Kayaking New Zealand’s Abel Tasman National Park

5 03 2013
IMG_0163

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.

IMG_0201

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.

IMG_0202

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.

IMG_0210IMG_0206

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!





Christchurch New Zealand

11 02 2013

IMG_0088Today we were in Christchurch, New Zealand, where we were to meet with Oscar Manguy and Yurira Hernandez, two Mexican kayak guides I had met during the Loco Roundup Kayak Symposium in 2011. I’ve been Facebooking with them ever since. They work with National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), guiding in Alaska during the northern summer and New Zealand in the southern summer. Not a bad life! When in New Zealand, they live in Christchurch.

When I decided to head to New Zealand, I contacted Yurira and then, when I had definite dates, we were able to coordinate a visit! It was GREAT to see them on the other side of the world!

I hoped to paddle with them, but it seems the kayak facilities they use are not in Christchurch. So we’d spend time visiting in Christchurch and then figure out what to to. Elwin and I were curious about a city called Akaroa, which is on the Banks Peninsula, south of town. But Elwin, Angelique and myself really didn’t know much about Christchurch itself. So we would spend part of the day in downtown Christchurch.

Christchurch, founded in 1850, with about 345,000 people, is the 2nd largest city in New Zealand, and the biggest on the South Island. You wouldn’t know it by looking out from the central city – because the area is pretty flat and the buildings are not so tall. The fact is, Christchurch spreads out a lot. It’s got a wealth of cultural attractions, fine beaches, ample city parks and gardens, and heartbreakingly beautiful churches, which were devastated by two 2011 earthquakes.  It suffered a devastating 6.9 magnitude earthquake in February 2011 and a major aftershock six months later. I talked with some locals – they said one earthquake caused sideways shifting, while the other seemed to jolt upwards.

We first met for lunch, and then took a stroll around. The central business district was simply devastated. And much remains rubble, as building codes are to be updated before reconstruction can begin in earnest. Much of the old downtown was built on ground that was subject to liquefaction. Worse, many older classic buildings and churches were built of brick or stone. All around Christchurch once lovely churches lie in varying states of rebuilding process.

IMG_0089

Seats still inside this theater!

 

We checked out a central business district shopping mall made of shipping containers. This was an interesting way to try to drum up some economic activity!

IMG_0091We passed a theater and what must have been a lively restaurant / bar district. Today, these buildings lay in various states of ruin.

Still, the city is vibrant and moving on. There are lovely walkways and gardens everywhere. If only I had pictures of all the lovely parts of Christchurch!

We’d reached about 2:00 in the afternoon…what would we like to do next? Let’s head to the Banks Peninsula and check out Akaroa. We’d heard it’s a beautiful, warm, with a French flair. So we piled into the Camry and headed over there! More next blog post!

 

 

 





Holiday Season in New Zealand

3 02 2013

The first part of my New Zealand trip was to be five days with my friend Paul Lepper and his family, in Palmerston North. This would be a great introduction to Kiwi life. For the first part of my trip, I would spend time with 100% Kiwis – people who live and work in the heart of the country. My flight left Portland, Oregon – to Vancouver, British Columbia. There, I’d catch an Air New Zealand flight to Auckland. Once there, I’d hop on a 60-minute domestic flight to Palmerston North. Total trip length? Two hours to Vancouver and 14 hours from there to Auckland, plus layovers. Total was about 22 hours.

Preparation for grilling!

Preparation for grilling!

I have known Paul and his wife Liz for seven years. Paul designs kayaks for Feelfree Kayaks. I was a USA Brand Manager for Feelfree Kayak USA, which distributed Feelfree in America. I’d worked with Paul on many occasions – in Bangkok, where they are manufactured, or at the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Salt Lake City, Utah. We’d trained sales reps. We’d worked on design tweaks. We’d discussed where the market is going. We’d talked manufacturing schedules. We’d shown boats to countless dealers. We’d tipped more than a few pints in Bangkok or Utah. But I had never been to New Zealand! Paul had told me many times I have to come and visit. The timing was right this time!

View from Paul's house

View from Paul’s house

I arrived December 28th – Liz met me at the airport – and I was surprised that it was maybe 10 minutes to their house! It was SO nice to see her!

 

Cows out back

Cows out back

They live on 40 acres, have 44 cows, two dogs, several sheep. The house is crescent shaped, partly to deflect wind. It’s a one-story house, so it kind of sprawls to account for the rooms. There is also a view of Mt Ruapehu. Once arrived I went to work tending the cows! This was a good thing for a jet lagged soul. I donned gum-shoes, and set about moving the cows from one paddock to another. The property also has a fabricating facility – and it is there that the kayak designs come to life. I did not take any pictures in there!

Liz and Anthia

Liz and Anthia

I met Paul’s daughter Anthia a and son Glen. Paul has done well for himself. Everyone is so nice and made me feel comfortable. Essentially I was made to feel part of the family. I had a room, and anything I needed don’t ask just grab, whether it be a beer or something from the refrigerator.

IMG_0048

Something very down under!

The next day I joined Paul, Anthia and Liz on a journey to the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Hastings/Napier to see Paul’s dad. We would also visit a mountain with a terrific view, and a winery! Anthia lives in Melbourne, Australia and was home for the holidays…she had lots to say about Melbourne!

One thing about New Zealand is they are into sit on tops and there a lot of Feelfree Kayaks down there.