02/14/11 - Abel Tasman
The alarm sounded off at 6:30 A.M. sharp. But, seeing as we'd had next to no sleep that night, we didn’t roll out of bed until 6:45. We still had to eat and pack the car before driving to Marahau to check-in for our kayaking trip. Our plan was to leave at 7:15, one hour before check-in time. We didn’t leave until 7:45. Ooops.
That drive turned out to be over a mini mountain. D’oh! Hairpin turns combined with Scottie’s inability to go faster than 30km up a hill was making me nervous, but I wielded that steering wheel like a race car driver and we ended up making it there on time. We even had a few minutes to spare!
Before cruising out on open water we had to get a little tutorial in the whys and hows of sea kayaking. Our instructor’s name was Tom, and (surprise, surprise) he was German! He’d lived in New Zealand for over thirty years, though, so I suppose I could consider him a Kiwi. He was friendly, informative, energetic, and a bit off his rocker.
We got the rundown on how to pack the kayak as well as how to board it, beach it, paddle it, and most importantly, how not to drown. "Not to scare you," he said, “but if you capsize, which you won’t, but just in case you do, even though you won’t…” I saw some frightened faces amongst the other kayakers, but I appreciated his honesty and thoroughness. I certainly wanted to learn what to do if we capsized! In fact, that lesson was high on my list of things to know.
Everything our good friend Margaret had told us (she’s a kayaker extraordinaire) was reinforced by Tom. Use your core to paddle instead of your arms was a big one, and it was advice I intended to take. The tide was low when we sloshed our way through the water and out to the kayaks, which had been dragged into the bay by a tractor. A quick hands-on tutorial was given until Tom felt confident in our skills. He gave us all an approving wave, prompting us to point our kayaks northward and float away to our individual destinations.
From my miniscule experience in a kayak I’d learned that it was not a race, especially in this situation. We had no time frame to adhere to, no guide we needed to keep up with. This was our trip, our pace, and this time I was determined to be the turtle and not the hare. Slow and steady was sure to win me a modicum of comfort instead of aching arms and shortness of breath.
And so it went, out on the calm sea and under the warm summer sun. I paddled at my leisure in the front while Katie maneuvered the rudder in the back and followed my stroke. We were a well-oiled machine…moving at a snail’s pace. It was splendid. Aquamarine water slid by our hull. Waves, nonexistent. Calm and serene were the words of the day, and we were happy for it.
Lunch was had on our own private stretch of sand. A sailboat sat anchored off its shore, but no one seemed to be aboard, and no one wandered around our secluded beach except us. It was just Katie, me, and an incredibly noisy helicopter…
After approximately one minute of serenity, a rescue helicopter came thundering overhead and proceeded to hover to the left of us. We weren’t sure what exactly was going on. At first the only thought that passed through my mind was: “Are we on a private beach? Should we not be here? Are they going to drop down and tell us to leave?” Those thoughts immediately made me laugh. How utterly ridiculous would that be?! As if a rescue helicopter didn’t have better things to do. No, it was on a far more logical mission – it was busy rescuing someone. While hovering above, a man rappelled down into the trees. A few minutes later an injured hiker (I presume) was lifted up to safety. In a flash they were gone, and serenity took hold once more. Lapping waves sloshed along the coast as we ate our salami and cheese on flatbread. Our isolated cove encircled us with thick vegetation, barnacled rocks, musty sea caves, and a giant stone arch with dripping walls. My water shoes clung tightly to the rough rock as I explored every nook and cranny.
Our orange (yes!) kayak floated back onto the water a while later and took us comfortably along the coastline. Seabirds nested quietly on the crags, unimpressed with our presence. Beech trees busted their way through stony fissures and waved in the warm breeze. It was clear that merely hiking Abel Tasman would’ve only provided a fraction of the views. We were witness to the rough and beautiful edge of the sea.
Before we knew it we were at our first destination: Te Pukatea Bay. It was smack dab in the middle of “The Mad Mile,” where we were warned about the potential for high winds and rough waves, but it wasn’t bad due to the calm weather. We smoothly slid onto the beach and dragged our kayak onto the sand.
The campground was wide open. We had the pick of the litter and nabbed the best spot. Not long after, we were lying on a crescent-shaped beach of soft, warm sand. There was literally no one around. We'd stepped into paradise. The sound of soft waves rolling against the shore felt like a massage to my mind. Complete relaxation. We stretched our time out until the sun dropped behind the trees, forcing us to bundle up and call it a day.
Another pair of kayakers we’d gone through training with were slated to be at Te Pukatea that night. They had yet to arrive. It was getting late and the wind was now high. Waves were thrashing the beach when they finally appeared on the horizon. We watched them struggle their way to shore, and just as they touched land a wave crashed over them, soaking their clothes and filling their boat. They both laughed! They were having a blast! A positive duo, those two. We were glad they arrived safely.
