Kayaking Abel Tasman


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Published: December 15th 2015
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Getting Started

We woke early and packed the car, not quite knowing what lay ahead of us. We were heading for the Abel Tasman National Park where we were hoping to Kayak. It was a very last minute decision though and we hadn't managed to pre-book. We weren't at all sure we would be able to just turn up and go out on the sea. We headed for the Sea Kayak Company in Moteuka. I went in and made the booking, no questions asked - they just loaded an extra kayak onto the load that was departing twenty minutes later.

We were told to follow the kayaks and we did so; down narrow winding roads, up mountains; into deep valleys; through a dense forest; and then to a calm turquoise sea. This was our first glimpse of Abel Tasman and I was suddenly a little apprehensive. It was fifteen years since I'd kayaked... what if I couldn't do it?

We loaded the boats which took an incredible amount of luggage so long as they were packed properly. We were given clothing, safety equipment and a map. By virtue of the fact I couldn't fit in the back of the boat I had to be the navigator whilst Lindsey steered. It was a real pleasure to get to tell Lindsey what to do! I almost didn't fit in the boat at all - I had to have the front compartment adjusted to fit in and was told my height was right on the limit for any kayak.

After a quick safety briefing we went out onto the water and started paddling. It quickly became apparent that something was wrong. Lindsey had her foot stuck on one of the rudder peddles and had no control of the direction we were going in. We did a huge loop to the right, leaving the rest of the group behind. When we had fixed the problem and caught up we discovered that we were still struggling to keep in a straight line. It would be late that afternoon by the time we properly fixed this. Somehow though we demonstrated that we could paddle and turn and so were allowed to go on our way alone.



Getting to Mosquito Bay

Our first destination was Adele Island, about five kilometres away. The map showed a beach on the far side of the island and we thought it would be nice to lunch there. The sun was hot, and the water deliciously cool. We really struggled to get to the island as we didn't yet have a rhythm and kept having to adjust our course. When we got there after what felt like a long paddle, we were disappointed to find the beach wasn't there. Tired and very hungry we had to cross the bay back to the shore. From a psychological point of view I found this the most difficult stretch of the whole adventure. We got there eventually and I stumbled ashore, falling as a wave lifted the boat. I pulled the boat into Watering Cove and Lindsey got out. We tucked into lunch ravenously. Soon we were joined by a dozen more kayaks and the tiny beach was suddenly overcrowded - by the time we'd finished our sandwiches you couldn't move. One of the other boats had knocked ours away from its grounded position; it was just starting to float. A couple of minutes later and we would have lost it to the sea.

We got back in and were soon underway. Our excitement from the morning was still there but was now tempered with tiredness and an understanding of how demanding our three day adventure would be. We rounded the next headland and entered what was called the 'Mad Mile'. Here the winds picked up and the sea got rougher - this was the most exposed section of the coast. The conditions were made much worse by the passage of sea taxis which rocked the boat disconcertingly. Fortunately, by this time we were now better at navigating and we managed to keep going. The turbulence made me feel quite seasick though and I felt this way for the rest of the day.

After another six kilometres we were extremely tired, I felt sick and Lindsey had an open blister on her thumb. We approached Boundary Bay, a long stretch of white sand beneath the aquamarine waters. The last five hundred metres felt like they stretched on forever in an agony of suffering but eventually we reached the shoreline and beached the kayak. I stumbled out feeling absolutely miserable.

The beach was a lovely area and the warmth of the sun made it heavenly but it took quite a while for me to appreciate this. After about half an hour I felt less nauseous and started wading in the water. I was tempted to swim but it was a bit too cold. After another half hour I felt well enough to strap myself back into the kayak.

As we left Boundary Bay the sea was perfectly calm but it soon got rougher as we approached the next headland. We carried on, every stroke an act of will. After about another hour we arrived at Mosquito Bay, our destination for the evening. We were completely depleted of energy but had to navigate a complex series of rocks, brought to the surface by the low tide. We had one narrow miss but just managed to avoid it. A minute later we felt the boat run aground on the beach... we'd made it.

It took us a few minutes to recover sufficiently to start pulling our boat up the hill. The beach stretched out a long way in front of us. To our relief we saw another couple walking towards us and they helped us to lift the boat and carry it up the beach. It took every morsel of energy and my back was aching from bending double but step-by-step we moved forward until our boat was on the rack.

We explored the small camp and found a spot to pitch our tent. We spent the evening wandering on the beach, preparing dinner and talking to our neighbours, a German and Swiss couple, Michael and Rachel.



Exploring Abel Tasman

I woke early and wandered down to the beach. I'd just missed the sunrise but the sun was low in the sky and casting a golden light that made the dew on the grass sparkle. The tide was low and I had a huge expanse of sand to myself, all the way to the island that would be cut off at high-tide. The solitude was very welcome. All around were the sounds of birds singing. One in particular stood out: I christened it the Xylophone bird, because it sounded just like a pure note struck on that instrument.

As the camp was stirring we got ready and headed out. We left our tent pitched as we were returning for a second evening. We strapped ourselves into the kayak and tried to push off but it was too shallow and we got stuck. We waited for an exceptional wave, pushed hard and started to float. At this point Lindsey discovered that there was something wrong with the rudder so we turned back to fix it. As we approached the shore we were picked up by a cross current and ended up floating on the river estuary towards the lagoon behind the camp. Using my paddle as an anchor I managed to beach us, precariously, and grabbed the kayak just as Lindsey was floating off. I fixed the rudder and got back in the boat. As the tide was strongly advancing we were soon lifted off the beach but now we were floating perilously close to the rocks. We frantically back paddled and got to a deeper section. All that remained was for us to turn away from the rocks. We missed the rock by inches as we made the hard-right turn and were soon going into the open sea. We paddled out of the bay and around the labyrinth of rocks off the headland. By this time I was already feeling seasick and we'd only just left our calm bay.

