Abel Tasman National Park

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…..

Day 1.

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.

2021!

I don’t know about you, but I have been enjoying dreaming up all the places I want to see this year, adventures I want to go on and experiences I want to have. There is so much to see and do here and everyday I am so grateful that I get to call this place home.

I am very fortunate to work for a company that gives us 6 weeks of annual leave, but even with all those days, I think I might be pushing it to do all these things. (And I am sure the credit card will have something to say about it too!)

So, without further ado, here are my travel ambitions for this year:

Explore the West Coast of the South Island. Its a pretty rugged place. Untamed, natural and gorgeous. Mirror lakes, glaciers and rainforest. Its also the wettest place in New Zealand. We drove through the West Coast about 8 years ago when we explored the South Island on our Motorbike. It rained the whole time we were there. When driving through Arthur’s Pass, we reached the sign that said ‘Welcome to the West Coast’ and right on cue, it began to rain. The itinerary is planned, our leave is organised and the pet sitters are locked in, I just need to actually book it all! This time I am hoping we will get to experience some sunshine. I have some pretty awesome activities planned out for this one. And of course, we will be on a Motorbike!

Wine! Last year we made a trip to Martinborough and cycled around the vineyards. We are only an hours drive away from here and I am super keen to do this again. However, this time, I want to pre-plan it (more so than last time) so we can visit the boutique vineyards that are only open for tastings by appointment. I am really interested to see what some of these vineyards have on offer and to hear their stories.

Go on the much delayed, Covid interrupted trip. My mum and I are both April babies. Last year, we were meant to have a birthday weekend away in Greytown. This was cancelled due to Level 4 lockdown. I then rebooked it for August but we had another outbreak which saw Auckland go back into Level 4 and the rest of the country into level 2. I booked it a third time for December and the host cancelled it as she had international family staying in the Airbnb for the foreseeable future due to the covid situation in their country. So, I am really hoping that this year we will be able to get our birthday trip in. Maybe to Greytown, or maybe Whanganui. Perhaps we can do both!

Take the dogs on holiday. For so long I have wanted to take a little holiday with the whole family. I have been pondering the idea of camping but all the ‘dog friendly’ camp sites require the dogs to be on a lead at all times. And we don’t have a tent. I have looked at lots of properties that say they are dog friendly, but then I read the small print and in some cases, the dogs aren’t even allowed in the house. My dogs are small, non shedding and are allowed on the furniture at home and sleep in our bed (yes, I know, spoilt) so it wouldn’t really be a holiday if I had to spend the whole time keeping them off the furniture. But…I have recently found an Airbnb in Otaki Beach that not only allows small non shedding dogs in the house, they are also allowed on the furniture and the bed! I can’t wait to do this! I am hoping I will be able to find some more dog friendly places so we can have more adventures together.

An adventure trip. I would so love to Kayak Able Tasman in a guided tour but it is pretty pricey. Definitely one day, but for now I have my eye set on the 3 day self guided river canoe down the Whanganui river. Being self guided it is much cheaper. There are cabins along the way so you don’t need to take tents and you can stop at your leisure to enjoy the surroundings. I am trying to convince my dad that this is a trip he should do with me.

Family holiday part 2. Last Spring, I spent a weekend at Waitarere Beach with my mum, dad, brother, sister in law, nephew and niece. We had so much fun and decided there and then that we needed to make this a seasonal trip. We are now half way into Summer so need to get cracking on this one! Lake Taupo sounds like a possibility. I am really keen to get my nephew out on a kayak or paddle board! The plan is to also have an Autumn, Winter and Spring trip. Watch this space.

Anniversary Trip. Last year, Daniel and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary in Queenstown. I had no intention to mark this occasion annually with travel, but we had such a great time, so why not. This time I am thinking maybe the Northern Explorer train journey with a few stops on the way. Maybe the Chateau in Tongariro. Hubby doesn’t know about this yet and he would rather be at work than on holiday so this one might be a bit of a challenge!

My annual ‘holiday on my own’. I have done this twice now. At the end of the year. An opportunity to get away on my own for a couple of days and recharge my batteries. So far I have been to Waiheke Island and Marlborough Sounds. I have no plans of where for this year, but Akaroa has crossed my mind.

So that’s my list! I am sure there will be more dreams and travel inspiration that pop up during the year, as well as unexpected adventures that present themselves. Will just have to wait and see.

What are your travel aspirations for 2021? Where in Aotearoa are you hoping to visit?

http://www.backpack-newzealand.com/mapofnewzealand.html

Ticking off the Bucket List – part 1

For the longest time, we are talking around 10 years, I have wanted to stay at Wharekauhau. A residents special made this possible so I booked this back in May and have been patiently waiting ever since.

Today a big tick is going on the bucket list. The day is finally here. We are heading to Wharekauhau, at Cape Palliser in the Wairarapa.

We have been here a couple of times for lunch, it’s where Daniel proposed and holds a special place in my heart.

