Monday, February 4, 2013

Abel Tasman National Park (Days 7 and 8)

Day 7

Day 7 is the first day that I would change if I was giving someone advice about a trip to New Zealand. I had estimated driving times using Google Maps and they majorly failed on Day 6! Our plan was to spend the next two days in Abel Tasman National Park. We had a reservation at Totaranui Campground, on the northern portion of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. My reasoning for this was that I had read the track is less crowded on the northern portion and I equate less crowded with more enjoyable. So we planned to drive out to the campground, get there in the afternoon, and hike the northern part of the trail up to Separation Point and back that evening. Google Maps said it was about an hour (52 minutes to be exact) from Motueka to Totaranui campground. In actuality, we had to drive up and then back down on switchbacks of Takaka Hill and it took us closer to 3 hours to get the campground. We never ever would have decided to do this had we know it was this far, especially because we had reservations to kayak at 8:30am the next morning back on the other side of the hill!

Before our Takaka Hill adventure, we enjoyed a few hours in Nelson, home of the first rugby match in New Zealand. This town was super cute! It's on my list of places I'd like to live. We had a great breakfast at Lambrettas Cafe and Bar. I had a rocket omelette (discovered that rocket is a leafy green vegetable used like spinach but a little more bitter in my opinion). 

Ally getting ready to play some rugby at the location of the first match played in New Zealand. 

We left Nelson around 1:30pm, because we had no idea the drive was going to take as long as it did. We didn't get to Totaranui campground until around 4:30pm. This wouldn't have been a big deal except then it rained the whole night. I may feel very differently about this bump (more like Takaka Hill) in the road if it had been a gorgeous evening. As it was, we walked a bit on the trail but came back after we made it to the first beach because the rain wasn't stopping. We spent the rest of the night in the campervan playing cards. Here's my recommendation after spending the two days in Abel Tasman: either 1. give yourself a few days (more than 2) and spend a couple days on the other side of Takaka Hill (go out to Farewell Spit, hike to Separation Point, etc. and then a couple days in the southern part of the park OR 2. spend a couple days in the southern part (it was NOT crowded. It was gorgeous. And we would've enjoyed our two days a lot more if 6 hours of it wasn't spent driving up and down Takaka much as I enjoy saying Takaka.)

Day 8

Allyson and I disagree on the greatness of Day 8 and this is because we have very different comfort levels in the water. I'm a water baby. I grew up swimming competitively and just generally wish I could spend most of my life in or by the water. Allyson enjoys it but has a healthy fear of water as well. I highly recommend doing what we did on this day; however, I think you should do it with a guide if you don't have any kayaking experience. 

Anyway, we woke up at 5am on Day 7 in order to make it back over the hill and to Kahu Kayaks by 8:30am. We got the safety walk through by one of their guides and were transported in one of their vans down the road to the beach. 

Map from Kahu Kayak website

A billion snails

The day started out nice and calm. It was cloudier than I was hoping (the color of the water in Abel Tasman is world famous but that is mostly when the sun is helping it out!) but I was grateful it didn't rain on us. There are lots of little beaches to stop at along the coast and Adele Island supposedly had a seal colony around the western side, but the waters seemed awfully rough so we didn't venture around that way. We had a very peaceful paddle in the morning, stopping at Stillwell Bay for an early lunch. Then we paddled over to Adele Island and that's when we realized the waves were picking up. We kayaked back over to the main land and stopped at Observation Beach before heading out into the Mad Mile (named this because there are no beaches to stop at or anywhere to stop for a mile and there are no islands to shelter the water). 

This is when it got ugly. The winds were coming from the north and were strong. The instructor told us about the Mad Mile but said "it's no big deal...just sounds scary." I cannot believe they had people out kayaking in this without a guide. There were huge swells and big waves. We were in a two person kayak and Ally was in the back. She says I would go down and she couldn't see me and then I'd pop back up and be way above her. We were soaking wet and really scared. We had to keep our kayak faced out, away from the land, because we had to be perpendicular to the waves to not capsize. Therefore, we felt like we kept going farther and farther from safety and out into the Tasman Sea. 

Eventually, we saw a beach and made a plan for how we'd get there. We overshot so we could then turn and ride the waves in (so they weren't coming at our side). We got to the beach safely and only realized once we beached that it wasn't the end! We still had to go around a point and get to our final destination. We honestly considered ditching our kayaks at this beach and just walking back from there. However, we decided we knew what we were up against now, and if we just stayed as close to land as possible we'd be ok. And we were. We made it to Anchorage Bay and have never been so glad to be off the water. This would have been enough adventure, but we still had a 12.4 km (7.7 mile) hike back out of the park. 

After our swim in Anchorage Bay

The hike back out is along the famous Abel Tasman Coastal Track. Again, I'd heard that it is always super busy with day hikers (during the summer months...December, January, February.) Maybe my definition of crowded has changed slightly since living in Los Angeles, but I'd say seeing 10-20 on the whole 8 miles out did not feel crowded. And it was a great trail with good footing, lots of beautiful ferns and views, and several little waterfalls (because it had rained the day before).

I know my pictures make it look perfectly calm out there, but I wasn't about to take pictures when our lives were in danger!

I recommend doing Abel Tasman this way. It was really cool to be on the water, and then hike back out up above the water and see where you had just been. My guess is the weather isn't usually like this in the summer time. If you are the least bit nervous, get a guide. It's a really long day but it was definitely an adventure. 

Don't worry...our day didn't end there. After that we had the best fish and chips of my life at Sprig and Fern Tavern in Motueka (which happens to be voted the best bar in New Zealand but we had no idea that was true until we were there.) Highly recommend a stop at the tavern. 

We then drove 2 hours to Nelson Lakes National Park and arrived in the dark. Too bad because the campground was really nice and peaceful and I wish we'd been able to spend more time there. Overall, it was a memorable day but also a really long day, and it may have felt more manageable had we not started it so early with the drive over Takaka Hill. Back to my original recommendations....definitely make Abel Tasman part of your trip to New Zealand. Give yourself plenty of time here. It's worth not rushing through it!

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