New Zealand: Abel Tasman

Michael and I traveled to New Zealand as part of our 2007 career break. The following is an excerpt from our travel blog.

[singlepic=263,200,,,right]Nelson, 1995 – the sunniest place in all of New Zealand. It failed to live up to that title the last time I was here as it down poured for three days straight. On the fourth day, the seas were deemed too rough to kayak the Abel Tasman, as we stood on the shoreline with paddles in our hands and frowns on our faces.

Nelson, 2007 – as we pulled into town the day before to overcast skies and light drizzle, I was apprehensive that Nelson would ever live up to its moniker in my presence. And I was nervous about our three-day kayaking/hiking experience we were to set out for today. As I awoke in our hotel in Motueka (which lives close to Abel Tasman National Park) blue skies did greet us on my birthday morning. I could only hope it would last.

There are a variety of ways to explore Abel Tasman – the most popular being by kayak or foot. And you can do it in different spans of time – from a one-day hike of just a portion to a combination of day hikes and kayaking. Likewise, you can do it on your own, staying at campsites or DOC huts, or go with a tour operator.

[singlepic=262,200,,,left]We decided to splurge and went with Abel Tasman Wilson’s Experience – the only tour operator that has actual lodging in the park. There are still a few privately owned homes that were located in the park before it became a National Park in 1942. And the Wilson family has had land dating back to the 1850’s. What were once vacation homes turned slowly into a business as people were constantly asking to visit, and once there, needing something to do! Plus, access to most of the park is only available by foot or boat, so a shuttle business was also born.

Twelve of us started on this excursion – nine of us would be kayaking this first day and three would be hiking. As we stood on the shores of Marahau Bay, a large tidal estuary and the launching point for most kayak trips, our guides Kether and Joel informed us that our clear day came with some pretty strong winds. This made the sea a bit rough, so we had to paddle pretty hard to stay stable through the swells and white caps.

A few rogue waves crashed directly on top of the kayak and all I could think was how this was a great way to test the new dry bags we purchased for the camera gear – all of which sat strapped right onto the bungy, exposed to all the elements.

[singlepic=264,200,,,right]Luckily the winds were at least to our backs, so we arrived at our lunch spot much earlier than planned. We spent the next couple of hours enjoying lunch on the golden sands of Te Pukatea Bay and hiking around Pitt Head. Then we were off for a short paddle around to Anchorage Bay and then onto our lodging in Torrent Bay. All totaled we kayaked 12 km. that day.

Shortly after our arrival the three hikers showed up with their guide, Richard, and we all enjoyed some appetizers and drinks over good conversation before a delicious dinner. Later we all discovered our love for the HBO show, “Flight of the Conchords,” about two New Zealand folk singers trying to make it in NYC. It’s funny to think how in this small group of travelers from all different countries and backgrounds we all appreciate this quirky little comedy. And a couple from the UK spotted Jemaine and Brett walking the streets of Wellington just two days before! They were the envy of the group.

[singlepic=278,200,,,left]The next morning we gained two kayakers from the hiking group for the first portion of the day. We paddled out under mostly cloudy skies and some pretty big swells. We had to paddle pretty hard through Bark Bay before circling the Tonga Island Seal Colony. Most of the seals seemed to be in sleep mode – perhaps they were resting up for the mating season, which is just ahead.

As we turned into Onetahuti Bay we faced some pretty strong head winds in addition to the swells, just a reminder that we were truly in a sea. And even though we kayaked just half as far as our first day, it was much more of an effort. This would be our lunch spot, as well as the place we would say farewell to five of our party plus the kayaks. From here on out we would be on foot until the next day.

[singlepic=284,200,,,right]When doing the coastal track, you need to time the hikes with the tides. And even during low tide you may be required to wade through some water. And that was what we found at the top of the beach. We waited for a bit for the tide to go out a bit further but decided to give it a go once the level at its deepest came about mid-thigh. Then Kether guided the seven of us remaining up and through some beautiful vegetation, explaining along the way the different flora, most of it introduced to New Zealand by early settlers.

That night we spent at the Meadowbank Homestead and had the pleasure of meeting John Wilson, patriarch of the clan. He was working on some new construction preparing for the busy season ahead and he shared with us some great history of the land and its development. The property is actually from his wife’s side, and the business is truly a family one, with all the children, their partners, and even grandchildren working at some point.

[singlepic=281,200,,,left]Our third and final day had us hiking a few kilometers through forest and onto Waiharakeke Beach where we followed the coast to our final stop, Totaranui Bay. From here our water taxi took us on a two-hour journey back down so we could have a different view from the water. This time the seals were much more active and even feeling frisky.

We disembarked in Kaiteri, just a few kilometers down from where we started. And here we would say goodbye to our Abel Tasman experience. We faced some challenging seas that gave us a great workout, enjoyed the company of our fellow kayakers and hikers, and loved every minute of this beautiful park.

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