Abel Tasman National Park is New Zealand’s smallest, and yet it receives the most visitors. When you rock up in the region, it’s easy to see why.
First of all, the views are stunning. The stretch of coastline on the north of the South Island has rolling hills and desolate beaches for miles on end. The second great draw is the weather. As you head from Auckland southwards, you generally find yourself adding layers, until you reach Nelson and suddenly you’re kicking yourself for forgetting to add the sunscreen to your day bag!
With activities such as skydiving from 16,500 feet and piloting your own stunt plane, Abel Tasman has plenty to keep the adrenaline junky happy. But, if you’re in the mood for something more laid back, there’s no better way to take in the scenery than to join a kayaking trip with Abel Tasman Kayaks.
I signed up for the Full Day Kayak and Walk tour. It begins with a leisurely 3-hour walk along a coastal track, passing scenic outlooks, streams and native bush.
Perhaps I should have done my research beforehand, but I hadn’t realised that this section was unguided. I arrived at the main office in Marahau at 9 am and was handed a map and a few instructions and told to be at Watering Cove by 12 pm.
The walk is beautiful, but I would advise that you take some music or other form of entertainment if you plan on doing it alone. Failing that, perhaps you could arrive at the office early and hang on for the other people from your kayaking group to get there so that you have people to talk to while you walk.
It wasn’t too difficult to follow the path. Wherever it splits, it’s generally an option to continue on the main trail or visit a beach or lookout point.
Walking at a good pace and not stopping too often, I arrived at Watering Cove just after 12 and met two American girls who would be with the same guide.
Moments later, our guide Callum arrived and set about laying down picnic rugs for us.
We had some delicious, warm soup with bread, followed by a giant muffin. There was even a selection of hot drinks, including tea, coffee and Milo hot chocolate. The only aspect of our lunch that wasn’t idyllic was having to fight off the sea gulls that tried to steal it.
With full stomachs, we headed over to the kayaks, where Callum showed us how to put on the skirts that would clip us into the kayaks and keep us dry.
We stored our things in dry compartments and watched a demonstration on paddling techniques and the best way to free ourselves from our seats if we happened to capsize.
As we paddled through the bay back to Marahau, Callum showed us the local wildlife, including kingfishers, various species of shag and even one solitary penguin.
He regaled us with Maori tales and gave us the history of the region from the moment the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman himself arrived in New Zealand.
As we came into Marahau after a gentle paddle through the bay, the waves were breaking hard and with one last push of our aching muscles we managed to surf one into shore.
If you have one day in which to see the local area, you can’t do better than this combined hike and kayak experience. Just make sure you give yourself a rest day afterwards, because your arms will barely be able to lift your luggage for at least 24 hours!
Nelson: Intercity Buses provide services to Nelson from Picton (just over 2 hours). For travel from the north island, you can book the InterIslander Ferry (3.5 hours from Wellington to Picton). If you’re coming from the south, there are buses from the following popular destinations (rough times in brackets): Kaikoura (4 hours); Christchurch (7 hours); Westport (4 hours); Greymouth (6 hours). See the Intercity website for a full list of their services and bus pass options.
Motueka: You might decide to base yourself in Nelson for the whole of your stay in the region, but if you plan to do a few activities further west, you’ll save time and money by spending a night or two in Motueka. Abel Tasman Kayaks will pick you up from Nelson for NZ$15 each way and they do free transfers from accommodation in Motueka. The public bus options are limited, generally heading west early in the morning and east in the late afternoon. Book your buses in advance at the tourist centre in Nelson or ask your accommodation for advice.
Where to stay
Nelson: I spent a few wonderfully cosy nights at Tasman Bay Backpackers and it was one of my favourite hostels in New Zealand. The social area has a roaring fire to keep you warm in the winter evenings and there were hot water bottles scattered around too. The hairdryer in one of the bathrooms was a welcome extra, but the biggest bonus was the free chocolate pudding and ice cream every evening! Tasman Bay really goes out of its way to welcome guests and I can’t imagine there’s a better place to stay in Nelson.
Motueka: The Laughing Kiwi hostel has a great reputation. I spent two nights there. The kitchen and social areas are huge and comfortable, and the rooms spacious. They have free internet and even a heated spa pool!
I was a guest of Abel Tasman Kayaks. They did not request that I write a favourable review and any opinions expressed here are my own.