Abel Tasman Christmas

Seven months in New Zealand, but thanks to finding work in Auckland we had only seven weeks for the South Island. Back home in the UK, my partner Laura and I had spent hours poring over maps, flicking through guidebooks and staring wide-eyed at snapshots of the snowy mountains, lush forests and golden beaches of New Zealand, and Abel Tasman national park was on the agenda from day one.

Although it’s possible to explore the park with its white sandy beaches and rugged exposed headlands on foot via the 60km Abel Tasman Coast Track, as keen outdoor pursuits enthusiasts, we opted to kayak in the company of fellow Brits and new workmates Fiona and Lauren.

We parked up at the Sea Kayak Company base in Motueka on Christmas Eve where we were kitted out with spraydecks, buoyancy aids and waterproof cags. With a tide to catch, we rushed to pack our kit for the next few days into tandem kayaks before jumping in a van for the short drive round to Marahau beach. We launched alongside a few other festive paddlers, but soon spread out and seemingly had the sea to ourselves.

With the sun warming our backs we made good time paddling past picturesque coves and bays until we reached the weather-beaten Pitt Head. We had been warned that some people struggle to paddle past the headland, as its exposed nature leads to strong headwinds forcing boats back towards Marahau, and it certainly made for an exciting twenty minutes or so as we battled through roiling, boiling waves, finally reaching the shelter of Torrent Bay and Anchorage hut and campsite.

Of all the treasures we discovered in New Zealand, the DOC huts and campsites have to be among the greatest. Nowhere at home is there such an extensive network of well-maintained, inexpensive accommodation options for budget travellers. We made use of the DOC sites every chance we had to gain access to some of the finest scenery and natural history around.

At Anchorage, we camped out and enjoyed the company of a Kiwi family from Christchurch who shared our Christmas Eve fire. The two young boys were already veterans of the New Zealand backcountry, and recommended we visit Arthur’s Pass, a suggestion I’m glad we were able to take up later in the trip. The boys also tried to introduce us to the joys of locally harvested mussels, but I have to confess I’m not the biggest fan of shellfish, so had to turn them down!

We had a leisurely start to Christmas day with Laura’s traditional Bucks Fizz breakfast. If we had hiked, I’m sure there’s no way we would have carried in a bottle of Cava, but with the kayaks, we had the space for a few luxuries. The paddling that day wasn’t taxing in the least; a quick hop round to Bark Bay via a mid-afternoon stop at Sandfly Bay. Ironically, of all the places we visited in New Zealand, Sandfly Bay was probably the least affected by the annoying little bugs, so we sunbathed and swam the afternoon away before finishing the day’s paddle.

The final day was a real highlight, paddling off the shore of Tonga Island, where a colony of fur seals basked in the sunshine. As we rounded the island, a few seals started to investigate our boats, swimming gracefully beneath the hulls for a real close encounter. Leaving the seals behind, we paddled in to shore at Onetahuti beach for the water taxi pick up, taking us back to Motueka ready for the next leg of our adventure.

This story and photos are courtesy of Martin Sweeney from the UK, who has shared his experience in the Abel Tasman National Park with us as part of our Summer Holiday Writing Competition 2014.

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