Monday, April 12, 2010

Kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park

Last January Karen read an article in the Otago Daily Times about Wilson's tours in Abel Tasman National Park. Here's a map that shows where it is at the top of the South Island. We've done a little kayaking on rivers, but neither of us had ever done any sea kayaking. Woo-hoo, what a feeling! After you get off the boat, you still feel like the land is heaving under your feet. When the swell comes in behind you, you almost feel like you could 'catch the wave' and surf on it... But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After we booked the trip, Jamie told us he would be in NZ during that time, so we invited him to go along. He jumped at the chance and arranged to meet us in Nelson at the Leisure Lodge--our pickup point for Wilson's Tours.

We had an hour's ride on a bus to Motueka and on to Kaiteriteri where we boarded Wilson's launch along with at least 40 other people. We made several stops on the trip up the coast, dropping people off in groups of 6 or 8 to hike or kayak. Finally we reached our destination, Totaranui.

We set out almost immediately on a walk through the lush rainforest on the Puketea Loop. Visiting with our fellow trampers, we discovered that one couple in our group lives just one block over from where we used to live in Sydney, Australia. Our guide, Holly, shed her shoes immediately upon our landing and never put them on again. She said that for awhile, the local Pukatea tree was used for tanning hides. The area is not very fertile, in spite of its greenness. Because of the granite base to the soil and the high rainfall, the trees have shallow roots, and once cleared, any soil is quickly eroded.

We had picked up sack lunches at Motukea before boarding the launch and had now built up a pretty good appetite. We ate in the campground back at Totaranui.
After lunch, we began a two hour walk through rainforest and salt marsh - up hills and across estuaries. (I need to mention at this point that Karen had planned to take her hiking poles, but I'd talked her out of it. Many of the other trampers had brought hiking poles, so Karen frequently reminded me that she wished she had hers.)
On the walk, we passed a couple of pukeko foraging in the bush. One was close enough for this picture.
No matter where we looked, the vista was arresting. We frequently fell behind, captivated by what we saw.
At times, we were high enough to look down on magical views of crystal clear water, rocks, sculpted beaches, and dense forests.

Finally, we arrived at our destination: the Meadowbank Homestead at Awaroa.
House Rules: wash your feet and rinse your sandals and don't wear your hiking shoes indoors.

After a caution that all the power was from solar and diesel generators, we were directed to our rooms, named after the family members who'd lived at Meadowbank. Our room was named Roy. The hot showers were a delight. Discovering the blisters on our feet was not. Still, it felt good to get into clean clothes and enjoy the sights from the grounds around the homestead. We were treated to a hot meal where we swapped stories with the others at our table and quickly formed new friendships. Our guides became wait staff and kitchen hands to efficiently feed all 22 of us.

The next day, we explored the enormous estuary at Awaroa Bay. When we arrived the previous day, we had been ferried across this area, but our guides were hurrying us along because the tide was quickly going out. Now, we were walking on what had been covered by almost 2 feet of water!

We walked up into the surrounding hills and saw this old steam engine. It had been used for various things before being abandoned here in the bush. That's one of our guides, barefoot Holly, giving the flywheel a push.

By the time we returned to the homestead, the tide was coming in. I took this 20-second video in an effort to capture just how fast it was rising. Watch the edge of the water.

It wasn't long before the entire estuary was again under water and sparkling in the sunlight.
It was time to switch from walking to kayaking. Some of our party were primarily walking, but everyone went kayaking over the estuary. That's Jamie at the back.
Our kayaking guide, KT, gave us these instructions:
If you tip over, don't panic, just stand up!

We'd been merrily walking through the tidal water to get into and out of the boats when KT told us that the dark spots in the water around us were sting rays. She's got a wicked sense of humor. It is difficult to see, but that dark area in the center of this photo is a sting ray. It was cruising along feeding for quite awhile near our boats.

The next morning it was low tide, so we once again hit the trail. This time we were going to Torrent Bay. Since much of the walk was over estuary, we chose to wear sandals. It was also easier on the blisters.

As before, the cameras were busy as we moved from one spectacular view to another during the hour and a half walk over the Tonga Saddle to Onetahuti. Here's a view looking back at Awaroa Bay where we'd spent the night.

One of the other trampers took pity on Karen (or maybe they just got tired hearing her berating me about leaving hers behind) and loaned her a hiking pole. Once we reached Onetahuti, we were trained in the essentials of sea kayaking and given safety guidelines. We first kayaked around Tonga Island where New Zealand fur seals breed. We saw several pups, and heard some of the old bulls roaring.

Rounding the island and heading toward the mainland, we had a scary experience. Either something Karen had eaten didn't set well or she was sea-sick. (Remember those rising swells I mentioned almost surfing on? Well, that slow upward and forward motion can also be ... not so exhilarating!) Imagine the feeling of wanting to get out of the boat and away from the motion (after losing most of your lunch over the side of the boat), but being 100 meters off shore in deep water. We were in the second group of kayakers with KT as our guide. She was full of Maori stories and the history of the area, but stopping for talks and to give the first group time to move on was putting Karen into a state of panic. I finally pushed on ahead and joined the first group for an early landing at Bark Bay. Karen was immediately better, but had second thoughts about continuing on the water.

Finally, after considering the state of her feet, she decided to give it another try and was glad she did. She had no more problems after that.
Our destination at Torrent Bay was this lodge.

Next morning, Karen was not-so-carefully stowing her dry-bag (with her foot) into our kayak in anticipation of another day on the water. On this trip we saw a seal with his meal. He'd caught a squid and was literally beating it to death on the surface of the water.
Our Australian friends, Kim and John, set the pace for us all, being both experienced and fit kayakers as well as very competitive on the water. They even raced (and beat) the ferry at Awaroa Bay!
This little beach was so beautiful that it was hard to believe it was natural. It looked like something specially built for a movie.

Turn your speakers up before you play this video. The picture is nothing to speak of, but I took it for the birdsong we heard on a short walk. It is mostly Bellbird and Tui song.

This was described as 'second growth forest'. The tall skinny trees are kanuka and the ferns are coming up under them.

Yet another breath-taking view.

Looking down on the shallow sea beneath what was once a Maori pa. They put their kids up here with stones to throw on any attackers.

Usually when I go tramping I don't wear a hat and am in my shirt sleeves, but before we started on this journey, I did a risk assessment and decided I didn't want to be miserable with sunburn or sandfly bites. So we covered up.

Jamie, on the other hand, didn't seem to have any of those worries.

We opted to walk back from the morning's outing. Karen went straight back to the lodge with 'Jo-burg', as she nicknamed Moira, who was from South Africa. I went with a group for a hike up the Torrent River, seen here.

At one point the light was just right to create this multi-green look to the boulders in this pool.

Further up, we crossed this bridge before continuing on to Cleopatra's pools.

By the time we returned to the lodge, it was getting dark and I spotted the colors around the little island just off-shore. We never went anywhere without our camera, so I was able to capture it before the light changed.

Here are our three guides after dinner that night. Left to right: Holly, KT, and Emma.

The evening meal was always jovial.

Next morning, the steam was rising off the bay, so again, I was quick to capture it.

One last photo of the kayakers before the final stretch across a large expanse of open water to our final destination.

On this leg of our journey, we kept all the kayaks together and once on the open water we 'rafted up'. We each grabbed the neighboring kayak, then the guides tied a large drop cloth onto two of the paddles and had us hold them up while others held the two remaining corners down. We were sailing! Woo-hoo! Karen dubbed us the Love boat because she and Jamie had two corners and I was holding one of the paddles. What a great finish to a fantastic adventure!!

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