Kayaking New Zealand’s Abel Tasman National Park

5 03 2013

Which beach today?

Today we kayak Abel Tasman National Park! This park is arguably labeled New Zealand’s best kayaking destination. While I tend to disagree, it is undoubtedly a dream come true for sea kayakers. And we’ve been looking forward to this the whole trip!

Pre trip briefing for the paddlers

Pre trip briefing for the paddlers

We have been watching the weather closely, and right on schedule (for this vacation) another Antarctic storm is due sometime today. When we get to Marahau Sea Kayaks kayak outfitters in Marahau, the staff is fretting because the storm is due about mid day, when all their novice kayak renters are going to be out in the park. They are two steps away from cancelling everyone. But they decide to let people go out, hoping the storm is late.

Because I am a kayak instructor/guide, they let me rent a single kayak and let us go out by ourselves. I go over the safety issues and equipment with Elwin and Angelique. Plus explanation of the parts of the kayak, adjusting the seats and footrests. Then on to a tutorial on paddles and how to hold the paddle.

While we are getting ready, the local instructors are prepping groups to go out. They are going through the same procedures as we. It’s interesting to see how they do things in another country. Actually it’s incredibly similar to home!

We trailer the boats to the put in.

We trailer the boats to the put in.

Once we launch, I give Elwin and Angelique, who are paddling a tandem kayak, a quick course on efficient paddling, how to go forward, stop, turn, and go backward. And of course the capsize drill.

Then it’s time to head off! Because of the potential storm, I plan to head north up the coast, and check out the two offshore islands first before the storm closes in. They are Adele Island and Fisherman Island.

Let me just say it. It’s NYCE! Niiiiiice! Really nice. Those sapphire blue waters, limestone formations, warm air and rhythmic ocean swells, plus the salt air are just wonderful. Yesterday I spied a perfect lunch spot on a beach on Adele Island, which had several kayaks on it. We’re heading there.


Heading across to the beach for lunch

But when we get there, the beach is missing. That’s because the tide has covered what I saw hiking yesterday.

So instead of lunching here, we head across to the mainland to another, very small, golden sandy beach for lunch.


Angelique unpacks lunch!

It’s about noon, and the storm hasn’t arrived yet. We lunch and relax and soak it all in.

We really enjoy the beach. Still, I have to note that there are some motorboats in the area, a few jet skis, and some larger boats carrying up to 40 tourists which ply these waters. So it’s not the untouched, ultimately quiet spot I wish it were. It’s a magnet because of its beauty. The other thing is we are here in New Zealand’s high holiday season. So, Kiwis are on vacation all over the country. The schools are closed and people take off for a good part of January every year! So like us, they are on holiday, too.


We head back to Marahau because I spot wind waves in the distance, an indication the storm may be on its way.

About 45 minutes into our return, it doesn’t look quite so bad, so we decide to head back out to the islands for a closer look. Then we’ll turn back toward Marahau.

We kayak right to the point at Fisherman’s Island and then head straight for Marahau. This takes us across the bay. One choice would be to head along the shore. But that would take longer.

Thirty minutes into our journey a squall approaches over the mountains behind Marahau.

Paddling across with the storm coming over the mountains

Paddling across with the storm coming over the mountains, easy before the squall hits.

I can see it’s raining in the mountains, and expect it to make its way to us. But right now it’s fine where we are. We paddle on. Twenty minutes later, I can see gusts visible as black spots on the water heading our way. As they, and wind waves hit us, I have us head directly into the wind, because Elwin and Angelique don’t have experience with sideways waves. Angelique really likes paddling aggressively! At that point, this direction would take us ultimately to a point protected from the wind, and we could snake along the shore protected from the wind – which was coming from the mountains behind.

Mother Nature was kind to us today. Just as it came, the squall dissipated and moved on. We didn’t even get a drop of rain. With that, we redirected back across the bay to Marahau. Everyone today managed to get in a good day of paddling today, but gray storm clouds were making their way across the mountains.

All I can say is we go our paddling day at Abel Tasman National Park! We had fun and Mother Nature held off for us this time!

Hiking Zew Zealand’s Abel Tasman Coast Track

28 02 2013

IMG_3449Abel Tasman National Park, at the northwest tip of New Zealand’s South Island, is a warm weather lover’s paradise! It belongs on your Kiwi bucket list. Endowed with lush peninsulas and private bays with golden beaches and turquoise seas, it irresistibly attracts outdoorsy types. The Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, allows hikers to experience the park’s wonder, passing along beaches, through Jurassic Park-like forest, before climbing to jaw-dropping views. It is also renowned for sea kayaking and kayak camping. Abel Tasman National Park is a sure bet to deliver soul-cleansing pleasure. Open your ears, breathe deeply and let your eyes feast on the views. Then grab a paddle and immerse yourself kayaking in the sea!