It’s a beautiful still day so we decide to travel up on our Motorbike. I kinda like the idea that we are traveling to a luxury lodge on our rough looking, beaten up, but much loved Fireblade.

We arrive. She is such a grand old house. We are greeted with the warm, friendly hospitality we have always experience here. Our bags are taken to our room on a little golf cart and we start our night away with a cool drink on the front porch, looking out across green pastures and the rugged, but very charming Cape Palliser.

Jackie then gives a tour of the property. There is so much attention to details. The artwork, the decor, it’s a feast for the eyes. We go to the games rooms, the dining room, my heart flutters a little when I spot the room where Daniel got down on one knee. We then head outside to the courtyard and are shown where to find the petanque set, croquet clubs, tennis court and swimming pool.

We arrive at our cottage, it’s very private, set among trees and decorated to the highest standard. Yes, I think this will do quite nicely.

We are booked in for clay target shooting (first time for both of us) so we change out of our motorbike gear and head back up to the lodge where our guide, Dougal is waiting for us. We jump into the 4wheel drive and head out into the country side.

We arrive at our first stop, the station is nestled into the bush. We get some instructions on how to hold the gun, what to expect and how to stand.

Daniel is up first.

Pull. The bright orange target soars through the air.

Bang.

He hits it first time. And then again and again and again.

He is a natural and I am desperately hoping that I also manage to hit some.

Its my turn now. There are 2 shotguns. I start with the smaller one, a Buretta 4/10. I take my time getting used to holding it, it’s weight, and making sure I am tucking it into my shoulder.

Then it gets loaded.

Pull. I spot the disk and follow it with my eyes. Then it starts dropping.

Bang. But I have left it too late. A clear miss. But now I have taken the first shot, experienced the kick back and know what to expect, I am feeling a little more relaxed about it.

I fire a few more misses, but then, contact. Yay!

Now I have the hang of things I move onto the bigger shotgun, a 12 guage German Beretta semi automatic. This one is so much heavier and I struggle to hold the gun up for more than a few seconds, but this holds 2 shots which increases my chance of hitting the targets. Which I do.

We then move 2 a second site. The machine at this site can fire out 2 targets. So now we are firing at 2 targets. I could hit the first one but then I was so quick looking for the second one that I had to keep asking if I hit anything. Surprisingly I am quite good at hitting the first target, not so much the second.

Daniel is doing quite well so he is then challenged to start with the gun to the ground and to then pull it up into position after the target is released. This helps even up the scores between us.

We are now at the last station. What a beautiful place. Trees, birds and a milky blue river flowing below us. Again, 2 targets are sent out at once, but the difference here is that instead of being sent straight out in front of me, they are coming around to the left and dropping quite quickly. These ones are rather challenging. I think it was more luck than skill, but I am pleased to report that as I got better, Daniel got worse and we ended the experience with the same amount of hits.

Pretty darn proud of myself.

As Dougal said, ‘for a city girl who works at a bank, you did pretty good!’

The Bucket List – North Island Edition

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called The Bucket List, my 5 top New Zealand experience I want to have. After writing it, I realised that every item on that list was in the South Island. Correction, I mean the South Island and Stewart Island.

What I am getting at is that there were no North Island experiences on my list, and it’s the Island I live on. Shame on me!

Te Ika a Maui, aka, The North Island, has some stunning beaches, natural hot springs and some interesting Geo thermal areas. It is certainly a place worth exploring.

So, without furthur ado, here is my top 5 North Island Bucker List items:

Staying a night at Wharekauhau Lodge

This one has been on the bucket list for 11.5 years! An Edwardian style lodge, set up on a hill, it looks out towards stunning views of Palliser Bay and farm land in the Wairarapa. I first came here in 2009. It is where Daniel and I got engaged and has always held a special place in my heart. We visited again late last year, again just for lunch. When Daniel proposed, he had looked into staying a night, but at over $3000 a night, it was off the cards. A bucket list item for sure, but perhaps more of a dream.

Not anymore. In September we are making this dream a reality. I managed to grab a bargain when they were offering a ‘Back your backyard – NZ residents special’. It was too good to pass up.

Wharekauhau is luxury at it’s finest. The food is exceptional, the location stunning and the staff are so warm and welcoming. To say I am excited about staying here is an understatement.

Tongariro Crossing

I actually had plans to do this walk in March with my sister-in-law. The trip was all booked and then Covid-19 happened. The first weekend we spent in lockdown was the weekend we were meant to be hiking this trail.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing is in the Tongariro National Park, located in central North Island in the Manawatu-Wanganui region. The walk is just under 20km and is often described as being NZ’s best day walk. The walk is said to be challenging but incredibly rewarding. The trail takes you past craters, lakes and landscapes like no other.

I am yet to rebook this one but will need to do some fitness prepping first. I will confess that I didn’t do much exercise during lockdown and took up the hobby of baking. Needless to say, I have put on a bit of lockdown weight.

Northern Explorer

One of New Zealand’s great train rides. This journey goes between Auckland and Wellington, stopping at some great locations along the way. The journey takes around 10 hours, but I would take the opportunity to get off at some stops along the way to further explore.

