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Water Women: The Nomad Photo: Tara Mulvany

After circumnavigating New Zealand, Tara Mulvany sets her sights on Arctic Waters

“I wanted to live simply, where the wind and swell are what matter most.”

So says Kiwi adventuress and self-described kayaking hobo Tara Mulvany of the urge that launched her on a two-year odyssey paddling around New Zealand and Vancouver Island. With a three-month tour of remote Fiordland already under her belt—during which she and boyfriend Sim Grigg were pinned down for 14 days by gale-force winds and eight-meter seas, nearly running out of food—the then 23-year-old sea kayak guide felt up to the challenge.

With her willowy build and ready giggle, Mulvany isn’t your archetypical stoic seadog, but her faded paddling jacket and threadbare PFD are testament to her time on the water. Kicking off the trip with a winter circumnavigation added to the appeal. “No one had ever paddled around the South Island in winter before,” she says.

In May 2012, she and Grigg set off on what would prove to be a life-defining journey. Seasickness, surf landings in the dark, capsizes and even getting separated for several days on the wild West Coast tested their commitment to the trip, and each other. Halfway through, Grigg left for good. “It was a strange feeling to leave behind the security I had felt with having a companion and face the uncertainty ahead alone,” she says of her decision to continue solo.

Intoxicated by the simplicity, freedom and challenges of life in a kayak, Mulvany went on to circle the rest of New Zealand, tracing the coastlines of Stewart Island and the North Island on a journey that was by turns idyllic and epic. She recalls one stormy day when she paddled for nine hours only to be forced back by deteriorating weather to where she’d started. “It was one of those days when I didn’t care that I’d gotten nowhere,” she says, “I was thankful just to be on land.” 

Mulvany says it’s this ability to play the conservative card that makes her a successful expedition paddler. “I made it because I followed my instincts, listened to fear when it was necessary, and waited for the conditions that I knew I could manage,” she says.

After becoming the first woman to paddle around all of New Zealand in April 2014, Mulvany traveled to British Columbia and spent six weeks circumnavigating Vancouver Island. Next up, she’s joining a team of paddlers this summer to attempt a first-ever, 2,000-kilometer circumnavigation of Arctic Norway’s Svalbard Archipelago.

“You don’t have to be a hardcore paddler to set off on long, epic trips,” Mulvany advises. “If you break up big trips into achievable legs, you’ll be surprised how quickly new milestones slip by.”

Read about Tara Mulvany’s South Island circumnavigation in her new book,A Winter’s Paddle. Check out more profiles of inspiring female paddlers in the special Women's Issue of Adventure Kayak magazine, available on newsstands and online March 2015.

 


 

 PM Feb2015 TaraNewsThis article originally appeared in Paddling Magazine February 2015, read more great paddling stories here or download our free iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch App or Android App.

 


 

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