WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Two young adventurers completed an epic paddle of more than 2,000 miles on Sunday to become the first people to travel from Australia to New Zealand by kayak.
Australians James Castrission, 25, and Justin Jones, 24, spent 62 days crossing the Tasman Sea in their custom built fiberglass vessel and battled strong winds and tides that spun them in giant circles and forced them to change their original plans.
The two pulled in at Ngamotu Beach near the town of New Plymouth on New Zealand's west coast shortly after midday and were greeted by a clutch of traditional Maori canoes and were welcomed as pioneers by a crowd of about 2,000 kayak enthusiasts.
"NZ, thank you, thank you, you guys rock. This is so cool," Jones said, as the pair hugged family members and drank a beer they were each handed.
Castrission paid tribute to Andrew McAuley, an Australian kayaker who vanished in February last year while trying to make a solo crossing of the Tasman after making a desperate mayday call.
"We have only got a small, small idea of what Andrew went through out there," Castrission told reporters. "Some nights when we were out there, we had each other to hold through the difficult moments."
The pair, who left Australia from Forster, about 185 miles north of Sydney, on Nov. 13, had intended to make it to Auckland, the country's largest city, before Christmas but changed plans after being buffeted during the journey.
During the trip, strong currents forced them to make huge circles to avoid being carried far off course, meaning their eventual journey was much farther than the 1,200 miles they had originally planned.
"It was meant to be 1,200 miles, but we took a detour in the middle," Jones said.
"It was obviously frustrating being stuck in the cabin and going in circles after two weeks in the Tasman, but we were going to get here, it was just a matter of time," he said.
They were taken for medical checks, amid fears their leg muscles may have deteriorated because of the long period of inactivity. They climbed out of their kayak, however, and appeared in good health. They were expected to return to Australia — by plane — in the next few days.
Their trek is believed to be the first successful crossing from Australia and New Zealand by kayak.
McAuley vanished after reaching within sight of New Zealand's mountains. His kayak and equipment — including a camera with the last images he shot — were found later, but not his body.