Abel Tasman National Park: Isolated Beaches and Inquisitive Seals

by Brian Carroll on April 29, 2012

Post image for Abel Tasman National Park: Isolated Beaches and Inquisitive Seals The first stop that Nuria and I would take on together would be to a town called Nelson, a "hipster" enclave three hours away from Picton.  While we still had to work through the details of our travels, the one thing we knew was that Abel Tasman National Park would be one of our first primary destinations, and we'd use Nelson as a stopover point. Even though I don't fully comprehend the lure of the hipster movement, I did like the town of Nelson - it kind of reminded me of the place where I went to college with small town blocks, wide sidewalks and a number of trees that made it very pedestrian friendly.  That night we ended up strolling the streets and grabbing dinner and drinks in the city, though the nightlife (at least where we were) was a bit lacking for a Saturday, so it ended up being an early night.  The one good thing we did accomplish during our time in Nelson though was a rough itinerary.

Our planned itinerary

And with it, we decided how long we'd spend at Abel Tasman, along with what we'd specifically be doing there.  As some background, this is a pretty popular national park along the coast in New Zealand that has activities including hiking, camping and kayaking. While I was initially thinking a one day trek would be the best option (kayak half a day and hike back), Nuria had brought with her a tent, which opened up the idea of extended time at the park.  In the end, we came to the consensus that we would rent a kayak and paddle for two days, camp for two nights and spend the third day hiking all the way back. With that decided we left Nelson and drove to the foot of Abel Tasman where we would awake the following morning to give kayaking a go (neither of us had done it before). Kayaking Day One: There are a few kayaking outfits in the Abel Tasman Park.  They range from guided one day tours to "freedom" tours where you basically take the kayak and go.  For the "freedom" tours, this requires using a two person kayak, which was what we ultimately opted for. Prepping the kayak was a bit of a task.  You  essentially have 3 compartments and within them, you need to pack what you'll need for the next few nights (camping gear, cooking gear, food, clothes, cameras, etc...).  Thankfully, since the kayak company (we used Kahu Kayaks which was great), would be picking up our kayaks from a specified location in two days, they were able to take our backpacks which we'd then pickup and use for our hike back.

Kayaking duo

So with our equipment packed and a brief lesson on how to operate the kayak, we were let off the leash and sent on our way.  I sat in the backseat of the kayak, which is where you manage foot pedals to turn right or left as you both paddle.  The main reason I sat in the back though was because there was a little more leg room - if you're 6'2" or over expect it to be a bit uncomfortable after awhile. Our first day of kayaking on the Tasman Sea would take on average about 3 hours if done non-stop to a place called Anchorage Bay.  But knowing we were going to stop and have lunch along the way and check out various beaches, we anticipated 5 hours or so. Luckily for us, the weather on our first day was ideal - the sun was shining, the water was warm and most importantly, the wind was quiet.

Really Clear Water

These conditions made it easy for us beginners to get a hang of the process and check out some beaches that were only accessible by kayak, as well as an island inhabited by wild seals who were sunbathing and playing in the water.  It was a very enjoyable day and we ended up arriving to our destination around sunset and quickly worked to get our kayaks put away and our camp situated before any sandflys or mosquitoes would want to join us.  By the time we finished eating dinner, we both were exhausted and checked out early, knowing that the next day would be a bit longer (part kayaking and part hike to our second camp site). Day Two:  Kayaking and Hiking When camping you rarely need an alarm clock to wake you up - the weather and surrounding nature will take care of that.  As such, we were both arose early to another beautiful day and prepped for our second day of kayaking on the Tasman Sea. Both a bit sore from the previous day's workout (me moreso from being cramped in the kayak), we knew day two would be a challenge due to the fact that after we finished kayaking, we still had a 90 minute hike to contend with before arriving at our camp site. So off we went.  We kayaked along the cliffs as there were a couple rock formations to check out and stopped at a really pretty beach area aptly named

Mosquito Bay

Mosquito Bay...had I known that was the name of it initially, I would have probably passed - thankfully though when we were there, none were in sight. While the remote strips of beach were pretty and the vividness of the water was surprising to me, far and away the highlight of the day was our second run in with some of the wild seals.  Going into this kayak trip, I was not really expecting that to be the case as I'd seen a number of seals before - at Seaworld, on beaches in San Diego growing up, etc... so I didn't think it would be anything all that new to me. Now as you kayak around the islands that the seals inhabit, you have to keep some distance as they are protected reserves, but sometimes if you're lucky, they'll swim out by you and play.  And that was just the case for us!

A baby seal saying hello

We made our way to the main island before other kayaks and found a group of about 10 seals playing in the sunshine.  Within a few minutes, some of the little ones made their way over to check us out. It got to the point that whichever direction we looked, there was a seal splashing in the water by us.  It was really cool and something I'd highly recommend should you get the chance (I still have to work on my video camera skills a bit as you can see...). And one more: Following our seal excursion we made our way to the kayak dropoff point around 3pm that day, where we then picked up our remaining pack items and began leg one of our hike back to the entrance.  It was great to view the park from the sea and then hike to higher vantage points on land to get a different perspective of the scenery.  And as the hiking path was pretty well maintained, I decided to keep my sandals on and do the hike.  This worked perfectly well until we got about 300 yards from our campsite, at which point, my sandal strap broke and was rendered useless (unless I ducktaped to my foot - which I very much considered). Day Three:  The Hike Out The final day of our trek would entail a 6-7 hour hike out of the park, so we knew an early start would be in order.  With our packs and camping gear strapped to our backs we made our way through tropical rainforest and passed some pretty spectacular views.  Part of the hike required us to cross a bay that empties at low tide and with my sandals now in the trash, I made that hike across seashells barefoot - a little uncomfortable but kinda cool nonetheless.  Additionally, there was a cool swing bridge you had to cross which had suspension, but was still a bit bouncy and wobbly: Finishing the hike was a great feeling, partly because I knew it was a nice accomplishment but also because I was looking forward to clean clothes, a shower and a good meal.  After getting cleaned up, both Nuria and I knew we were not interested in cooking at all, so we went in search of a place to eat.  Now if you can imagine, at a national park, there are not going to be many places to choose from.  In fact, we ended up back where our journey began, at our kayak rental place which also had an outdoor trailer where you could order burgers, sweet potato fries, deep-fried pineapples, brownies and more (all surprisingly good).  I was starving and had one of almost everything and it was all awesome! After Nuria and I had gotten our food, another girl sat down at the table adjacent to us with her order.  Realizing she was eating alone, I asked if she had just done the hike as well.  She responded with "I'm sorry, I don't speak/understand English very well..."   Strike 1...Ha!  But what I realized in that one sentence was that while she didn't speak English very well (not bad really), from her accent, I could tell she was from a Spanish speaking country...and so was Nuria, which got them talking (and me as well as I'd been using my time with Nuria to practice my Spanish for a potential future excursion to South America). Long story short, Nuria, myself and Mariella (from Uruguay) spent the next hour chatting and all got along very well (well, from what I could tell they were saying in Spanish...).  We learned that Mariella was traveling for the next few weeks in New Zealand and would be in Queenstown in a few days like us, so we made tentative plans to possibly meet up there.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Nuria May 22, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Great blog Brian, you make me to relive all our tryp! Such a great time

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