After two nights of little sleep and a day filled with exertion, it made sense that we fell asleep ridiculously early. As a result, I woke up in the middle of the night, so I decided to walk on the beach. The moon shone down like a torch, dimming the stars in comparison. It was stunning. I ran back to the tent and woke Katie. We both sat on the sand enjoying the night sky and each passing wave glowing in the moonlight. They were iridescent. It seemed that, day or night, that beach was perfection.
And it just so happened to be Valentine’s Day.
That first day was by far our best on Abel Tasman. The rest of the trip wasn’t bad by any means, but we just weren’t feeling it as much. Or should I say we were feeling it too much…
Morning wasn’t kind to the surf. Wind had whipped up a whole new animal by the time we got back on the water. Fast as possible, we pulled ourselves through the rest of “The Mad Mile” and kept right on paddling. The constant rise and fall of the ocean was making me wonder if my breakfast was going to make a surprise appearance. In short, I was seasick. Katie suggested we pull over, and though I wanted to push on, I agreed that a break was a good idea. Sandfly Bay was our safe haven.
We stuck to our kayak lessons, landing on shore surprisingly well. We’d seen several unsuccessful attempts by others and were glad for Tom and his thorough training. It proved invaluable when it came to staying dry.
I trudged up the beach and plopped down on a log with my spray skirt splayed out around me. Land was my friend. Though she didn’t have it as bad as I, Katie was feeling a bit green in the gills as well. Eventually balance reclaimed us, and we decided to take another break at the next beach for lunch. We ended up at Mosquito Bay, which was quite the happening spot! There was a string of kayaks resting on shore when we arrived. Privacy wasn’t high on our list of “must-haves” at this point. We just wanted a comfortable place to rest and eat. Despite its name, the bay turned out to be very lovely. It had a tidal pool and an island just off shore. Our bare feet ate up the sand as we looked around and snapped some pictures.
Back on the water, we quickly rounded “Foul Point” and were thrilled to see our final landing shining in the distance: Onetahuti Beach. It was right in front of us! We’d be there shortly. In the meantime we could enjoy the beauty of the Tonga Arches which, according to the map, were right next to us. Hmmmm… Where were those arches again? Strangely enough, there didn’t seem to be any arches in sight. But no matter, we didn’t much care, we just wanted dry land.
You know those dreams when you’re running down a hallway that looks short but somehow keeps stretching into infinity? That was our last hour of kayaking. My core had called in sick by this point and was telling my arms to pick up the slack. The trouble with using my core was that whenever I twisted my body it seemed to exacerbate the sea sickness. Katie was in agreement on this. So we both had to trust in our “guns” to get us there.
The moment we hit sand a bedraggled cheer sounded. No more kayaking! Landlubbers, we were, and I’m not ashamed to say it. We made quick work of unloading our kayak and prepping it for pick up. Then we set up camp, claiming the best spot yet again. It was there that I met what seemed to be a permanent resident of Onetahuti: Mr. Duck (though it could’ve been Mrs. Duck, I’m not sure). Mr. Duck definitely seemed accustomed to people, as he was comfortable sleeping in the shade of a bustling campground and was quick to react favorably to my outstretched hand. (No, there wasn’t food in it. How could you even think that of me? I’m not that kind of girl). During some lazy hours sitting on the shore that evening we noticed Mr. Duck wandering the beach aimlessly. It suddenly struck me how odd a sight it was: a duck waddling in front of ocean waves. I guess I don’t know any seafaring ducks.
That night I talked to some fellow kayakers who were also glad the water portion of their tour had ended. I caught a glimpse of a few sunburned noses and hands. You may be wondering how well we fared during our time at sea. Well, my face, arms, shoulders, and legs were all sunburn free, thank you very much. However, the tops of my feet looked like I clamped them in a George Foreman Grill. Those side trips to the beaches had cost me. And my poor little Katie… For two days she’d faithfully applied sun block to her arms and chest only to find them burning like hot coals. And on the eve of our hike, no less. Tomorrow she’d be sporting a heavy pack on raw shoulders and I’d be wearing my hiking boots on torched feet. How convenient.
Katie and I wished ourselves luck and said goodnight to Mr. Duck.
Those damn mosquitoes and sandflies! One or the other (or both!) must’ve gotten into our tent that night, because I woke up with itching bites on my toasted feet. Talk about the perfect torture scenario – bites on a burn.
Speaking of annoying insects, I’d almost forgot to mention that Onetahuti’s campground had an unusually high amount of bees. They were buzzing around like they owned the place. Well, they kinda did own the place, we were just staying for one night, but that’s no way to treat a guest.
We took our time that morning eating our breakfast bars slowly. There was no need to rush since there was a tidal plane on the trail that we couldn’t cross until 1:45 P.M. Eventually we packed up and headed down the beach. That was the start of our trek. And by the way, hiking on sand is not easy. It’s even less easy when you’ve forgotten the insoles to your hiking boots. (Yes, I forgot them. I usually swap them between my boots and shoes but forgot to get them before our trip. Confounded!)
