A kayaker’s now familiar with every inch of Lake Whakatipu’s shoreline. To celebrate her birthday, Sarah Lyttle became one of the few people to circumnavigate the lake. She talks
to Philip Chandler about her experience, what it meant for her, and where she found the happiest animals she’s ever seen
A Queenstowner who’s just kayaked around Lake Whakatipu in four-and-a-bit days hopes her example inspires others.
Sarah Lyttle had long wanted to circumnavigate the lake, and chose the morning of her 41st birthday — December 28 — to set out on her mission from Queenstown Bay.
It was also about five years to the day since she and hubby Jeremy, and their dog Summit, had started a seven-day packraft paddle from their Arthurs Point home to the Pacific Ocean via the Shotover, Kawarau and Clutha Rivers.
This time, with two toddlers to juggle, Lyttle says a ‘‘back doorstep’’ adventure was more manageable.
She decided to break up the 200km journey into 50km legs, camping overnight at Kinloch, at a spot near Walter Peak and at Kingston.
On the first and third nights, her hubby and three-year-old and 20-month-old daughters joined them — between times, they excitedly followed her progress via her personal locator beacon.
Despite little training — ‘‘I just got off the couch’’ — Lyttle says paddling between eight and 10 hours a day was ‘‘quite relaxing’’.
However, as her multisport kayak was ‘‘fast but not stable’’, she couldn’t stop paddling, or she’d risk flipping, and would only be able to get back onboard by going to shore.
‘‘With quite a bit of shoreline where you can’t get back in, there were quite these confronting moments of being like, ‘ok, I have to stay in this boat, there’s no option to fall out’.’’
A highlight was having hermemory jogged by passing landmarks she’d got familiar with during 25 years in town.
Like passing Mt Creighton, where she’d helped out during a GODZone adventure race transition in 2017, Walter Peak, where she’d been for many weddings and work dos, Ben Nevis, where she’d been filmed skiing, and Wye Creek, her favourite local walk.
At Greenstone Station, she says the sheep were ‘‘the most happy animals I’ve ever seen in my life’’.
On the last scheduled day, New Years’ Eve, her plan to paddle from Kingston back to Queenstown Bay was foiled by headwinds of, at times, 40kmh.
From Homestead Bay she faced 6km of exposed coastline around to Kelvin Peninsula.
However, after about 2km, battling fatigue after 10 hours on the water and being forced backwards, she somehow turned her boat around and put in at Homestead Bay.
‘‘No matter how hard I paddled, I felt a broken boat or even a broken body was on the cards.’’
Two days later, Lyttle returned to finish her circumnavigation in dead-flat water and in a busy lake, in contrast to the almost total lackof water craft she’d seen earlier.
Lyttle says it was ‘‘such a humble experience to appreciate and reflect on the truly magnificent playground we have right on our doorstep, and one I will never tire of or lose appreciation for’’.
‘‘I encourage everyone to dream up a wee local excursion to undertake, support our small local businesses and connect with our local community.’’
Spending time without distractions like devices is something she’s always enjoyed — ‘‘it’s something that never fails to invigorate my soul’’.
However, with restrictions on freedom camping and the like, Lyttle’s concerned these adventures will become harder to undertake as time goes on.
‘‘Freedom is my passion point, and I feel we are losing so many elements of that for future generations.
‘‘We are actively and mindfully trying to remind our young girls of the simple pleasures of picnics in nature and campfires on the beach.’’
She says when her girls are older, she’d love to circumnavigate the lake again, but this time with her hubby and her daughters in double sea kayaks,
And also, of course, with their intrepid dog.