Sunday, March 25, 2007

Abel Tasman Coastal Tramp and Sea-Kayaking

In the morning we hire a car in Nelson, which will save us time and make things more easier all round with our packs - plus we can return it elsewhere, which is handy. It's a smallish red Toyoto Corolla. Automatic. Dad doesn't know how to drive automatics, and therefore likes to use the brake pedal as a pseudo-clutch. It's somewhat nerve-racking experience being in the car with him. I soothe my nerves with a nice Green Tea Frappuccino at the Starbucks across the road from our motel - we'd stopped for breakfast and I'd almost not noticed my favourite Starbucks beverage on the menu.

Before setting off, I have to change my internal Air New Zealand flight, which as usual is a complete chore, the guy taking about 20 minutes to switch an **e-ticket**. I had bought it in Brazil from United, but at the end of the day it's an electronic ticket with his own airline, how hard can it be? The change means I'm flying out of Queenstown not Christchurch, which will give us a bit of extra time towards the end of our South Island tour.

We drive north to Motueka, following the beautiful coastline - the sea water is a lovely milky turquoise shade of blue, and find a nice place to stay, Nautilus Motel, before carrying on another half an hour to Marahau, the base town for Abel Tasman. This national park, New Zealand's smallest, is effectively a thin strip of coastline with paths following the water, in places crossing estuaries that can only be passed at low-tide. Access to the park, if you're not going the whole length, is by "water taxi", i.e. boats from various companies that shuttle up and down the coast to a schedule.

Our plan based on the time we have is to taxi up to Te Pukatea Bay, then walk round to Anchorage Bay via a spit of land, Pitt Head, that has a mirador. Strangely we all board the "taxi" at Aquataxi's base office - the boat is still on the trailer, then are pulled, with lifejackets on, by a tractor along the main road, down to the beach and into the sea.


The driver takes us to see Split Apple Rock, about which various legends exist, then heads north.

Straight down the middle

About 45 minutes later we are dropped off on a lovely beach, and potter about for a few minutes before marching off up the path, which leads through dense forest of all types.

Not a bad spot

We soon are high above the beach, looking over the bay and the rusty sand.

Kayakers heading round the coast below

Dad wanders off and I lose him. I begin to worry. Is he suffering from the curry we had last night? Did he step on a thistle with his bare feet and plunge off the cliff?

I pass a German couple who tell me that the old man with the bare feet is a few minutes ahead of me, and so I rush ahead and find him scrabbling about having lost a screw for his glasses. Sigh!

We descend down into a little bay with a couple of houses behind it, where we drop our bags and go for a swim. It's cold. It's very cold! You can tell it's cold, because round on the next beach, Anchorage, which is busier, no one is in the water.

What do you mean, my hand looks strange?

We wade in, grimacing! There are enormous mussels sitting on the sand floor, which are not much fun to step on. Soon it's time to head back, so we board the water-taxi and speed back along the small chop.


We drive back to town and have a quick beer at Moorings Bar and restaurant, then pick up a few bottles of Abbot Ale and Founders Ale on the way back to the motel. The Abbot is good! It's been a long time since I've had a good pint of English beer! Later we head out dangerously late (8pm) to Gothic Gourmet, a restaurant in a former church, which looks pretty awful from the outside owing to the colours it has been painted, but inside is fairly tasteful, and with a few pews and a painting of our Lord and Saviour could be holy again.

Tight and green lipped

I order the green-lipped mussels, a local speciality as I understand it, followed by an unpronouncable local fish. Dad has the spinach and ricotta filo parcels, something I'd be happy to order myself. And a portion of chips finds its way on to the order books somehow. Accompanied by a bottle of "Anchorage" Sauvignon Blanc from just outside of town - we see the vines on the way to the park.

Returning for a second dose

Next day after a traditional local breakfast of vegemite on toast, we head back to the park, and specifically to the small town of Kaiteriteri, which is next to Marahau, for kayaking. We are in a tandem kayak, Dad insists on the back, which also has the steering. We hire for 4 hours, and set off in glorious sunshine, heading up the coast towards where we walked the day before.

The coast is rocky, with lots of outcrops, caves and lagoons, and it is a tidal lagoon that we first meet and head into. What a wonderfully-peaceful place, with flat water, grass where the lagoon empties at low tide, and what looks like it may be a road. We drift for a few moments, just enjoying the tranquillity and the birds singing.

All along the coast here are houses tucked discretely into the hills above, often almost hidden amongst the trees. It's very quiet in fact, there are a few other people kayaking, but with such a large space to move in, we don't come close to anyone else all day.

Having seen the price compared to the UK, Dad suggests we move on before we get upset

Further up, we reach Split Apple Rock which looks like an enormous round boulder split perfectly in two. This is our boundary for these kayaks, so after having a quick poke about in a few small inlets, we head to the beach, pulling the kayak up and finding a spot to have lunch. We eye the sand suspiciously for sandflies. We've heard so much about how awful they are, but we're not convinced we've actually seen any, and certainly (touch wood) don't seem to have been munched yet.

Surprising amount of storage space

A few clouds roll back and forth now, taking the edge off the sun. We eat our rolls, and some celery that Dad found as a "salad", then Dad wanders about on the beach as I have a snooze. He joins me, until I wake him up taking this photo!:


We potter back along the coast. My arms feel tired, I think all the blood has gone to my stomach to soak up lunch. We pass our start point, then head to try to enter into Kaiteriteri Lagoon at the end of the beach (voted top 10 in the world by the Guardian apparently) but with the tide going out, the small inlet into the lagoon has water gushing out like a fast river, making it impossible to head up. It reminds me of the kayak arcade game in London's Trocadero centre. If you've tried it, you'll know what I mean. Anyway, I steered Dad into the oncoming torrent and we were pushed around and back into the swell. Who hadn't put his spray-deck on? Not me ;)

Having spotted a waterside bar, we agreed that after we returned the kayak, we would head there for a pint of nice cold beer, but there was still the whole bay to paddle back across. Suddenly however a transformed Dad started padding fantastically fast to shore! Who is this athlete behind me?!

Later in the evening we crack open the bottle I bought for him in Mendoza, Argentina - an Alta Vista Grande Reserve 2004 Malbec, which funnily enough they had in business class on LAN out of Easter Island, so I'm rather familiar with the stuff. Very nice.

Tomorrow: the West Coast!

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