[This article first appeared in TTG]
Despite a thorough explanation from instructor Derek on how to hold my paddle and how to slow down and change direction, I was still concerned about losing control and smashing up my kayak on the rocks. But Derek assured me the kayaks were practically indestructible. “You might hit into each other, though – the kayaks have got magnets in them,” he warned us.
I’d have thought magnets would make the kayaks heavier and slower, but didn’t like to question it; Derek Hairon is a sea-kayaking expert and wrote the world’s first book on the subject. His company, Jersey Kayak Adventures, has been guiding trips around Jersey’s rugged coast and nearby islands since 2004.
As we navigated through narrow gaps between rocks, I bumped apologetically into my fellow kayakers a few times but nobody seemed to mind. It seemed the magnets in my kayak were particularly strong.
The sea-level in Jersey rises and falls by up to 12 metres each tide, meaning you see different things each time you go out. Travelling by sea-kayak also means accessing whole stretches of the coast you never could on foot. Derek pointed out various bird species, and told us about Jersey’s natural history and geology as we paddled.
It was only as we peeled off our wetsuits at the end that Derek finally admitted he’d been pulling my leg about the magnets. I sensed I hadn’t been the first to fall for it.
But while he might joke about kayak magnetism, one thing Jersey Kayak Adventures takes very seriously is its environmental impact. Kayakers get a discount if they use public transport, and are encouraged to pick up any litter they spot and to drink from refillable bicycle bottles rather than buying bottled water.
There are other companies on Jersey that have shown a similar commitment. Jersey was the first destination in the world to gain Green Globe accreditation, and many hotels and attractions are signed up to the Green Tourism Business Scheme (GTBS).
La Mare Wine Estate is the only Gold award holder on the island, with eco-measures such as using discarded cooking oil as bio-fuel for the mini-bus and giving visitors a 5% discount if they use public transport to reach the estate. Jersey is on the same latitude as the Champagne region of France, so it enjoys an excellent grape-growing climate. La Mare produces not just award-winning wines but also cider, apple brandy, its own range of chocolates and to-die-for preserves.
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, founded by author and naturalist Gerald Durrell, holds a silver GTBS award. The Trust is involved in species conservation projects around the world, and “zoo” is something of a dirty word. Species at the centre include Andean bears, lemurs, tamarin monkeys and gorillas – you may remember TV footage from 1986 when a toddler fell into Durrell’s gorilla enclosure and the silverback sat next to the unconscious body to protect the boy from the other gorillas.
I went behind-the-scenes with a keeper to help prepare food for the family of seven orangutans. The wheelbarrow of shiny onions, leeks and cucumbers grown in Durrell’s own garden looked more like the Best In Show at a village fete than the scraps I’d imagined the animals might get. And it put me in the mind to try some local Jersey produce for myself…
Suma’s, the less formal sister restaurant to Longueville Manor hotel, is located on the waterfront in Gorey, overlooking the iconic Mont Orgueil Castle. I was spoilt for choice with brill, seabass, Royal Bay oysters, lobster and scallops caught off the very coast I’d explored by kayak the day before. Jersey asparagus and a bowl of the first Jersey Royals of the season were also mandatory.
In the last few years, the island’s cuisine has become an important selling point, and it is proud of its two Michelin stars and many AA rosettes. Marco Pierre White is to open a restaurant on St Helier’s waterfront next year, and the tourist board has recently tied up with Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen. Jamie’s trainee chefs flew to Jersey to learn about oyster farming and growing potatoes, and Jersey produce was then featured on the menu in the London restaurant.
The island’s culinary kudos, coupled with an expanding choice of adventure sports and events, is helping draw a new generation of holidaymakers. “Jersey is attracting a younger crowd now, and short breaks are growing fast,” says Premier Holidays marketing manager Emma Coteman.
This summer in particular, the ash cloud and British Airways crises have raised the profile of any destination easily reached by ferry instead of flying. “Once people experience Jersey and how much there is to see and do, they get drawn back again and again,” adds Emma.
I wonder if it might be something to do with those magnets?