Thrilling Abel Tasman kayaking adventure

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11 January 2016
Mary Somervell
Thrilling Abel Tasman kayaking adventure

Take three double kayaks lined up side by side, each of us holding onto kayak(s) either side. Add one tent fly fixed to two paddles at one end and held firmly on the corners by two kayakers at the other end - an instant square sail.  Fill the sail with a nice breeze and we're away ... what an exhilarating sailing experience!  

Our group of AWOL adventurers signed up for a multi day kayak and walk in the Abel Tasman National Park.

Great anticipation and excitement - we join a larger group for the bus trip from Motueka to Kaiteriteri, the jumping off point for our 3 day adventure. Excess baggage is left behind at Motueka - complimentary luggage bags are supplied for transporting our overnight gear between lodges. All we need to carry is a day pack for basic essentials.  

Fur seal Tonga IslandDesigning a flexible programme around the quirky needs of people from diverse cultures with different fitness levels is no easy task. But the Wilsons team pull it off effortlessly organising buses, launches, water taxis, kayaks, guides, luggage, equipment and food supplies which all magically arrive at the right place at the right time. They cater for groups of up to 20 at isolated  lodges with only sea access. And cope happily with the vagaries of the weather and the tides.

Boarding the launch at Kaiteriteri, we travel west marvelling at the lush native forest, striking granite formations, golden sandy beaches and lagoon blue estuaries. We are captivated by baby and adult seals basking on the rocks at Tonga Island's seal colony. Our cameras click furiously capturing playful seals ducking and diving into the sea.

We disembark with our guides at Totaranui, for a steep climb out of the bay re-routed after a slip removed the coastal route the previous summer. Then we settle into a more relaxed pace through beech and rata forests and across a kilometre long pristine beach, pausing at the headland for stunning views into Awarua Bay.

Late afternoon at low tide we cross the muddy estuary heading into the inlet. My sandals are totally inadequate sinking deeper into the mud with each stride. AJ comes to the rescue and lends me some sturdier footwear (she carries spares ‘just in case’).

Evening at Awarua InletThe Meadowbank homestead is a welcome sight nestled into a picturesque beachfront setting at Awarua Bay. The homestead has been recreated in the style of the original dwelling. 

We relax outdoors with pre-dinner drinks and aperitifs getting acquainted with Australians, Americans, Koreans and other Kiwis. And we discover a drying room – very handy for wet gear from the estuary crossing.

Our healthy appetites are satisfied by a delicious 3 course meal followed by a substantial breakfast the next morning. We choose from a delectable array of picnic lunch fare to take on our journey. No chance of going hungry!

Each day our friendly guides adjust the programme to suit individual preferences taking into account weather and tide conditions. The trekkers have opted to walk the full track distance. Newcomers to kayaking choose to paddle part of the way. I’m among the group preferring to get out on the water as much as we can.

The day starts with a short walk over the ridge from Awarua to Onetahuti  Bay. Then we set up our kayaking gear under the supervision of our guides. After some basic instruction we head for the water.

Heading into Astrolabe RoadsteadToday we are paddling from Onetahuti to Bark Bay and Medlands Beach. Rounding the peninsula the conditions are a bit choppy and some novice kayakers are getting a bit nervous. Sophie and AJ, our guides, are keeping a close eye on them.

I compliment AJ on her smooth paddling style asking  “so how do you do that?”. She shows us her touring paddling technique – a good move! Keeping paddles below shoulder height is much easier to sustain for longer periods.

AJ gets us to paddle out to a point at the right angle for sailing into the bay. The northerly wind at our back has created perfect conditions for the downwind sail with our quickly assembled square rig. Our 3 double kayaks form a stable platform side by side. True bliss as we lift the sail for an exhilerating run at a decent clip into Bark Bay. Time to join the walkers for a picnic lunch.

In the afternoon we paddle from Bark Bay to the Anchorage at Torrent Bay. The lodge is well positioned right on the beachfront with spacious decks for relaxing and mingling outdoors with other guests. Our meals are up to the same high standard as the night before. I’m ready to retire early after being out on the water all day and a very satisfying meal.

Totaranui BeachHeavy overnight rain continues the next morning as we sit down to breakfast leaving some of our group hesitant about what the day will bring. Fortunately the rain clouds drift away on cue before we venture outside. The leaves in the forest glisten after the rainfall and waterfalls flow more freely for the walkers.

On our third day the kayakers beach hop and explore the scenic coastline and estuaries between Torrent Bay and Marahau. We settle into a paddling rhythm in our two person kayaks. It is a Zen- like experience paddling in unison with the ripple of paddles dipping into the sky blue water. It is high tide so we paddle right into Marahau. The bus (with trailer for kayaks) collects us right from the beach front.

The Wilsons Abel Tasman experience is highly recommended. They take care of all the arrangements - guides, accommodation, meals, kayaking gear, and transfers from Nelson. We particularly liked their flexibility to adapt the programme each day, catering for different preferences and conditions - if necessary, on the spot at a beach in the middle of the park! The comfortable lodges are powered by generators and solar power so leave your hair dryers behind. 

Next time we would like to stay longer - 5 days - allowing more time for exploring the estuaries, taking walks to nearby waterfalls and just relaxing on the beach at the lodges.

Mary was a guest of Wilsons Abel Tasman for the 3 day kayak and walk adventure.