We had planned an easy day of about ten kilometres - a short jaunt out to Tonga Quarry Beach, a circumnavigation of Tonga Island (home to a colony of seals) and then back to Mosquito Bay. Conditions were extremely favourable with flat seas and only a gentle breeze.

The paddle to Tonga Quarry Island was easy and we arrived in less than an hour. The sun was beating down on a long white beach which was as close to a tropical paradise as you could imagine. It took me half an hour to regain my equilibrium before I could fully appreciate the location. Once my seasickness had abated I decided to go for a swim and Lindsey joined me. The water was a little cool but in the sun was quite pleasant. It was so clear that even at waste depth you could clearly see the sand on the bottom. After a good swim we had a leisurely lunch.

We got off this beach without further adventure and set off for the one and a half kilometre stretch to Tonga Island. We were soon cruising past the rocks, spotting colonies of penguins perched on rocks and seeing seals basking in the sun or playing in the waters. Sadly my stomach wasn't up to going into the open waters on the opposite side of the island so we paddled back the way we had come and headed back to Mosquito Bay.

It was only about four kilometres back but we really struggled. Our boat was high in the water and felt like it was making little progress and being knocked off course easily. After the previous day of paddling our arms and shoulders were aching. Every stroke felt like a trauma but we persevered and rounded the headland to Mosquito Bay. This time the landscape looked completely different. The tide was high and the rocks completely covered. We could float all the way to the top of the beach and didn't have far to drag the kayak. This was a good thing as we were completely alone that evening so had no one to help us.

As the waters were high and so inviting we went for another swim. The sea was a little warmer than earlier and in some places very warm. It was such a nice feeling being in the water. We enjoyed the beach side and then, when disturbed by a couple of jet skiers, went around the estuary to the secluded lagoon side which was even warmer. After at least an hour of swimming off our own tropical "island" we dried off in the sun.

It was wonderful to have the whole island to ourself for the evening. People pay thousands of pounds for the experience and we were camping for practically nothing. As the tide went out we took romantic walks across the beach, enjoying a wonderful sunset and discovering a little flock of beach goats who came to forage for food. We surveyed our camp, beach, island and lagoon and were extremely happy with life. As we lay in the tent that night all we could hear was the sea lapping against the rocks, the rustle of a kiwi in the bush next to us and the graceful notes of my xylophone bird floating over the lagoon.



Leaving Abel Tasman

We awoke next morning to steady drizzle which gradually turned into a full deluge. Visibility at sea was extremely low and we decided it wasn't safe to do our return trip by kayak. Our beach was only accessible by kayak and not visited by water taxis. We couldn't stay on the site though as we didn't have enough food and couldn't communicate with the kayak company. About a kilometre away was another beach, Bark Bay, which was much larger and had a huge campsite with a Department of Conservation warden. Here we could get a weather forecast, communicate with the outside world and also catch a water taxi. We decided that our only real option was to put to sea in the torrential rain, despite the limited visibility.

Being alone on the camp, which had been such a blessing the night before, was now problematic. The tide was the lowest we had seen and somehow we had to get our heavy fibreglass boat to the water's edge. After a hurried breakfast we struck camp as quickly as we could and moved our baggage down the beach. Next we manoeuvred the kayak so it could be dragged down the beach. As this required turning it ninety degrees in a tight space we had to lift it - a tough feat since it had taken four of us to lift it previously. It took every ounce of our strength but we managed it. We then started dragging it down the sand. I was bent double and my back was hurting from the exertion. It took us five attempts but we finally got to the water. After loading the kayak, all that remained was to get in the boat. This was easier said than done with cold numb fingers. We were finally ready to go but had another problem. The sea had not risen as much as we anticipated when we dragged the boat. The front was in water but the back was firmly beached. We tried rocking forwards and backwards but it was no use. I had to get out of the boat again and drag us forwards. Once I was back in the boat we looked back as if to say farewell to our paradise but at this point I could hardly see the end of the beach.

It was an easy paddle to Bark Bay despite us being soaking wet and freezing cold. When we landed the tide was out so we had to drag the boat another two hundred and fifty metres. We started dragging it across the flat section of the beach. It was hard going and took us a long time. From the top of the rise we could see people moving about but no one came to help us. Eventually, by ourselves, we got the boat to the top of the steep rise and safely behind the high-water mark. We had little energy left, were wet, cold, miserable and very annoyed at the people around us. We walked through the campsite and across the lagoon behind until we found the warden. She confirmed that the weather would get no better and told us how to get a water taxi.

We went to speak to the skipper of the next taxi but just missed him so had to wait in the rain for fifteen minutes for the next one. He told us that the first southbound boat would be another hour. We went back to the camp and sat under some tarpaulins amidst a large dejected school party.

After a little over an hour we were picked up by the same skipper and were soon whizzing past the coastline, recognising places we'd seen a couple of days earlier. We were downcast in our wet clothes but thoroughly glad we didn't have to spend all day paddling back. The water taxi took us back to the car park and then we had to pay the bill - an eye-watering $120. Despite our relief at getting safely off the water this was still a painful shock. Soon though we were back at the kayak company's base and having a hot shower. Our spirits lifted immensely!


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