Stand up paddling with stingrays in New Zealand’s Murderer’s Bay

Though Captain James Cook was the first European to set foot on the islands of New Zealand in 1769, he was not the first European to “discover it”. That honor would belong to Dutch explorer Abel Tasman who sailed past the country while navigating the Southern Ocean for the Dutch east India Company in 1642.

Blown off course by a strong easterly wind, Abel Tasman first sighted the northwest reaches of the South Island of New Zealand and thought he may have stumbled upon the bottom part of Argentina. Confused but intrigued, Tasman decided to make the most of the discovery and arranged an expedition party to be sent ashore to gather fresh water.

Unfortunately, the expedition was met by a band of native Maori people curious of the tall ships which had suddenly appeared off their coast, and after a hostile skirmish which historians have attributed to multiple cultural misunderstandings, Tasman sailed from the area with four fewer men than he had arrived with. As a result of the incident, Tasman saw it fitting to label the area as “Murderer’s Bay”.

360 years later, I ruminated on this violent turn of events while stand-up paddling above a gray stingray languishing in the tidal shallows of Murderer’s Bay.

On a brilliantly sunny and calm morning in which it was possible to stare straight through the turquoise waters, I found myself paddling in nearly the exact same spot where Tasman’s men had met their fate so many centuries ago. No longer referred to as Murderer’s Bay, with the discovery of gold in the region in the 1850’s it was prosperously renamed Golden Bay, and the name has stuck ever since.

Located in the sunniest region of New Zealand, Golden Bay is still somewhat of a secret when compared to neighboring Abel Tasman National Park. Although the Tata Islands–rocks that sit just offshore of Golden Bay and are covered in fur seals–are technically still part of Abel Tasman National Park, Golden Bay offers the same South Pacific setting as it’s crowded counterpart, yet for some reason there is hardly anybody here.

Except, of course, for me and the stingrays.

%Gallery-146107%With my wife and I swapping between a stand up board and one man kayak, the peaceful sound of waves lapping gently across the rocks is a stark contrast to the bloody encounter which once took place here. Completely alone as we paddle beneath rock archways and haul our water craft onto empty white sand beaches, the nearest we have been to violence all morning was a nesting shag bird dive bombing me when I paddled too close to his rock.

A fur seal here, a stingray or shearwater there, I realize there is nothing about this place that makes me think of death at all. Just like Kaikoura, Golden Bay is alive.

With the afternoon breezes introducing an audience of whitecaps to the bay, it was time to head ashore and point the caravan towards the far reaches of Farwell Spit. A 26km stretch of constantly shifting sand which is a favorite of the packaged eco-tourist trips, we instead hopped into a friend’s white ute (pickup truck) and bounced our way over the well-graded dirt track to Wharariki Beach, an expanse of sand dunes and rock formations which technically lies on the island’s wild west coast.

It is difficult to convey just how other worldy and exactly how empty Wharariki Beach really is.

Sure, there are a handful of tourists scattered here and there meandering amongst the dunes and the caves, but from a distance, the red sweater or purple tank top they may be sporting look no different than colorful scraps of paper blowing along the base of towering rock faces.

My local Kiwi friend who has brought me here, Nick, occasionally will surf down at Wharariki when the wind and waves are right.

“You ever get anyone else out in the water here?” I breathlessly ask, still utterly in awe of the place.

“Nah, never mate. Nobody wants to drive out this far. That, and nobody knows about it.”

As I watch a solitary fur seal exit a cave set in one of Wharariki’s massive boulders, and with the sun perfectly illuminating the stone archway pointing out towards the tempestuous Tasman Sea, I question out loud why more travelers to New Zealand don’t come here.

It’s no longer Murderer’s Bay, you won’t get killed by local Maori, but amazingly, 360 years after having been “discovered”, the place still feels like a wayward cove etched on an early explorer’s map, still waiting for someone else to find it.

For 2 months Gadling blogger Kyle Ellison will be embedded in a campervan touring the country of New Zealand. Follow the rest of the adventure by reading his series, Freedom to Roam: Touring New Zealand by Campervan.

Australia’s Wild West: Cowboy Life at Home Valley

An hour’s drive down the Gibb River Road from El Questro, in the shadow of the striking Cockburn Range, sits Home Valley Station. The spirits of the Kimberley’s settler history and cowboy culture are alive and well at this Outback resort. Its location is so fantastic and pristine, in fact, that it was used for many scenes in the film Australia. Sure, you’ll find flat screen televisions and wireless internet access here, but you’ll have to get past the cows, horses and flooded roads first. This is no American dude ranch. It’s a slice of Outback life that many Australians still relish to this day. Home Valley preserves that lifestyle, and its natural theater, in a way that allows visitors to experience a holiday that is an more about participation than pampering.


Home Valley embraces the concept of experiential travel. It expects its guests to be active and engaged and provides activities that allow visitors to take on the role of a cowboy while still sleeping comfortably at night. My cabin was beyond comfortable, with a queen-sized bed, satellite television and bucolic view of the neighboring creek. But little time would be spent relaxing, as Home Valley is no place for couch potatoes.