Fancy staying in a Chateau or visiting Hobbiton? Black water rafting at Waitomo or a trip to Kapiti Island? These are all locations that are accessible from the stops it makes along the way.

The Northern Explorer is not currently operating, I am waiting for that email it’s back up and running and then (if I haven’t already spent all my money on other trips) I will make a booking.

Camping with the pups

I have wanted to do this for a while now, what’s stopping me I hear you ask? Well the main thing, I don’t own a tent. An essential piece of equipment for this adventure.

I have always loved camping but haven’t done it in ages. I would love to take Frankie and Eddie camping with me too. There are a few campgrounds around that allow dogs.

The other issue stopping me is that Frankie and Eddie, AKA The FrEddies, although small and cute, are very vocal. The love to alert us of people arriving, birds on the porch and neighbors turning on their lights. We would need to trial the camping somewhere close, like Wainuiomata, so if The FrEddies felt the need to alert us to everything going on at the camp site and we needed to make a quick exit in the middle of the night, we wouldn’t need to drive too far.

First thing I need to do is locate a tent I can borrow. I don’t want to invest in one if it’s going to be a disastrous family outing.

Wanganui River Kayak

I have a thing for kayaking, I am certainly no pro and I don’t do it very often, but given the chance I love to jump in a kayak and go exploring.

This Wanganui River tour is a multi day tour, I think actually in canoes, rather than kayaks. I haven’t done too much research into this, so I don’t have a tour company picked out, yet.

This would be a tour with stunning scenery and informative local history in a area that I am not too familiar with.

What’s on your bucket list?

The Bucket List

2020 started over 5 months ago, but in someways it feels like it is just beginning. As with all new starts, its time to start dreaming (and planning) those adventures that will leave you with lifetime memories.

Not sure where to start? I thought I would share my top 5 New Zealand bucket list items. (In no particular order)

Doubtful Sounds Overnight Cruise

I have been fortunate enough to have done an overnight cruise in Milford Sounds. To this day, it remains one of the most magical and memorable travel experiences I have ever had.

There is something about the fiords that makes you marvel at creation. They make you feel so small, in a good way, where you are reminded of just how awesome mother nature is. Combine that with the stillness and silence of the place and your are in for a real treat.

Doubtful Sounds is less visited by tourists, much larger and very quiet. I want to kayak next to huge fiords again, count shooting stars at night and watch the sun rise in the sounds.

Who could imagine anything better?

Star Gazing in a Dark Sky Reserve

I have always had a fascination with stars. They are so mysterious and magical. We live in a world with so much light pollution that our night sky is very different to what our ancestors would have looked upon. Fortunately there are still areas in the world where the magic of the milky way and shooting stars that make you gasp can be seen.

New Zealand has 2 official dark sky reserves, including the world’s biggest – the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve in Canterbury. At Lake Tekapo you will find Mt. John Observatory where you can partake in a variety of star gazing experiences (currently closed due to Covid-19).

The star gazing experience that’s on my bucket list though is Lake Tekapo’s Soak in the Stars experience at Tekapo Springs. Imagine floating in a natural hot pool, gazing up at the milky way. I am sure it would leave me breathless.

Stewart Island

Following on from my fascination with stars and the night sky, I would love to see the Aurora Polaris. I am sure many of you have heard of the Northern lights, but you don’t have to head all the way to Alaska or Scandinavia. The Aurora Australis, also known as the Southern Lights, can be seen from parts of New Zealand, including Stewart Island. I don’t know about you, but for me, all those colours dancing about in the sky and witnessing this natural phenomena is most definitely a bucket list item.

Stewart Island is 80% national park, making it an excellent place for bush walks and seeing some of our native wildlife including the kiwi. I can’t wait for the opportunity to explore this place.

Swim with Dolphins

This experience has been on my bucket list for the last few years. I have made 2 attempts at this so far. The first one I had lined up was in Tauranga but I had to cancel that last minute as my husband had a small motorbike accident a week before we were due to depart. I then made a second attempt earlier in the year on our south island trip, you can read about that here and here.

As with any wild animal encounter, there is always an element of chance and luck. This is part of what makes the occurrence so special. On this trip, we didn’t get to swim with dolphins, but we did get to observe the little, rare Hector’s dolphin in it’s natural habitat which was pretty special.

I am not sure when, but I will definitely be making another stop at E-Ko Tours in Picton for another chance at swimming with dolphins. I really love the care and commitment this company has for protecting our environment.

Multi Day Able Tasman Kayak

In 2000 I tramped Able Tasman on a school trip. I then went straight onto a family holiday in Rarotonga. I remember thinking that the beaches at Able Tasman were more amazing. And that’s saying something because the beaches in Raro are beautiful.

In 2012, I did a half day Able Tasman Kayak with my husband. Clear water, blue sunny skies and stunning beaches. I can’t get enough. I have my eye on this 5 day kayak trip with Able Tasman Kayaks. Bring it on!

What’s on your bucket list?