliss was while drifting on Hall Arm on our first afternoon. After paddling for more than 5 hours in a storm, we encountered a lull as we drifted quietly on the water. All around us was spectacular scenery. We had arrived at Middle Earth.

I felt a feeling of utter remoteness. We were surrounded by sheer granite cliffs rising straight out of the water. Each cliff face had countless waterfalls cascading into the deep dark water. In the distance we saw mountains layered one after another, gradually fading with the light.

Most of us never get a chance to experience this type of complete isolation in the heart of a wilderness. I’m happy I was aware enough to savor and reflect on one of the most serene moments of my life.

2) Submitting to a Tim Tam Slam

My second moment of bliss came while eating a Tim Tam. A Tim Tam is a type of cookie that you can buy in New Zealand that has a milk chocolate coating over a cookie surrounding some caramel-like goo. KT, another kayaking guide we met up with at the first campsite, showed us how a Tim Tam Slam is performed.

  • First you need a hot beverage – any kind will do.
  • Second you need a Tim Tam, which has the opposite corners bitten off.
  • Third you then use the partially eaten cookie as a straw and suck the warm liquid through the cookie.

If done correctly, you have a nanosecond to melt the inside of the cookie and shove the whole thing in your mouth. You then sit back and experience a rare form of nirvana that only warm melting chocolate can deliver.

If you fail to act quickly enough, the cookie with disintegrate in your hand and you’ll end up with Tim Tam Slop. The timing is crucial. The experience sublime. Seriously people – you have GOT to try this. Chocolate gooeyness never tasted so good.

So, those are my two moments of sheer bliss: one a gastronomic delight, the other a feeling of complete physical serenity. Both were extraordinary.

My kayaking trip to NZ’s Fiordland National Park is one that I’ll treasure for a long time. I highly recommend you go and don’t forget the Tim Tams.

Author Update

Two days after exiting Fiordland, Erin found herself in the hospital emergency room in Tasmania, suffering for a severe allergic reaction to the sand fly bites. She is currently holed up in a fancy hotel room taking multiple medications, watching the Australian Open tennis, and ordering room service.

Erin Michelson is a social entrepreneur and world traveler. A self-styled Adventure Philanthropist, Erin is embarking on a 2-year global giving adventure called Erin Goes Global. Starting in Fiji on New Year’s Day 2011, Erin Michelson will travel to more than 70 counties on 7 continents during 2011-2012. Along the way, Erin will be volunteering with global non-profit organizations, including building wells in Uganda and tutoring young girls in Bangladeshi boat villages. She’s donated $25,000 and is holding monthly polls to see which worthy nonprofits receive the grants!