Sarah Poplar - Hen Island to Waipu

Taranga (Hen Island) to Waipu Cove

18.9 km (11.7 miles)

10 hours, 11 minutes on 21 April 2018

Observed and documented by Mike Cochrane

First known crossing between Hen & Chickens Islands and mainland



  • Name: Sarah Poplar
  • Gender: female
  • Age on swim date: 42
  • Nationality: Great Britain
  • Resides: Whangarei Heads, New Zealand

Support Personnel

  • Steve Martinovich - pilot
  • Chris Palmer - feeder / crew
  • Mike Cochrane - observer, documenter

Escort Vessel: Sumo (Whangarei)

Swim Parameters

Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.

Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.

Route Definition

Swim Data

  • Start: 21 April 2018, 06:43, New Zealand Standard Time (UTC+12)
  • Finish: 21 April 2018, 16:54
  • Elapsed: 10 hours, 11 minutes.

Summary of Conditions

Feature Min Max
Water Temp 19C 20C
Air Temp 17C 20C
Wind 7-9 kt 12-14 knots NW

GPS Track

Trackpoint frequency: 30 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).

Speed Plot

Observer Log

Download PDF


The first plans for the Hen to Waipu swim had to be cancelled due to last minute windy conditions.

On the approach to the next available neap tide window, the conditions were forecast to be amazing. It was all on! Unfortunately as the day approached the wind forecast changed for the worse. It was inevitable that windy conditions were going to frequent Bream Bay as the swimming season drew to a close, so we went for it. The wind was forecast to get up late morning, and I believed I would be at least half way across before the tide changed to outgoing.

On the day, the wind was against us from sunrise which caused problems with the escorting boat position which we became accustomed to, but also meant an extremely slow approach into the beach! In all the swim took an additional 2-3 hours to that expected.


  • Pilot - Steve from Bream Bay Charters, boat - Sumo.
  • Mike Cochrane - support and observer
  • Chris Palmer - support and safety, he is Patrol captain from my surf club.


  • Departed Mcleods Bay pier at 0530
  • Arrived Hen Island (Taranga) 0630
  • Swim start: 0643 (sunrise 0652) Stead/Lighthouse Bay Taranga Island. (Landing permit acquired via Dept Of Conservation.)
  • Swim completed: Waipu Cove at Surf Club 1654
  • Time: 10h 11m

Feeding regimen

Hourly, offered 300ml of 4:1 carb:protein plus a gel alternating between caffeine and no caffeine.


  • swell 0.5m E, Wind 10 knots gusting 15 WNW,
  • high tide 11:23 tidal coefficient 59 average
  • water temp 20 C

We started at Taranga Island, I had a moment of hesitation before jumping into the unknown to swim to the island. For the last two weeks I had been collecting shark stories from people I met who were horrified at the idea of swimming “with the Bronzies and Great Whites!”.

I had decided not to wear my electromagnetic shark repellent having not trained with it, and was rightly advised it would act as a constant reminder of the anxiety, rather than a calming placebo.

Chris was very attentive, he accompanied me at the start and checked out the rocky landscape for a suitable entrance, and was there to collect up my shoes on re-entering the water. This was a rare opportunity to be on the island, albeit momentarily. The shallow seabed in the bay was made up of a forest of beautiful stalked kelp and volcanic rock. I used plastic rock shoes to climb out- I didn’t want to enter the bay with a blood trail! The sea floor drops away steeply into the cobalt blue waters of Bream Bay. We were off.

A couple of kilometres into the swim we had the wonderful sunrise behind Taranga Island- majestic, and the island created an iconic silhouette.

As soon as we left the island the wind was fully appreciated. The boat was constantly being blown off course and was forced to pirouette in circles on the mapped course. The sea was disquieted and surly, the wind chop slapping back my hands and arms, and smacking into my goggles. Thankfully the swell was minimal and the sun shone warmly for most of the swim with only one short squall of rain.

Half way across the bay we watched a tanker come to rest, we believed anchored, and made a plan to pass it to the south. As we slowly approached it appeared to be drifting as we continued detouring to the left. Quite quickly it was very close and we could make out the detail of the helm (thankfully I was breathing to the left and only occasionally made sight of it. This made for an excellent photo opportunity. The tanker then took off, showing us it’s rear. The props churned the waters bringing big wells of cold water and cloud from the depths. Brrrr (but still must have been 19 degrees!)

We were inside Bream Bay as the tide turned. I watched the southern coast of the bay slowly slowly inch past, at times not sure if I was making headway. Mike enjoyed a short swim beside me as he directed me towards the Waipu surf club. Another hour went by- I expected to be on sand by now. The beach and club house appeared not to be getting any closer- in fact it wasn’t for a while. I could feel the tidal current and the wind both head-on and kept swimming for the clubhouse. To make out the clubhouse I would do little stretches of breaststroke to be able to see over the waves. I felt disappointed each time I was offered another feed…..that meant yet another hour had gone by, and I didn’t feel any closer! We plugged on, at times I enjoyed powering into the waves, and was at other times despondent (or cross!) when my tired arms were caught and snatched back by the waves.

Then, suddenly I could sense the water becoming shallower, the water was murky but every now and then I would catch sight of a sandy seabed. Ok- let’s go. I could make out people on the beach and Mike told me my children had made a “high tide finishing line” for me to cross. Then, probably another hour later, the tell tale signs of an imminent finish- Chris got in with the rescue tube, and then Mike was there too to film the finish. I touched feet to sand and was happy to surf the occasional wave into the beach.

My family and three groups of friends, and Mike’s mum, were there for the finish! I was greeted by seven screaming excited children who ran me up the beach to the finish. That was the best memory of the swim.

It was a real challenge and rewarding day and I couldn’t have done it without Chris and Mike, two awesome guys.


Click to enlarge.



From Bream Bay News: