Mark Hutson, one of New Zealand’s most experienced guides and instructors, has been running guided sea kayak tours out of the Bay of Islands since 1986 – becoming expert with gourmet meals and luxury kayak camping.
Having grown up in Hawaii, surfing and skin diving were among Mark’s childhood activities, as well as surf life saving and sailing in his university years. Later on, alpine guiding and ski mountaineering in Washington State, commercial fishing in Alaska and designing and sewing mountaineering equipment in Seattle were other pursuits before “discovering” the magnificent Northeast coast of northern New Zealand and settling into the Bay of Islands.
During NZ’s winters, Mark likes to get away for his own extended recreation. Usually he heads to Hawaii for kayaking and adventure swimming, and the Pacific North West’s mountains or to the South Island of NZ, in search of the snow. Free diving, surfing and adventure swimming (while towing camping gear) are activities he has been pursuing in recent years.
Recently, in 2010, Mark was inducted into the famous and madcap, California based Tsunami Rangers. He has enjoyed paddling in their company along the California and Washington coasts and has reciprocated with Rangers joining him on his New Zealand trips.
How do the experiences you offer at New Zealand Sea Kayak Adventures give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of your region?
We get to visit the coastal sites where Maori villages existed hundreds of years ago. No one else can access these villages because there are no roads and they are situated along shoreline hill tops that only small boats can approach and land (such as kayaks).
How have the experiences that you offer evolved since their inception?
A greater variety of meals and baked desserts, and a greater variety of places we paddle to with my connections over the years with local landowners.
What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?
Pre-trip organization is key to running a smooth trip where nothing gets left behind and customers are very comfortable in camp, even during bad weather.
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider participating in the experiences you offer?
That what we offer is very unique. We work hard to teach paddling and safety skills while they are still having fun with the tour. Our coastline up here in the Bay of Islands and along the outer coasts has been described as world class by numerous guests that have paddled many other places in the world. (This I know from my own personal paddling experiences around the world myself!)
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
I’m scratching my brain to answer this … sadly, not a lot comes to mind 🙁
What sets NZ Sea Kayak Adventures apart from other, similar, adventure travel companies?
We have decades of experience leading these trips with the owner (me) leading 90% of all trips. I made many contacts with local landowners and have proprietary and exclusive use of some coastal areas not open to other companies. We have evolved to a much higher standard of food, technically exciting level of paddling in the sea caves, rock gardens and sea stacks.
What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
Do not plan and commit to your whole travel time, leave time open for following your nose as opportunities come up while on your journey.
What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?
Heck … my business really hasn’t grown much in the 30 years, to be honest! I’m a slack tart when it comes to marketing and have been for probably ten years. The business just ticks along and I make enough to keep my unharassed lifestyle in good order!
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
I am organized, and not in need of large business profits. I’m motivated by meeting guests, being out there in the coastal environment, camping and exploring all there is to see in this part of NZ.
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
A New Zealander got to see a kiwi just a couple minutes walk from our camp. It was poking its beak into the ground looking for bugs and walked right up to her, checked her shoe and then kept going around her on its way to find more grubs! She was gobsmacked and almost cried when recounting her story in camp. The kiwi is a nocturnal, rare and endangered endemic bird here in New Zealand and probably not seen by 98% of New Zealanders.