February, it’s generally the most reliable month in the country for warm, sunny weather. That’s why Daniel and I take our Summer Holiday in February. The weather is great, schools have gone back and it’s getting towards the end of peak tourist season. It’s the perfect time to travel.
And Abel Tasman, it’s in the sunny Tasman region, well know for it’s hours and hours of glorious sunshine.
A multi day kayak through Abel Tasman National Park has been on my bucket list since long before I even knew what a bucket list was. And now I can tick it off the list. And, we did this through some of the worst February weather we have had in a long time, while the country was experiencing a tropical cyclone…..
Actually, I will rewind and start this story on the morning before day 1. Daniel and I are in the dining room of our hostel, quietly eating our breakfast. At the other end of the dining hall is a table of 8 senior citizen women who are making quite a racket. Excitedly chattering away, it looks like they are having a great time. I overhear them talking about going on a kayak tour.
Day 1. Daniel and I step outside the hostel at 6.55am in the drizzling rain, waiting to be collected by Abel Tasman Kayaks. There is a father and son also waiting outside. We get talking and find we are on the same tour. And then, who should also step outside , I know you know where this story is going, the women from the breakfast yesterday. Already their banter has me laughing. They are such a hoot. They will be entertaining companions on this tour that’s for sure!
We are collected by Abel Tasman Kayaks in a shuttle and driven out to Marahau. It takes a bit over an hour but it’s very scenic. We drive along the coastal route. It’s still and the colours of the sky and sea are soft and blended. It looks like a water colour painting. The day is still waking up.
Further into the drive, the rain starts pelting down. This is going to be a very wet trip. It’s pretty disappointing, but what can you do other than roll with it and make the most of the situation?
We arrive at the base and are introduced to our guide Mitchell, but everyone calls him Red. With the assistance of Red, for the next 3 days, we will be exploring Abel Tasman Park with the father and son from this morning and a couple who self drove to the base. The senior citizens are in their own group accompanied by their incredibly patient guide, Kyle.
We pack the clothes we will need into dry bags, and then put everything into the kayaks. We get provided with a tent and sleeping bag and all the food and cooking equipment needed has already been loaded into the kayaks. We are then given spray skirts, spray jackets and life jackets. The rain is heavy and persistent. We are trying to keep dry, sticking to the shelter, but soon there will be no avoiding it.
With the kayaks loaded onto the truck, we head down to the beach. Normally this trip starts with a water taxi ride up to Awaroa in the northern end of the park and then you kayak back down to Marahau over the 3 days. Because of the weather, our tour will be different. We are jumping straight in with a 5 hour kayak to Bark Bay where our guides have managed to secure us a hut for the night (rather than being in a tent.)
After a safety briefing and some instructions on how to paddle, we launch our kayaks. Instantly I notice how quiet it is on the water. It is calm and peaceful with the soft pitter patter of rain on the ocean. It is more like a lake than the sea, it’s so flat.
The bush on the hills is like what I fell in love with on the West Coast. Dense, lush and vibrant. It is every shade of green you can imagine and full of textures. The sea looks green too, reflecting its vibrant colours.
It’s simply stunning.
It doesn’t take long before I start to find the kayaking challenging. I am using muscles that haven’t been used in a while and they are not that happy about being woken up. But I push through it. 1, 2. 1, 2. Finding my rhythm and focusing on the beauty around me. At one point we are accompanied by a school of small fish that skim across the water, their bodies flashing sliver in the light.
We pass gorgeous, sandy bays. Even in the rain on this grey and gloomy day, the sand glows golden. We rest for a while, in our kayaks with the golden beach as our back drop and Red tells us how the area became a national park. It was first opened on the 16th December, 1942, 300 years after Abel Tasman had first sailed these waters. The government had plans to build a coastal road through the area but Nelson resident and environmentalist Perrine Moncrieff collected 1000 signatures and petitioned the government to turn it into a National Park. This was declined, so she wrote a letter to the Queen of The Netherlands, inviting her to attend the opening of the park, signed from the government. The Queen agreed to attend and the NZ government then decided they’d better follow through, not wanting to admit ‘government documents’ had been forged, especially during a World War. I couldn’t find this version of the story on the internet, but that’s what we got told and I very much like this version.
We then head out to Adele Island, named after the wife of French explorer Dumont D’Urville, who mapped the area with incredible accuracy in the early 19th century. Adele Island is home to a colony of New Zealand fur seals (which apparently are actually sea lions) and we were able to watch them on the rocks for a while. At this time of year there were also pups which were very cute. They are too young to know how to swim, but in a month or 2, Red explains that they will be more confident with swimming and are very curious. They will swim right up to you and Red has even had one jump onto his kayak.
It’s time for lunch so we paddle over to Te Pukatea Bay. It’s a perfect little crescent bay, filled with golden sand. Its a shame about the weather. Red puts up a fly and we eat our lunch under the shelter. Despite the persistent rain and being soaked through, I hadn’t felt cold, until now. Once we stopped paddling, everyone in the group started to cool down so we didn’t wait long before jumping back into the kayaks.
The next bit of paddling is hard. It’s called The Mad Mile. This body of water is more exposed. Its choppy and a rather challenging paddle, but we make it through. Before long, we arrive at another beautiful bay, a crescent moon shape and it draws us in.
We have arrived at Bark Bay.
After unpacking all the gear and moving it up to the hut, I decide it’s time for a swim. It’s not great weather, but when am I going to be here again? I am going to make the most of my time in Abel Tasman National Park, whatever the weather. I am joined by 2 others and we head down to the beach for a dip. The water is surprising warm, but also very shallow. We go out so far but it doesn’t get deeper than my thigh. Still, that’s enough water to float around for a while.
We head back to the hut to get warm and dry and find platters of cheese, crackers, dips, chips, wine and beer! This is not camping like I’ve know it, we are far from ‘roughing it’. We gather around the table and spend time getting to know our fellow travelers better, including the ladies in the other tour group. (They took a water taxi to Bark Bay and then did a little kayak in the area) They are such a laugh. They are a group of women, brought together by a shared love of travelling. One of them put an ad in the local paper looking for travel companions 12 years ago and have since done trips all over the world together.
The rain eases off for a bit so Daniel and I head out on a recommended walk to a waterfall. The bush is beautiful. It is so lovely in the rain, all glistening and dewy. There is a bridge by the waterfall which makes for a good viewing point. The water is so clear. It’s not the most impressive waterfall, but it’s certainly nice to get out for a walk and enjoy a rare moment of the day when it is not raining.
Back at the hut, Kyle gathers us all to tell us the story of Abel Tasman discovering Aotearoa and his encounter with the local iwi. It happened in what was called Murderers Bay (now renamed Golden Bay) Through misunderstandings and cultural differences, the encounter didn’t go well. Abel Tasman only spent 5 days in New Zealand waters and never once set foot on this land, yet the whole area was named after him. Kyle’s stories of this land were fascinating and passionate. He really brought the history to life.
We share more stories as a group over a lovely dinner of chickpea curry, followed by pavlova. Yes pavlova! On a kayaking trip. Who would have thought!
We all head off to bed early. It’s been a long and physically demanding day. We are all very grateful to be in the hut tonight and not in a tent! I don’t sleep well at all though, sharing a room with so many people, it’s hot, noisy and not particularly comfy. But I do wake in the morning, so I must have slept for some of it.