There are many ways to enjoy the park. Backpacking (or “tramping” in Kiwi) its 54 km coastal track, hiking, swimming, kayaking and kayak camping are but a few. We chose to spend two days there, and experience the park by foot one day and by kayak the next.IMG_0166

One of Abel Tasman National Park’s to-die-for experiences is sea kayaking. So we called ahead to Marahau Sea Kayaks to reserve kayaks for the second day. This outfitter in Marahau was amenable to my request for a single kayak – most rentals in New Zealand are tandems. I’d lead Elwin and Angelique, who’d be in a tandem. I’m a kayak instructor – so I’d give them some first-timer lessons!


3 Kayaks down there! Click and zoom to see them…

But today’s adventure called for hiking. There are many choices. We wanted to do a thorough hike on the coastal track. There are no roundabout trails – it’s only out and back. However, you can take a water taxi to a trailhead and hike back to your vehicle – so we picked that idea. We set off from the Nikau Apartments in Nelson, and arrived in Marahau at 8:00 a.m. It would be an all-day adventure!

And what a day it was! We met our water taxi at Marahau, and it would drop us off on the beach at Bark Bay. From there, it’d be a five to six- hour hike back to Marahau.

Bark Bay is a pretty golden sand beach with a tent campground set behind the trees. Behind lay a peaceful lagoon. Here our day long hike begins!


Here the coastal track follows the bays tucked in the many peninsulas along the headlands. At first, I’m hiking close to the water’s edge but in the forest. It is about 80 degrees. There are no mosquitoes nor biting flies. Just cicadas buzzing. I hear Bell Birds and the occasional Fan Tail alights nearby to check me out. It is dry-very little wind. This perfection is totally intoxicating and I become lost in the moment…the low level forest is full of giant black tree ferns…maybe I am in Jurassic Park!

This is truly incredible since it’s early January – my winter but summer in the southern hemisphere!

If you are an avid American hiker or backpacker – or kayak camper living in the American West, you might expect a solitary/private experience in Abel Tasman. If that is what you want, you’ll be disappointed. This track is very popular. So much so that you won’t be able to just set up a tent in the woods. Rather, due to volumes of visitors, there are huts, or designated tent campgrounds. You’ll also meet sailboat cruisers and some powerboaters who’ve anchored offshore. At least you’ll meet fellow outdoor lovers from all over Planet Earth. The two girls from Finland I met came the furthest.

I stop to take some pictures, and lose track of Elwin and Angelique. After 45 minutes trying to catch them in vain, I just set my own pace, enjoying every step of the way. There are a good number of backpackers – I hear French and German spoken.

I walk across a couple of suspension bridges, on either side ferns, with a clear pool underneath. Then I begin to climb away from the shore, up to the bluffs above. There, the forest becomes less jungle-like and more dry.

In many places it opens for periods of walking with views of islands, kayakers, and across the Cook Strait toward the North Island.

IMG_0173There are so many cool bays and inlets. There are lots of possibilities for tomorrow’s kayaking!

All along the Abel Tasman Coast Track there are opportunities to take side trails to secluded beaches, peninsula lookouts and lagoons.


A sweet picnic beach

I keep track of the time and my progress. At Anchorage one of the stops, I begin to realize if I spend too much time on a side adventure it’d be after 5:00 when I return! So, with that in mind, I limit myself. But there are so many opportunities to pause, and drink in the view. I take one of these and sit down, watch the kayakers below, and eat my lunch.

Somewhere along the way I entertain myself by turbocharging my pace. I hear hikers coming from behind, some kids amongst them, and I imagine they’re Lord of the Rings Orcs hunting for me. No matter how hard I go they keep dogging me! But at some point I pass another side trail leading to a beach and after that I don’t hear from them anymore. From a high bluff I look out and realize it is freaking January! How can this be?

Finally, I descend to the end stretch, a flat section eventually terminating at Marahau. I hear “Rod!” from behind. It’s Elwin, with Angelique behind. Somehow I managed to lead them this whole time. Or, maybe they took a long side adventure. Either way we will wind up at the end together. My feet and Angelique’s legs are both hurting! I’m glad it’s not any further.


Back in Marahau I check in at Marahau Sea Kayaks and they have dozens of boats ready for departure. A group shall be going out! But they’ve allowed us to go out privately since I’m a BCU certified coach. Looking forward to sea kayaking tomorrow!

We head back to Nelson, to catch the movie The Hobbit…

A Day in Sunny Kaikoura New Zealand – An Unplanned Treat!