As anticipated, a resort embracing cowboy culture also has guided horseback rides. My relationship with horses is tepid at best. I’ve eaten horse twice and I think they can sense this. Every time I get on a horse, they react first with indifference and then graduate to annoyance. Disdain comes later, as the animal learns how ignorant I am about his movements. Still, Ivan, Home Valley’s aboriginal guide who who grew up not far from the resort, led our group confidently through the property. With the Cockburn Range always lurking in the background and livestock joining us along the way, it was hard to not feel as if I had been transported back to the time when people were first trying to settle the Outback. Outside of the restaurant and reception area, the majority of Home Valley is pristine, untouched wilderness that is ripe for exploration.

The Pentecost River cuts right through Home Valley and is home to a fascinating variety of wildlife thanks to it being tidal. As such, beyond your typical barramundi and catfish, you will also find sharks and stingrays. This diverse ecosystem makes for some interesting fishing. Of course, if you’re in Australia, you’re really only hoping to catch a barramundi that you can grill up for dinner. I spent an afternoon on the Pentecost hoping to impress the locals with a barra worth sharing. Instead, I was left with nothing more than stories of hooking a shark and my inability to understand why a stingray would want to hang out in a river.

Despite my fishing failures, the day was a success, as I turned my t-shirt tan into a tank top tan (lotion up when you’re in the Kimberley) and I enjoyed some of the most timeless surroundings I’ve ever witnessed.

Home Valley has two scenic lookouts that are perfect for watching the sunset. The Cockburn Range becomes a chameleon as its colors morph in response to the ebbing of the sun. Shades of rust and crimson provide a fitting backdrop as another day in the Kimberley comes to an end.

As I departed Home Valley, I felt as if I had visited not only the Kimberley of today, but the Outback of Australia’s settler past. And sometimes the best journey’s take us not just to physical destinations but transcend boundaries of time. Home Valley’s creature comforts may make it a resort, but it’s the environment that makes it a time machine.

Mike Barish rode horses, flew in tiny planes and hiked across Western Australia on a trip sponsored by Tourism Western Australia. There were no restrictions on what he could cover or how many hamburgers he could eat. You can read other entries in his Australia’s Wild West series HERE.

Whale sharks and stingrays in the Gulf of Mexico

Check out this amazing photo. Two times a year in the late spring and late autumn, up to 10,000 Cownose stingrays make their way between their feeding grounds in western Florida and the Yucatan Peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico. This amazing shot of the migration was taken by amateur photographer Sandra Critelli.

As soon as I saw Sandra’s image, I immediately wanted to know where it was taken. According to some quick research, she apparently encountered this awesome phenomenon while on a Whale Shark expedition off the coast of a small Mexican island in the Yucatan called Holbox. As intrigued as I am by her photo, my interest was instantly piqued by the mention of whale sharks – huge, plankton-feeding fish that can grow up to 40 feet in length. Holbox is apparently whale shark paradise, hosting numerous opportunities to dive with huge creatures.

Between huge schools of stingrays, giant whale sharks and plenty of other sea life at diving hotspots like Cozumel, the Yucatan peninsula is a diver’s dream.

Stingrays Attack!

Let’s not panic people. Stingrays are NOT attacking us humans out of revenge for ruining the planet or electing George Bush. I want to make that clear. They are mad about something else, I’m sure, like the popularity of the Olsen Twins or The O.C. But it sure does seem like they are on a tear about something. First, one of them goes after Steve “The Croc Hunter” Irwin, and now they are jumping into boats and slashing around with their long tail barbs.

Just go ask one James Bertakis (who is a hale and hearty 81 years old) who was boating last week with his granddaughters near the town of Lighthouse Point, 15 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, when a three-foot-wide spotted eagle ray leapt out of the water and fell into the boat. The octogenarian tried to lift the ray out of the boat, and in the course of so doing, was stabbed in the heart by the barb on the animal’s tail. Doctor’s actually had to pull the barb out THROUGH the heart, and Bertakis remains in critical condition. As a diver, I now have a new found respect for Sting Rays and will not call them the winged wimps of the sea anymore.

Treat a Stingray Sting

From the good folks at Wikihow, we have an interesting little treat for those intrepid Gadlingers out there who fancy scuba diving (raise your hands…I know you’re out there. I’m certified). In the wake of Steve “Croc Guy” Irwin’s horrible death at the tail of a stingray, Wikihow helps us understand how we might deal with a stingray strike should we ever be unfortunate enough to have one of them lash out at you. Their advice. Well, it starts off pretty simple. “Relax” they say. But this makes sense.

They inform us that stingray stings are rarely fatal. They are caused by the sharp barb that is on the stingray’s tail and that transmits a protein-based venom which causes extreme pain. The more you scream and cry and dance around in a panicked state, the more likely that venom is to make its way around your body. So sit still and “oak the affected limb in the hottest water tolerable for at least an hour”. Then seek some help if you’re able. An interesting note: vinegar, urine, orange juice, ki-ora or any other liquid besides almost-scalding hot water will NOT be effective against stingray venom. So you can forgo having your friend take a p*s on your leg or affected appendage. See how helpful that is?!