Abel Tasman National Park is New Zealand’s smallest yet one of its most popular national parks. Encompassing a broad stretch of coastline on the northwestern tip of South Island, it is noted for its golden beaches and beautiful coastline with rugged rocky points. It also hosts one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks, the Abel Tasman Coast Track, which extends 32 miles in length taking 3-5 days to walk.
Thousands of visitors come to Abel Tasman each year. Thousands of visitors kayak along its coastline and tramp the Coast Track. On our visit to New Zealand last year we were planning to kayak up the coast to the first major inlet, camp and then backpack back on the Coast track (also done by thousands—but perhaps fewer thousands). Good on us. As we rented our two-person kayak, Rebecca was given a cold, wet kayak skirt that you use to seal the opening of the kayak where you sit.
“This is wet and cold,” she told the rental shop guy.
“Refreshingly moist,” he corrected her. “Okay, load your stuff and we’ll get you off in a few minutes.”
We frantically jammed all our stuff (tent, food, sleeping bags, backpacks) into the compartments on the kayak, and a few minutes later after a very brief land lesson on how-to-kayak, we were off. We were big Americans, not fat, just big and healthy, and with our camping and backpacking stuff loaded onboard, our kayak was HEAVY. Entering the water, the other kayaks in our group who were only going out for the day quickly skimmed and skittered away dancing over the placid sea.
We followed as best we could, stopping briefly to study the map (which it turned I didn’t really need) as we steadied ourselves in the current.
“That’s Adele Island,” I pointed out the large island slightly to our starboard.
“Okay,” Rebecca took note assuming there would be a whole series of islands we’d have to keep track of on our journey.
“We need to go past Adele and around that point up ahead,” I continued gesturing to a rocky spit a few miles away.
In truth, there were not really a lot of navigation options. I guess one could head straight out across the Tasman Sea and hope to make landfall in Australia some 900 miles later (we had only rented the kayak for 24 hours). Otherwise, the only real choice was to go up the coast or down, left or right from the beach. We were going left – north.
With our kayak gliding—well—pushing through the water, we paddled north across the beautiful azure sea. Off to our left the green coastline folded down to the sea punctuated by small golden-sand coves.
After a bit, we pulled into one of the small coves to regroup. As we pulled off our skirts to land, a particularly nasty wave sloshed over the back of the kayak adding gallons of water to our already considerable load. After a brief failed attempt to bail out the additional water, we headed back out.
“That’s still Adele,” Rebecca commented.
“Yes it is,” I said.
“We haven’t come very far,” she added.
She was right. We hadn’t come far but if you squinted your eyes slightly and turned your head a certain way it did look like our view of Adele was perhaps slightly changed. Meanwhile the waves and wind had picked up and farther out the sea was now dotted with whitecaps.
“We better go,” I ordered. We put our backs into it and paddled steadily for more than an hour directly into the ever-increasing waves and wind. In a sense, along with ourselves and our equipment, we were attempting to ferry more than a few gallons of seawater up to Anchorage Cove, our destination. The kayak rode low in the water and we braced our paddles against the gunnels when particularly large (3 foot!) waves threatened to overturn us. The kayak seemed to slog forward rather than glide or skim when we paddled. All the other kayaks had somehow disappeared from the water, in fact all other sea craft had somehow wisely disappeared from the water, and we Americans a long way from home were seemingly alone on the Tasman Sea. We paddled ferociously for perhaps another hour our arms burning with the exertion. No talking. Just paddling. To be honest (I hope Rebecca doesn’t read this) since I was in the back and she couldn’t see me, sometimes I did take a breather while Rebecca unaware continued paddling. But with all of our paddling, we got only slightly closer to the point. And when we both stopped for a few seconds to rest, it seemed we were quickly being swept right back to where we had started our effort. Off to our side, Adele Island looked the same. It might as well had been a picture on the wall.
Finally as the wind and waves increased even more we gave up and paddled onto a tiny beach leeward of the point. Wet, cold, bedraggled, we decided to camp there. Abel Tasman National Park requires campers to camp at the specific campsite for which they made a reservation, but in emergency conditions, one can camp where one must. Leaving Rebecca, I hiked over the ridgeline to Anchorage—lots of people there—and arranged for our kayak to be picked up in our cove. That night we watched the stars rise over Adele Island…