Forgetting there was another, earlier tidal crossing, we soon found ourselves yanking off our hiking boots and sloshing through some salty water. We were back in our shoes and busting up the trail in no time. Not for the first time on this trip it seemed we were surrounded by jungle, though this one had a more prehistoric feel, like a velociraptor was going to thrash out of the bush at any moment. Our packs were filled to the brink as the sun beat down and we were thankful for those giant ferns shading us.
While on another beach portion of the trail, we could see that the tide was starting to recede. We were headed straight toward that tidal plane we had to cross. A few minutes later we saw it, along with a hut offshore. It was the perfect place to stop and eat lunch while we waited for the water to withdraw further.
I slid off my boots to check my feet and noticed a strange pain in my ankle. Lo and behold, my ankle was swollen, and I suspect it had something to do those damn bug bites. So, to summarize my plight: I was hiking in boots with no insoles on sunburned feet covered in bug bites, and now I had a swollen ankle. Hooray for me! The only thing I could think to do? Plop down on my bum and stuff my face.
While resting, we sat back in amusement as we watched other hikers who weren’t so keen on waiting for the tide to roll out. On both sides of the inlet we saw trampers pacing up and down the sand. They’d dip their feet in, assessing the depth, and then try for a shallower path. Ultimately, they decided to plunge in. For them, impatience outweighed dry clothing. Katie commented on how slow everyone was crossing. A while later we found out why.
With only the skin of our feet protecting us, we attempted our crossing, scuttling over a field of tiny rocks and shells, grimacing. Before too long Katie threw her water shoes on. I opted to stay barefoot since I knew the rocks and shells would only lodge their way into my shoes. Besides, there were some smooth sections of ground and the water was cooling my sunburn. Not to mention the pleasant sensation of mud squishing between my toes. I’m serious! It feels good!
Once across, we took our time cleaning and drying our feet before carrying on. Into the bush we thrust ourselves once more. Every so often the trees would clear and we could see rough waves tossing around below. Then we descended a hill and found ourselves stepping back onto sand. You may think I’m nuts, but I have to say that at this point we’d seen so many beautiful beaches they were becoming redundant. Oh look! Gorgeous white shores, rugged cliffs, cascading waves, yadda, yadda, yadda. And speaking of waves, that first night I found them soothing to hear in the background – what a wonderful way to fall asleep! On the second day they made me feel ill on the water, but once ashore I relaxed to their sonic ministrations. By now Katie and I had had enough of their ever-present din. That was possibly our last thought when we escaped the final bit of track and reached the end of the road: Totaranui.
If Te Pukatea and Onetahuti were the Rolls-Royces’ of campgrounds, Totaranui was a monster truck. This campground was HUGE. It wasn’t just for backpackers and hikers, it was for any Kiwi with a load of kids and a campervan. The groups were big and the tents were bigger – they had east and west wings with eat-in kitchens! We pitched our pygmy tent in the midst of all this, only too happy to call Totaranui our home for the night.
Tired and hungry for some real food, that fourth and final day on Abel Tasman saw us running up and down the beach like confused Americans.
The waves were rough, yet again, and this led to the water taxis changing their docking spot to an area with calmer surf. But how were we to know that? We were sitting there on the beach before our scheduled launch at 11 A.M. but there was no boat to be found. Then we saw a boat…
Is that our boat?
I don’t know. There are so many water taxi companies and I can’t see from this far away!
The boat sped down the beach not a short distance away, but a long “haul your ass down the beach if you want to catch this taxi” distance away. Packs bounced and chests heaved as our feet tore up the sand.
(Puff, puff, puff) It’s not our boat.
That’s good because it’s already pulling away.
Now the question was: Do we go back or do we stay and wait? We pro/conned the hell out of that question before I asked a random stranger who was also waiting for a water taxi if they knew what was going on. They didn’t, but they felt fairly certain that the end of the beach was the place to be. We warily waited there until we saw another boat approaching. It was for us! And it was headed to the original pick up point!
Run! (Puff, puff, puff)
Now it’s heading back to where we WERE!
Run! (Puff, puff, puff)
I waved my arms like a maniac trying to let them know to wait for us. As it turned out, they were looking for us since we were on their passenger list. All my arm flailing was superfluous.
We waded through water and climbed aboard. We then proceeded to slam our way back to the beginning of our journey. I say slam because the metal hull was pounding the waves like an overzealous belly flopper. Luckily, the hard bounces weren’t causing our tummies to turn. We felt fine by the end of that long boat ride, which was good because I would’ve hated for Katie to feel sick on her birthday! Yes, it was Katie’s birthday, at least according to date. But we knew better. In the states she still had one more day before the true anniversary of her birth. Therefore, we decided to celebrate her special day tomorrow, when we'd arrive in Nelson.
We said our final farewells to Abel Tasman. It was a turbulent love affair that started out well, but then she had to go and rock the boat.