Thursday, February 16, 2012

New Zealand December 2011 - Abel Tasman Kayaking And Hiking

***This post is part 11 of a full trip report. The index can be found here*** 

We had done some research prior to arriving at Abel Tasman National Park, and we knew that only a few tour companies offered kayaking inside the Tonga Island Marine Reserve. This is the area where you would most likely find fur seals, blue penguins, and other marine animals. Ultimately, we decided to go with the Sea Kayak Company because one of their tours fit exactly what we were looking for: half day of guided kayaking and half day of independent hiking. Although their price was a little steep at 190 NZD per person (especially since half the tour consisted of hiking on our own).

Marahau Beach at low tide

Unfortunately, the weather gods were not on our side that day, as a cloudy morning soon gave way to pouring rain by noon. The boat launch area at Marahau was beautiful nonetheless, as low tide at the beach made for some stunning and surreal scenery. The water in the bay recedes hundreds of meters out to sea during this time, and many boats remain on their side to dry until the ocean slowly creeps back in hours later. Also due to the low tide, all boats must be launched by tractors, which back up into the water until they are literally halfway submerged before finally releasing the hitch. Needless to say, this is my first time experiencing a boat launch by tractor!

After finally reaching the water, our boat quickly made its way north to Onetahuti Beach, where we disembarked and prepared for the kayak tour. By this time, the rain was starting to come down hard. Luckily the Sea Kayak Company provided us with nice dry jackets and dry bags to hold our valuables. After a quick lesson in steering and paddling, as well as safety instructions, we were on our way towards Tonga Island.

Kayaks and Tonga Island

Taking pictures while kayaking is difficult enough to begin with. Add to that pouring rain and choppy seas, and it damn near made it impossible. I was only able to get a total of five pictures while we were in the kayak, and I think three of them came out blurry. The situation really bummed me out since the scenery would have been absolutely stunning in sunny weather, but it mattered very little at that point. Still, it was quite an exhilarating experience to be kayaking in these adverse conditions. There was almost a sense of reckless abandonment while we braved the open sea in the rain!

After a couple hours of kayaking and plenty of sore arms, we arrived at Bark Bay, where a simple lunch of sandwiches, chips, muffins, and coffee was waiting. Our guides explained the hiking trail to us and made sure we knew where to stop to catch the ferry back. Soon, we were on our way, and as luck would have it, the rain started coming down even harder. The two and a half hour hike became a miserable slog as our rain jackets were absolutely useless against the heavy precipitation. The entire time, however, I kept reminding myself of how lucky we were to have had four completely dry days on the Milford Track. It very well could have been just as wet!

Bark Bay

There were some beautiful views along the way though, and I made sure to take at least a few pictures while trying to keep my camera as dry as possible. After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived at Torrent Bay, where we still had a good half hour to kill before our ferry departure. At the very least, there was a simple shelter to hide under and dry off. The ferry dropped us back at Marahau, and we continued on to Motueka via shuttle bus.

First sight of Torrent Bay

Unfortunately, I think my opinion of Abel Tasman is vastly skewed due to the bad weather conditions we experienced. I think under any other circumstance, the experience would have been amazing. We were still able to see plenty of fur seals up close, but not much else... most likely due to the rain. And while the scenery was still beautiful, I can only imagine what it would all look like under clear and sunny skies. So despite not having the perfect time there, I would still highly recommend visiting Abel Tasman. Just pray that the weather gods are in a better mood when you go!

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