It had been a horrible night.
It was cold, the sand under my tent was packed hard as concrete, my feeble yoga mat had provided laughable padding, the epic snorer in the next tent was so close we might have been sharing a bed and, to cap it all off, the waves were too noisy.
I’d thought they would lap soothingly onto the sand and lull me off to sleep, but instead they slapped and crashed busily all night long. Plus, there were rowdy birds squawking way before dawn. I was not impressed.
Emerging bent and creaky from my tent, I staggered away from the little campsite down onto the empty beach. There, a stream had etched a skeleton tree of fine black rivulets across the yellow sand and, beyond it, the sea was now smooth and glossy. The low sun threw long shadows from the weather-sculpted rocks surrounding this little cove and the colours all around were richly saturated: gold, turquoise, green and blue. It was gorgeous. And then my daughter Holly brought me freshly-brewed coffee – and all was well with the world again.
* What makes the Abel Tasman a jewel in national park crown
* Tōtaranui suggested as alternate Māori name for Abel Tasman National Park
* Go with the flow in Abel Tasman National Park
* Land corridor connects Abel Tasman and Kahurangi national parks
We were into our second day of a little adventure comprising two days paddling along the coast of Abel Tasman National Park, followed by a day of tramping. The two nights were to be spent under canvas at DOC campsites, self-catered and independent; but the trip was book-ended by Abel Tasman Kayaks.
Picking us up from Nelson, they drove us out to their base at Marahau for a very thorough briefing, including instructions on what to do in every possible scenario. Most of the others were doing a guided tour; but, after proving that we could handle our kayak, Holly and I set off on our own, heading across the first of many bays.
Advised, because of strong winds further out, to stop short of tackling the alarmingly-named Mad Mile that day, we pootled gently along towards Watering Cove. Just two hours of easy paddling, enjoying the shags and gulls, bush and beaches, rocks and islands, got us to our destination in time for a late lunch, a nap and an exploration of this gorgeous little bay with its elephant head rock at one end and an islet at the other.
In the interests of balancing the morning’s upper-body exercise, we set off along the nearby Abel Tasman track towards Anchorage, on the other side of the headland. Compared with our peaceful little cove, this long, lovely beach was chokka, busy with water taxis buzzing in and out, and people swimming, using the DOC huts and lazing by their tents. Even back in the bush, at the end of the side-track leading to Cleopatra’s Pool, there were plenty of mixed nationalities braving the bracing waters and shrieking down the rocky waterslide.
We could hardly complain about the crowds, since we were here for the same reasons they were, and all of them were good: a do-able track, easy water access and, above all, gorgeous scenery. Back at Watering Cove, we ate our boil-in-the-bag butter chicken by the beach and watched the colours deepen as the sun set beyond the headland. Raising our wine glasses to the challenge of tomorrow’s Mad Mile crossing, we went to bed happy.
Next morning, we were even happier. The wind had dropped completely during the night and yesterday’s choppy waters around the headland were today like a glistening millpond. We skimmed along, detouring to spot fur seals basking on Pinnacle Island and peeking in at the lagoon in Sandfly Bay. Bark Bay, where we should have spent the night, was busy too, understandably: it was golden sand perfection.
But so too were all the other little bays we’d paddled happily past, many of them accessible only by sea and all appealingly empty. Not so the sea: water taxis were continuously buzzing past, carrying not only passengers, but also stacked-high kayaks. It was reassuring to see them there, in case of need; although we paddled easily around Foul Point and, passing the spectacular, weather-sculpted Tonga Arches, found ourselves sooner than expected at our kayak journey’s end – Onetahuti Beach.
Impressively efficient, Abel Tasman Kayaks swooped in to retrieve their boat before we had even got our tents up on the grass at the DOC campsite.
Again, it was scarcely lunchtime, so we walked away northwards, via beach, lagoon, boardwalk and track, to Awaroa, famously the beach bought by public crowd-funding in 2017. With good reason: it’s a stunner, a long curve of golden sand reaching along to where the clear waters of the river enter the turquoise bay.
There are more sophisticated pleasures here, too: a lodge and also a bush bar serving beer and pizza to patrons sprawled on beanbags under the trees. Add in free WiFi – and it was the perfect way to spend the afternoon before trailing back to our tents at Onetahuti.
After a night on luxuriously soft grass, we hauled on our backpacks and set off south along the Abel Tasman Coast Track, towards Anchorage. The track is well maintained and the route is easy –some decent headlands to climb over, but with wonderful scenery to distract from aching legs – and the 18 kilometres felt just right. There were many irresistible photo stops, for views over the sea to the North Island in the distance, and down into the inviting bays and inlets we’d paddled past yesterday.
There was the fun of a 47-metre swing bridge across Falls River; and the envy of beautiful Torrent Bay, off-grid and accessible only by sea or foot, where the occupiers of three dozen baches glory in their isolation.
And then, all too soon, we were back at Anchorage. Abel Tasman Kayaks picked us up in their water taxi, zooming us down the coast to Marahau again, where we trundled in the boat, now on a tractor-drawn trailer, to their base and the van back to Nelson. Perfectly balanced in demand and reward, it had been an unforgettable adventure.
This trip was a Christmas present from the writer’s daughter.
Abel Tasman Kayaks offers a range of guided trips, from half-day to five days. They also do kayak rentals for 1-5 days, with pick-ups and camping fees arranged.
This three-day Kayak and Walk North trip costs from $230 per person (minimum 2 people).