Abel Tasman National Park

Adventure Kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park

Lying on fine golden sand, toes dipped slightly into cool blue waters, I breathe a mammoth sigh of relief. The sigh is a release of several days (and night’s) worth of pent-up frustration. I’ve spent the last week trying to sleep on the cramped back seat of my Volkswagen Jetta, the second-hand vehicle I bought to guide me around New Zealand’s magnificent roads, and it’s not been comfortable to say the least. On top of that, ‘Josephine’ (as I call the car) was made in 1986 – and she’s rather temperamental. Jumpstarts have been numerous. Getting here has been hell.

But boy, has it been worth it. I could be forgiven for thinking that I was in Fiji right now, the sand is so golden, the waters so clear and calm. In the distance, I can hear the song of a thousand native birds.

Abel Tasman is New Zealand’s smallest national park. The long strip of coast features a combination of native forest and granite or marble cliff-faces. Between the forest and the ocean, nestled amongst the jutting cliffs, lie numerous small sandy beaches. This layout makes the area perfect for kayaking – because the beaches are separated by the cliffs, you literally use your kayak like a taxi, to ferry you from place to place. As there are so many beaches to choose from, some of the smaller ones can be literally deserted at any time of day. The larger ones offer fresh water taps, toilets and cooking facilities, as well as campsites. If you are feeling luxurious, you can rent a beach hut to sleep in, or a room on a moored yacht hotel. But these basic huts and boats are as ‘developed’ as the land gets.

Several hours before we started, I was nervous. I’m not an experienced Kayaker and this is my first time on the sea. When my partner in crime suggested we visit the park on a two day, self-guided kayak tour, I was sceptical.

We hired the Kayaks and equipment from Freedom Rentals, as part of a two-day-deal .This included several hours of training and safety briefings, and a trial run in the water. For a beginner, this was ideal – the package of training made me feel much more confident about the next few days ahead.

After training, a water-taxi took us to the furthest point Kayakers can travel to – Anchorage. Then it was up to us to find our way back to the mainland, over the course of two days. Now, I can certainly understand the appeal of travelling with a guide, but I loved the freedom of the self-guided kayak. We were able to move at our own pace, and stop off whenever the mood took us.

The iconic image that the park uses to promote itself to tourists is one of a baby seal, sitting on a kayak. This is because the park is notorious for its wildlife – a large part of the coast is a protected Marine Reserve. Part of this stretch of reserve, includes Tonga Island, which is famous for being a home to hundreds of seals. But despite all this, the idea of a wild animal sitting on your kayak still seemed to us like a marketing dream.

However, when we came across a group of babies playing in the water, in the shallows of Tonga Island, they were instantly captivated by us – almost as much as we were by them! They swam under our vessel in quick succession, and danced around our paddles. I moved my paddle in the water, to create air bubbles, and they began to play – grabbing the paddle with their little flippers.

One particularly nosey creature suddenly decided to touch my hand with his flipper. This close encounter wasn’t enough to satisfy his curiosity and he pulled himself up onto the middle of the kayak, to begin sniffing at me. I was so excited I could barely speak, and in a few moments, he got bored and slid back into the water. My only frustration was that I didn’t manage to capture it on camera (which isn’t waterproof so I tucked it safely away with our camping gear).

Later that day we stopped off at one of the larger beaches to set up camp. We struggled to carry the heavy equipment up the beach, but another traveller helped us. We put up the tent and ate a nutritious dinner of sardines, tomatoes & bread, before taking a late night walk in the forest. In the morning we set off again, sad that the time has passed by so quickly.

Article Written By Amy Heritage activityaway.co.uk

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