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…