Freya Hoffmeister has completed her 332-day, 9,400-mile sea-kayak circumnavigation of Australia. The 45-year-old German is only the second paddler to accomplish the feat, and the first woman to complete the challenging circuit. She also was the fastest, by nearly a month.
New Zealander Paul Caffyn was the first to circumnavigate the island continent 27 years ago. He completed the trip in 360 days. Hoffmeister finished her journey Tuesday Dec. 15 at 12:30 p.m. local time (5:30 p.m. Dec. 14 on the U.S. west coast) at Caffyn's Cove in Queenscliff, near Melbourne. The inlet is named for the Kiwi adventurer, who also started and ended from the same spot.
The Australian circumnavigation is regarded as one of the planet's toughest sea-kayak challenges. Aside from the brain-numbing distance, Hoffmeister at various times faced massive storm-swell, tropical heat, crocodiles, and a shark that she says took a nibble of her 18-foot sea kayak.
Perhaps the most formidable challenge was three stretches of sheer limestone cliffs, each more than 100 miles long with stiff prevailing headwinds and no reasonable place to land. Hoffmeister was at sea for more than 30 hours to cross each section.
The German attacked the mission with dogged determination, and in the interest of speed accepted a degree of risk Caffyn did not. Her most brazen exploit was cutting straight across the Gulf of Carpentaria in northern Australia, a 350-mile open-ocean crossing that took her six days. It saved her weeks of plodding along the coastline.
Hoffmeister, who began a circumnavigation of New Zealand's South Island just months after completing a record-breaking circuit of Iceland in 2007, says she has no plans to get back in a kayak soon. “I might start travelling around the world, or write a book,” she told The Sydney Morning Herald. "I’m tired and I’m happy not to be paddling any more, but it was worth the risk,” she said.
Canoe & Kayak named Hoffmeister a Hero of Paddling in our March, 2009 issue. In our upcoming March 2010 issue we honor her as the Best Paddler Now. -Jeff Moag