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Kayaking the Abel Tasman

As I was doing my due diligence on New Zealand during the extensive trip planning phase, one area continued to stand out through my research - the Abel Tasman National Park. Websites continually showed off pictures of the crystal clear water and hidden coves, typically being paddled through by kayakers. I enjoy kayaking, and I pitched the idea to Cathy of doing a day long adventure in the park. 

Fast forward several months and after our 3 day New Year stint in Nelson we drove up north to Motueka, the gateway town to the park (really the only town nearby with grocery stores etc) and jumped in the 7:45AM shuttle to Marahau, a tiny enclave in the park where the Abel Tasman Kayaking home base is located. After quickly filling out some generic waiver forms, we met our guide who was covering his face in high power sunscreen, the kind that stays white on your face for most of a day. He reminded us that it takes less than 15 minutes to burn in this part of the world, but we were prepared with our big hats (purchased by my ever prepared mother). We met the 3 other couples going on the “Remote Coast” trip with us, mostly French but also 2 Germans. We hopped in the water taxi attached to a trailer taking us down the beach and dropping us into the water. 

The water taxi ride was a jarring 30 minute ride deep into the park, continually jumping waves and smashing down over and over again. Never the less, we were so psyched for our day that we didn’t have a care in the world. Hopping out of the boat into thigh high water by a picture perfect white beach, we did our kayak safety demo in Awaroa, deep in the park. Cathy and I saddled up, put on our spray skirts and life jackets and prepared to push our kayak into the water off the beach. Naturally we mistimed the water entry and got smashed by a wave even before getting into the yellow double kayak, filling our seats with chilly water. “It’s all good!” I yelled to Cathy, “it’s all part of the experience!” After hopping into the seats, Cathy first and myself second as I took on the task of steering from the back, we paddled out towards the guide and started to head South down the coast. Almost immediately we started noticing tons of birds, including many cormorants (a local back in Marin County where I grew up), as well as “Kekeno” fur seals. The seals were acting as they do, just like dogs of the seas, lounging around and playing with their buddies. This was pretty cool to see, but I see seals back home pretty frequently, so maybe a bigger rush if you come from landlocked Switzerland or some place similar. Paddling further South, we started to enter a special cove that is only accessible during certain high tides. Now this was sick, completely calm water, just kayaking through rock formations and enjoying the sounds of nature and glimpses of sunshine. Two families (or maybe one big one) pulled their motorboats in as we were coming out, mooring themselves ahead of probably enjoying a nice picnic lunch. 

As we came out of the cove and headed towards the Astrolabe region, the wind really started to pick up as did the waves. Kayaking is tiring in the best of conditions, when the conditions turn, as they were increasingly, it was becoming far more difficult to keep up pace with the waves and headwind. Although we’d been in the kayaks since 9 AM or so, and we were starving for lunch, our guide informed us we still had another hour of paddling ahead of us (currently noon) before we’d eat. As we finally came in sight of the tiny spit of sand we’d set down to eat, Cathy and I both acknowledged we weren’t feeling so hot. Or in fact, we were feeling really hot from the sun beating down as well as some minor sea sickness. Neither of us get seasick, or at least we didn’t think we did, but the repetitive waviness took a bit of a toll. Upon hitting the beach we informed our guide and he took one look at Cathy and said “seasick, eh?” Yep - we both were. Keeping in mind we’d picked the most challenging day trip offered, taking us deepest into the park, we started to contemplate our exit. We’d already kayaked 10+ kilometers, not to shabby for two city-folk more accustomed to sitting at a desk for 12 hours a day than kayaking 12 kilometers, 

Fortunately for us, we’d stopped off right by Onetahuti beach, where frequent water taxi pickups occur, and our guide simply radioed the base and got us a pickup for a little after our lunch. Thrilled that we wouldn’t need to continue the remaining distance in increasingly rough conditions, we chowed down on the only veggie sandwich I can ever honestly say I truly enjoyed. Granted, I was starving, but this veggie sandwich and apple juice followed up by a piece of chocolate cake (just like the one my mom and now Cathy makes me for my birthday) just hit the spot. Feeling revived, we picked up our small backpacks and took a 20 minute walk down the Abel Tasman track in the forest ringing the beaches upon beaches we’d passed on the way South earlier. The water taxi came shortly after, showing up with a 14 person strong group of 3 families from New Zealand who’d spent the last 3 days hiking and camping in the park. As we headed back to the home base, we were glad we’d made the executive decision to call it quits early, as the conditions appeared to be deteriorating rapidly, making it a pretty rough journey home. We did laugh hysterically watching the kids on the boat sitting on the other side just getting soaked and having to rotate around so they wouldn’t suffocate from the copious amounts of seawater being thrown directly into their faces every few seconds. Just as Cathy and I were, the parents seemed to be enjoying this experience greatly, I wonder at what point it’s amusing to see your kids just getting crushed by waves knowing they won’t be hurt, just extremely soaked. We laughed the whole way home. 

Upon arriving at ATK base, they gave us some fresh towels and pointed us towards the showers. After warming up and washing the salt stuck to our bodies we headed to the one bar in town just in time for happy hour. After a couple beers, a sweet loaf cake and some fish and chips we boarded the shuttle back to Motueka for the night. Exhausting from a day that started off brilliantly and then proceeded to turn a bit, although still an overall incredible experience, we picked up Indian food and chomped down before crashing hard for the night. We had a big drive the next day, and we didn’t really have any idea how long it would take. hint hint - it took a lot longer than we expected.

Avery RaminComment