Posted by: Carol | January 25, 2009

Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park

2009 New Zealand

dave-1040387We’re down to our last full day in New Zealand – tomorrow we catch a flight from Nelson to Auckland, lay over a few hours, fly 12 hours from Auckland to LAX, lay over several more hours, and finally arrive in Tucson on Tuesday the 27th at 5:41 p.m. This is jet lag direction, flying towards the sun the entire way and gaining back the day we lost when we came over. Even so we have it easier than the Europeans who visit New Zealand. Their flying time in each direction is some 24 hours – usually broken up with a stay in the Orient – Singapore, Hong Kong or Bangkok – rather than flying straight through!

Mike is signed up today for his second kite surfing lesson. Lesson 1 yesterday took about four hours and went well. The instructor, Warren from Kitescool, was clear and well-organized, starting with an introduction to the equipment and how to use it, progressing to flying a training kite on land to learn how to control it, and finally advancing to a small version of the real thing which they launched on the beach and eventually took into shallow water, practicing kite flying skills. Eventually Mike graduated to being towed through shallow water on his stomach by the kite, still working the controls to keep it in the air.

Today if all goes well he should advance to adding a board to the equation and with luck a taste of real kite surfing. Presumably he’ll save the aerobatics for the future! Apparently Nelson is the best location in the entire country for kiting – with appropriate winds, plus a wide sandy beach and shallow water that extends out quite a ways, making it easy to surf along, but still only be knee deep in water for making a fresh start whenever necessary.

We had a great time on our five-day Abel Tasman walk & kayak adventure and I’m recovering nicely from raw spots rubbed onto my toes, a few black toenails, and assorted aching muscles!   After driving to Nelson from the Picton ferry, we spent our first night at the California House Inn, an historic home built in 1893, and we returned there at the end of the trek. The night before our adventure we were given a small duffel bag and a backpack and told to fill them with our necessities and leave the remainder of our luggage for safe-keeping at California House. Bright and early next morning a bus picked us up, as well as all the other adventurers in our group, and drove us to a departure point where we boarded a water taxi shuttle that transports people to beaches all up and down the park. The boat held some 100-200 passengers, but our lot was last off as we went to the furthest point for our drop.

The entire length of the track is some 50 kilometers from top to bottom. When we disembarked, before starting off on the day’s hike, we did a quick intro amongst ourselves – two guides and sixteen hikers all told. Members of our group came from Scotland, England, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and of course Mike and I from the U.S. – also including two 50th birthdays and a honeymoon. Our two guides, Rod and Anika, were very competent and personable and the group members turned out to be quite congenial as well, making the entire trip that much more enjoyable.

Day 1 was a hiking day – from drop off to arrival at our night’s lodging we walked a good 5-6 hours, mostly along a coastal track through 60 year old reforested land with a few climbs to good viewpoints. This entire area was completely logged out by both the Maori and early Europeans – the park was established in 1942 and the new growth forest dates back to then.  By the way, the forest is absolutely deafening with “singing” from what must be billions of native New Zealand cicadas.

We were delighted to reach the shores of the Awaroa Estuary where, as it was high tide, we were met by a flat-bottomed launch and transported to our lodging for the next two nights. Awaroa Lodge at Meadowbanks homestead still belongs to descendants of the Hadfield family that originally settled this area in the mid-1800s and is one of the few properties in the park still privately owned. Our lodge was a reconstruction of the original homestead, and came with a fascinating family history complete with the murder of one of the matriarchs of the clan. Our rooms were named after family members – Adele (the murder victim), Bill, Fred, Ivy and so forth and was decorated with old photos and assorted family heirlooms. There was no electric power, but the lodge operated quite comfortably with most modern conveniences on a generator, switching over to an inverter at night. Dinners were outstanding – hearty New Zealand home-cooked meals that were very welcome after a long day’s exercise!

Day 2 we stayed in place and did what we pleased – Mike and I joined a short hike and then struck off on our own to explore the estuary at the foot of the lodge. This entire area has a tidal flow of nearly five meters and is studded with multiple estuaries fed by inland streams and rivers. Hiking the Abel Tasman track is tide dependent, as the estuaries must be crossed during a window of time around low tide.  At high tide they fill with sea water and transform into sparkling shallow bays, while at low tide they become mud & sand flats, littered with cockle shells and swamp grass, tiny crabs and shorebirds (oyster catchers, small herons, cormorants, gulls, etc.) with all boats stranded on the bottom waiting for the next incoming tide.

Day 3 we had some 18 kilometers to cover – we all hiked together until lunchtime – then the group split in two, with half hiking onwards and the other half taking to the water aboard our waiting kayaks. I think we sea kayakers had the easier time of it – the hikers looked a bit done in when they finally straggled into Torrent Bay Lodge – we got our exercise as well, but it was an upper body workout and gave our feet and legs a break. 

Day 4 was another free day at the lodge – in the morning at high tide we took canoes into the Torrent Bay Estuary and paddled about exploring it. I haven’t paddled a canoe since I was 9 years old at camp in Wisconsin – and was surprised to find I really enjoyed it – maybe more than kayaking. Might be fun to take a canoe river trip someday.  In the afternoon another exploratory hike and an hour laying out on the beach, except Mike stayed behind and loafed at the lodge!

Day 5 was our final travel day – another 16 kilometers to cover, but our group paddled the entire way with several leisurely stops at assorted beaches. Some had names that probably don’t make the tourist brochures – like Mosquito Bay (where we had lunch) and Sand Fly Bay. Bug spray was a staple and we all sported a few itchy red spots as souvenirs of our adventure. On the final leg, at the instigation of our guide Rod, we rafted our four kayaks together, hoisted a tarp tied to two paddles held upright as masts on the outside aft corners – and sailed smartly downwind across the last bay towards our pick-up spot. We even figured out how to trim the “sail” and achieve a broad reach when the wind shifted!

Hikers, kayakers and the bus all pulled in at the same time and we were whisked away to our respective hotels, just in time for a hot shower and an evening attending Sealord Opera in the Park. Our California House hostess had organized tickets, lawn chairs and an outrageously elaborate picnic dinner – all we had to do was carry the lot 10 minutes down the sidewalk to nearby Trafalgar Park where we and a few thousand other picnickers camped out on the grass fields and listened as (I quote) “New Zealand’s top opera stars provide a night of fabulous music in a picnic atmosphere, with a spectacular fireworks finale.”

We’ve enjoyed absolutely perfect weather throughout.  The Nelsonians are complaining that it is hot – probably a high in the daytime of 78 degrees!  All in all a very enjoyable but busy week – we have been sleeping VERY well at night! See you all soon!


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