Exploring the coast of Abel Tasman National Park
My kayak glided across the warm, clear waters which throbbed beneath the potent sun in aquamarine waves. To my left, a tiny blue penguin popped up and swam beside me for a few moments before turning translucent as it slipped under the water and piloted towards rocky islets; on my right were grey granite cliffs topped with rambuncious emerald vegetation and flanked by shimmering yellow beaches of the purest sand.
Tropical waters? Bleached beaches? Penguins?
Where the hell was I?
Abel Tasman National Park is one of the most visited parks in New Zealand, and with good reason. Located in the aptly-named Golden Bay, north of the wonderful hamlet/city of Nelson (which I have been honoured to have visited FOUR times this decade), Abel Tasman National Park encompasses only 225.3 square kilometres, which makes it one of the country's smallest national parks, but - man - have they packed so much beauty into one tight little package. Though most people come to this most gorgeous gem to tramp its famous track, which traverses podocarp forests, clean streams and sandy beaches, others choose to explore the park from the water, via kayaking.
My kayaking experience was with Kiwi Kayaks, one of the many quality companies operating out of Motueka and Maharua, the two towns closest to the park. As of this moment, almost all kayaking operators are conglomerating under one roof to be known as Abel Tasman Kayaking.
Like many good companies offer, I was picked up by bus in Nelson on a sleepy November morning (6:30AM to be exact). With the sun already strong in the wee hours, I knew it was going to be an epic day for exploring the park.
After we stopped in Motueka to pick up more people, we made our way to the coast, to Marahua where we watched the kayaks being hauled off a trailer and on to the golden beach. Because the kayaks had to be tandem and I was alone, I was paired with a fellow backpacker who thankfully had stronger arms than me.
Not that I needed them - kayaking was a breeze. We paddled lazily up the coast, stopping in at sandbars and small islands before beaching ourselves and having a healthy lunch on the silky sands. This was paradise.
Most kayaking tours offer full, half and overnight options and though I cheaped out and went for the most inexpensive version (half day at around $110) I felt I got my money's worth. The gorgeously warm weather helped, as did our affable hosts Steve and Lori (Lori who lived in Vancouver in a previous life) and the stupendous scenery and wildlife that surrounded us with every paddle.
We saw dolphins leaping (my camera wasn't fast enough to capture anything but a splash) off our bows, penguins scooting beside us (wish I could find THAT picture), giant sea birds soaring past, seals playing nearby, and even a wedding held out among a far reaching sand bar.
I firmly believe this park is a must-see for anyone visiting New Zealand - indeed for Kiwis themselves. Whether you kayak or walk, it will truly be a day (or two) that is forever seared in your mind. I remember smiling a LOT that day, and that's something everyone needs to do more often.