24 02 2013

IMG_0146Our spirits, soaked with sadness on having to forgo driving up the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island because of the storm, were completely lifted upon reaching the sunny east coast near Kaikoura! There, we experienced incredibly calm turquoise seas, warm temperatures, ocean wildlife, and peace.

On the way we reserved a room at the Sunrise Lodge Hostel. We really lucked out as our room was right across from the beach! With that in mind, I brought out a chair and watched the sunset. Almost immediately a school of dolphins approached, jumping all over.


It was so relaxing after the disappointments we’d had. This was quite a nice reward! I prepared dinner at the kitchenette in our hostel apartment, and then Elwin returned – we decided to make a bonfire out on the beach.

This was great fun. The stars came out, and it was so clear that we could pick out the Southern Cross, and the Magellanic Clouds. Two local Kiwis taking a stroll noticed our fire and took part in collecting more wood.


To the north lay the mountainsIMG_0142.

And looking south the Kaikoura Peninsula. Beautiful!

Right in Kaikoura there is a worthwhile hike – on the Kaikoura Peninsula. So that would be next day’s plan.

Another beauty of a day dawned, and we packed our backpacks with lunches and headed out for a hike.

The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway is a four-hour loop hike taking you out into the Pacific.


A Southern Sea Lion takes in the UV rays.


It meanders along the water’s edge, past sea lion colonies, red-billed gull colonies, nesting shearwaters, and coves where snorkelers were harvesting rock lobsters, known locally as crayfish.


Angelique, Elwin and I spent hours meandering amongst the many bays created by the fingers of land reaching into the sea. The water is perfectly clear, and you can watch the sea swells ebbing into the bays. There, bull kelp sways to and fro with the water’s motion.

Then the trail climbs the bluffs, and you can see forever in each direction. Up top, of course someone’s farm with cows comes right up to the trail. But the unlimited views are spectacular.


There is a lot of beautiful pampas grass which flows like flags in the wind.

IMG_3434After our rigorous hike and refreshing air and views, it’s time to head up north – we’ll be staying in Nelson, our staging point for a few days hiking and kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park.

Stuck in Wanaka, New Zealand: Mother Nature’s Wrath Alters Our Plan

22 02 2013

Weighing on our minds the past few days was a series of Antarctic storms. These had smashed the western coast of the New Zealand’s South Island every few days since I arrived. And now our plans called for driving up that coast. It is beautiful and has the world renowned low elevation Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glaciers. But to get there, we’d have to cross the mountains. What would Mother Nature have in store for us?

Today we drive from Te Anau to Wanaka. Plans called for playing in Wanaka and then making an epic crossing of the Southern Alps via the Haast Pass to the coast. There are only two roads across the Southern Alps between here and Christchurch. The other is Arthur’s Pass. A recent storm had already closed the coastal highway but it had been repaired due to heroic efforts from New Zealand highway crews.

Now another storm approached, and upon our arrival in Wanaka, it unleashed its fury. It was pouring and due to continue for 12 hours. Our hostess at the Matterhorn South tried her best to find things for us to do, but other than movie theaters, there really wasn’t a lot to do other than walking the shopping area. The typically fantastic view of Lake Wanaka was completely obscured. Our room at the Matterhorn South needed some serious cleaning and updated bedding. At least the hostel was in downtown and had an upstairs with a library, fireplace and wide screen TV.  We spoke at length with a woman from Perth, Australia who was to climb Mount Aspiring. And a gentleman from Christchurch who had vivid descriptions of the earthquakes.

All we could do was make dinner in the kitchen and wait. Next morning, I checked via my iPhone and learned that the Haast Pass route was closed. In New Zealand, rain causes rivers and lakes to rise rapidly. Part of the road was built right next to Lake Wanaka – and the lake flooded out the road and was still rising. Worse, the other route across, further north, Arthur’s Pass, was also closed! Forecast was that maybe the lake would recede…but later in the day. Could we wait? No, because we had reservations in Abel Tasman National Park, on the northern tip of the island, in just 48 hours.

Disappointed, frustrated and in denial that something we’d looked forward to witnessing for months was slipping away, we pulled ourselves together and researched alternatives. I’d already experienced how the eastern side of the island can have much drier, warmer weather so I looked at the IMG_0137map and suggested we aim for Kaikoura. It’s a couple hours north of Christchurch, it’s on the beach, and has a peninsula worth hiking.

With that we headed to Kaikoura, and just like magic, on the eastern coast it was summer again! This lifted our spirits so much. We found a hostel and a room steps from the beach.

So, it was time for some late afternoon beach combing and then supper!