Join us as we travel around New Zealand in our aging,
tubby campervan, Gerty
Kayaking in Abel Tasman
February 6, 2011
Abel Tasman, the smallest of the national parks in New Zealand, is a stunning area with a temperate climate where verdant mountains rise from granite strewn shores. The sea, shades of deep green, steely blue and brilliant emerald, is studded with rocks and densely wooded islands.
Abel Tasman was an explorer and merchant seafarer with the Dutch East India Company. See our page on Hoorn In 1642 he was sent to find Terra Australis Incognita a presumed land stretching across the southern Pacific. On Dec. 13, 1642 he sighted the northwestern coast of New Zealand and on Dec. 18th his ship anchored off Golden Bay, a large beautiful bay at the northeastern end of the South Island.
Maori were none to happy to see these first Europeans and one of their wakas rammed one of his small boats killing 4 sailors. Tasman left New Zealand without having stepped foot on land.
Roads end at the northern and southern boundaries of the park. Hiking, kayaking or water taxi are the only means of access. Because the coastline is so spectacular and we love being on the water we were thrilled at the opportunity to do a three-day kayaking trip.
Several outfits do trips but during my research I was most impressed by The Sea Kayaking Company out of Motueka. They offer the longest guided trips and provide high quality fiberglass kayaks as well as everything needed for two nights camping.
Our guide, Brad, was very knowledgeable, friendly, patient and low-key, the perfect temperament! Eight of us paddled four double kayaks: Lukas (swiss) and Christoph (german), Leela (english) and Flick (kiwi living in London), Paul (kiwi living in Switzerland) and Milena (polish living in Switzerland), and Jim and me (americans).
Brad, our guide
Leela and Flick
Lukas and Christoph
Paul and Milena
Normally the trips run north to south but a gale was blowing near Totaranui so we did the route in reverse starting at Marahau.
Paddling along at a leisurely pace under a vivid blue sky was absolutely enchanting. We never strayed far from the coast, often paddling among rocks clustered close to shore.
Fine sandy beaches emerge from concealed bays. New Zealand fur seals lounge amid jumbles of large granite rocks. Here and there a lagoon opens behind a small spit and only a bit of flat water in the small breaking waves reveal a narrow river emptying into the sea. Brad led us into all of these.
As we paddled below a narrow foot bridge Brad wondered if anyone wanted to jump off. Flick and I feared the water was too shallow but Paul was game and climbed up to the swaying bridge. He leaped off to fall about 12 meters into the cold water which he said was more distressing than the jump.
We broke for lunch each day at a picturesque sandy beaches where we relaxed and devoured sandwiches or wraps filled with yummy ingredients followed by homemade treats.
The first night we stopped at Anchorage Bay, a large but pretty campsite. A couple of other kayak trips were there along with several hikers. The campsites here are amazingly well fitted with flush toilets and kitchens with sinks. Very civilized indeed!
Brad asked it we still had energy to do a hike and would like to visit a fresh water pool with a waterslide. Of course! So off we ambled into the woods until we reached Cleopatra's Pool. Paul was first down the slide before the rest of us had a go. What fun and how refreshing the chilly water felt!
After dinner our group gathered round the campfire. A rustle in the bushes announced the arrival of Roger, a yachtie anchored in the bay. He asked if he could cook his chicken on the fire. Sure, no problem. He plopped the bird down in the middle of the flames and proceeded to completely char it. Apparently the banana he placed on top was to keep in succulently moist inside. It was asking a lot of that banana! When the last person went to bed Roger said the blackened bird would be cooked to perfection in 20 more minutes. Hard to believe.
After hauling our kayaks down to the beach the next morning we carefully eased onto the water and headed off. The only noise heard was that of our paddles dipping into the calm, tranquil sea as we glided almost effortlessly along to the north.
Following the coast we paddled past cove after cove. Again we detoured up rivers to ghost past overhanging trees and steep walls along shallow waterways.
After lunch we paddled over to Tonga Island, the main part of a marine reserve dedicated to protecting New Zealand fur seals. Boats must not approach closer than 20 meters but we still had incredible views of the creatures basking on the rocks in the warm sunshine.
We continued north close to the rocky coast often paddling in single file through narrow passes in the rocks until we rounded the last point. The large Onetahuti Bay opened up in front of us.
What was that ahead? Bottlenose dolphins! About 50 gathered all around frolicking and swimming next to and beneath our kayaks. These were the most acrobatic dolphins I've ever seen! These energetic creatures put on a magnificent show leaping and twirling and bowriding. It was absolutely amazing!
We found very few others camping at Onetahuti. After a swim and a delicious dinner we waited until almost dark before walking to the southern end of the beach and crawling into a cave.
Looking up we saw hundreds of glowworms lighting the ceiling like fluorescent green stars on a pitch black night. Also living in the cave are interesting bugs nearly the size of my hand (including legs) called wetas. These eat the glowworms. Fortunately there were a lot more glowworms than wetas.
We awoke the last morning to clouds and drizzle. Rather than gloomy, it was surrealistic paddling over the absolutely still gray water under the monochromatic sky.
During our lunch break the sky cleared almost instantaneously for our last stretch of paddling. We all moved slowly, not wanting the trip to end.
Once we reached the beach and sorted our stuff for the water taxi a few of us went for one last swim. The water taxi came early because there were dolphins near our route and the driver was eager to find them. He did! He said we could jump in and swim with them so Paul, Brad and I did just that. Awesome!
The tide was out when we reached Marahau so the water taxi was driven up onto a trailer pulled by a tractor to shore saving us a really long walk through soggy sand.
This map shows Abel Tasman National Park. Hiking trails are marked by dotted lines and our kayaking route is shown with a red line. We traveled from Marahau in the south to Totaruni in the north, a distance of 42 km. Leisurely days to be sure. What an amazing experience! So many beautiful scenes are etched in our minds and we had the pleasure of sharing it with really nice people. The trip exceeded our already high expectations.