Kayaking Abel Tasman National Park

Nelson, New Zealand

Abel Tasman is this country’s most visited national park. It sits about 90 minutes north of Nelson, encompassing pine forests and marble and limestone hills extending from Kahurangi National Park. The best way to see and truly experience the park, however, is from the water.

This morning, we set out to do just that.

We drove past farmhouses billowing smoke from their chimneys and cattle lying on frosted grass as the sun slowly broke across the horizon. Our destination was Marahau, a small seaside village, where we checked in with Abel Tasman Kayaks. We met our guide, Josh, who happily informed us that we had been upgraded to their “Seals & Remote Coast” trip. With just one other guest, we anticipated a quiet day out on the water.

A tractor hauled our water taxi over the low-tide sand barges before the engines were fired up for the 25-minute ride to Onetahuti Beach — where we got hardcore geared up.

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Setting out for Tonga Island, a light wind rippled across the Tasman Sea. We were met by a colony of seals basking on the rocks as well as various sea birds.

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We continued south to Bark Bay, cruising the waters of sheltered coves, passing secluded beaches and coming upon a pod of dolphins hunting for food.

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After lunch, the wind picked up and the clouds started to roll in. Without much choice, we continued paddling on our 14-kilometer trip, holding out hope that the rain would wait.

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As we approached Anchorage and Torrent Bay, the skies opened up. Josh, our guide, jerry-rigged a sail to our kayaks that pushed us to shore — spotting a blue penguin en route — where we warmed up in a shelter with tea and shortbread cookies.

After a water taxi returned us to base camp, we drove back to Nelson, already feeling our muscles starting to stiffen. We stopped at Hot Rock and picked up two thin crust pizzas, including one topped with marinated lamb, spinach, tomato and rosemary infused olive oil. That, and getting some laundry done, was the perfect way to decompress after a day at sea.

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