A fastmoving dark shape just under the water broke the surface, stopped and peered at us. The shiny, black head with beady eyes and whiskers looked at the rocks, then returned its gaze to our kayak. It was a New Zealand fur seal and it was contemplating the best warmup spot. Hey Kelly, what do we do if it wants to climb onto our kayak¬we called to our guide. She just laughed, They‘ree inquisitive, but not that inquisitive.
Kelly was right, and after a thorough inspection of our kayak, the seal rolled over, glided underneath us and headed for the rocks. It climbed out, shook itself, then took one last look back before flopping down to warm up in the sun.|
Our encounter was just one of the highlights of a twoday kayak trip along the coast of Abel Tasman National Park in Nelson. We got an idea of just how popular kayaking the park was when we arrived at the kayak base at Marahau. Rows of kayaks, both double and single, lined the lawn, and paddles and other equipment hung in racks nearby.
We regularly scuba dive and snorkel from siton kayaks, but this was our first time using twoperson sea kayaks. Kelly kitted us out with spray jackets, spray decks and lifejackets. Climb in,she called. The spray decks will keep you and the inside of the kayak completely dry.Thoughts of paddling without getting a wet bottom really appealed.
With a few wobbles, we did a trial fitting of the spray decks. No one tipped over, but we were still on dry land. Next step was a thorough paddling and safety instruction session to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.
Kelly supervised the loading of our gear plus the camping and cooking equipment into the kayak storage holds. Secure dry lids ensured all the gear would stay dry, even if you manage to tip over.
Now it was time to put the theory into practice. We loaded five kayaks onto a trailer and headed for the launching site at Marahau Beach. Unloading at the water‘s edge was easy and the fun part began. Noone wanted to be the first to tip, but the stability of the kayaks was amazing, and noone fell out.
It took a little while to get used to steering with the rudder, controlled by the back seat paddler. The first few hundred metres resembled a slalom course with a few bumps, near misses and lots of laughs. The back seat paddler had to coordinate their paddling with the front paddler. After a few clashes of paddles we got the hang of it. Spending five minutes resting in the back seat under the pretext of waiting to coordinate paddles wasn‘t acceptable and was usually repaid with a paddle load of water.
Abel Tasman‘s golden sandy beaches are separated by rocky headlands with large boulders lining the foreshore. Trees grow down to the water‘s edge, and in the morning sunlight the park looks magic with the mountains looming behind.
Kelly kept a close eye on everyone as we headed towards a sandspit on Adele Island about an hour‘s paddle from Marahau. The kayaksbows furrowed the smooth sand as we crunched to a stop. Unclipping the spray decks, climbing out and dragging our kayak clear of the water was easy.
We got to know the other kayakers as Kelly started up a small cooker and made the first cuppa. Two couples were from England and there was a mother and daughter team from New Zealand. Kelly admitted to being an Australian, so sport was immediately dropped as a topic of conversation.
Black and white oystercatchers noisily let us know that this beach was their territory. Kelly identified several birds sitting in the trees above the beach as the local shag species. Out to sea, gannets glided, pausing occasionally to dive on an unsuspecting fish below.
From Adele Island it was an easy paddle past more beaches snuggled between rocky headlands. Other groups of kayakers passed, travelling both up and down the coast, as we paddled casually along.
Abel Tasman National Park is one of the mustdoadventures for visitors to the Nelson region. As New Zealanders, we didn‘t let on that it was our first trip to this part of the country.
We had our first contact with fur seals near the coast. A wet, dark stained patch on the rocks showed where several seals had been resting and the smell confirmed it. A strange, flipperlike shape bobbed on the surface a few hundred metres further along. Then a head popped up, looked at us and vanished. We had just encountered our first New Zealand fur seal, albeit briefly. The boulders below us were covered in sea urchins, sea stars, a few large turban shells and seaweeds. The water looked inviting but the temperature wasn‘t and we opted to stay in the kayak.
Our next stop was lunch at Watering Cove and then it was on to our camp site at Anchorage. We almost always get a sea breeze in the afternoon at this time of year,Kelly said. It may get a bit rough.As promised, the sea breeze came up and we had to paddle a bit harder to make headway against the wind and waves. It was great to have the spray decks and waterproof jackets to keep us dry. Our kayak was a Sea Bear, which was very stable in the choppy seas, even with the full load.
Another kayak group coming towards us flew along, even though the occupants were hardly paddling. Each kayak had a small sail at the front and with the sea breeze pushing them along they had it easy.
We pulled our kayaks up the beach at Anchorage between the dozens already lined up. A bellbird called from the bush, its musical notes a welcome to dry land. Several more joined it and their song continued as we set up camp. What about a paddle up the Torrent River estuary before dinner¬Kelly asked. The tide‘s in and it‘s a really scenic spot.There were no dissenters and everyone relaunched safely and followed Kelly across the bay. With no camping gear on board the kayaks really flew as we rounded the point into the estuary.
It seemed strange, coming from northern New Zealand, to paddle into an estuary and not see mangroves, but instead the forest came right down to the water‘s edge.
Whitefaced herons worked their way across the shallows, picking up crabs and other small animals. We paddled up the estuary until the turn of the tide signalled an about turn. With the sea breeze behind us on the trip back, paddling was even easier.
Department of Conservation staff had stockpiled dead and fallen timber at Anchorage, and we soon had a roaring fire in one of the hearths provided. The dreaded South Island sandflies we had been warned to watch out for didn‘t eventuate. Perhaps the smoke kept them away.
Gas cookers brought with us in the kayaks were lit and dinner cooked, accompanied by a bottle of wine. The day‘s paddling contributed to a good night‘s sleep in the peaceful bush setting.
Bellbirds announced the start of another beautiful, clear day. We were keen to get going and loaded tents and cooking gear back into the kayaks. Warm up exercises on the beach in five minutes,called Kelly. We thought she was joking until she showed us the beach version of line dancing. The other kayakers gave us some strange looks and a wide berth!
Tonga Island, part of a marine reserve, gradually increased in size as we paddled towards it. Out to sea, a pod of dolphins jumped and splashed. It wasn‘t our day of the dolphins and they passed a kilometre outside us, still jumping and splashing as they went.
The seal population increased as we got closer to Tonga Island Several lithe bodies twisted and turned on the surface, while others rolled and played. Near the island, more seals rested on the surface and sunbathed on the rocks. Those in the water came in, had a look at us and glided underneath our kayaks. In the clear water we could see them looking up at these strange creatures from another world. The sea breeze hadn‘t come up so we circumnavigated the island. The smell of the seals resting on the rocks drifted across the water. Several seal pups bellowed to Mum for a feed. It would have been great to stay there all day, but the sea breeze began to rise and dictated a return to the coast.
The lunchtime landing point was near the Tonga Bay quarry. In days gone by, Nelson‘s granite boulders were cut to workable size and loaded onto barges to become buildings and gravestones. Now only remnants of the machinery and a building remain, preserved as part of the Abel Tasman National Park‘s history. Onetahuti, a few bays further along the coast, was the end of our kayaking trip.
Goodbyes were said as our group split up, some opting to tramp more of the park‘s coastal walkways. The rest of us waited for the water taxi for the easy option back to Marahau. All the kayaks were loaded on sideways, and 45 minutes later we were back at the base for a hot shower.
Abel Tasman National Park is without doubt one of New Zealand‘s most spectacular regions, and exploring it from a kayak is one of the best ways to enjoy it.