Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Abel Tasman: Green Thrills and Golden Sands

I first started planning our New Zealand leg while flying to Easter Island. With so many locations and over so many months, it was just impossible (and, to me, undesirable) to plan too far in advance. But while we soared over the Pacific, I got really excited about the north end of the South Island--wine country, lakes region, artsy town (Nelson) and--to top it all off--Abel Tasman National Park. (I will say--everyone raves about South Island, and it is incredible. But I think the North Island gets an unnecessarily rough go of it.) Right away, I told Tyler we had to go there and spend several days. Locally, the travel brochures the Kiwis seem inordinately fond of included references to the "green thrills" and "golden beaches," which I expected to be so much marketing language. But our three days there were some of my favorite in New Zealand.

We arrived Easter Sunday. After a few days of quiet towns due to the public holidays, it was exciting to see such a lively place. We first drove through a neighboring beach town, Kaiteriteri, which was swarming with campervans and people on the beach. And they weren't lying! The sand was golden!

Golden Sand!

Apparently, all the rock in the area is a granite that contains some iron. When the iron oxidizes, it turns this beautiful golden, maize-y color. On some bays, the beach is actually quite gravelly, giving the sensation of walking on a beach full of popcorn kernels. And though I hadn't put two and two together, the golden sand is what leads to the amazing green color of the water. (Yellow and blue make....ah!)

Water of Abel Tasman

We decided to try and see as much of the park as we could without actually backpacking. That meant a day hiking from the park entrance, a day sea kayaking, and a day taking a water taxi to a more remote beach to do some hiking that would otherwise have been inaccessible.

Day 1 Hiking Destination

After settling in to (I kid you not) Old MacDonald's Farm with the Enterprise, we made the 10 minute walk to the park entrance and just decided to go for a casual stroll. I knew right away that the guidebook and brochures hadn't been exaggerating--I loved it.

Me loving Abel Tasman

We passed along several beaches, and made it to Appletree Bay Cove. We learned later while kayaking that it was named that because settlers had tried to plant several varieties of apple trees, but the soil was too saline. It was a great remote spot, and I really wished we had camping gear on us to spend the night.

The next day we were signed up for a full day sea kayaking tour. Fortunately, "full day" really means about four hours total paddling. Tyler and I both (seperately) had been sea kayaking a few times in the past and thought we had the general gist. Unfortunately, I'm not sure we quite knew what we were getting into. We spent the first part of the morning arguing over steering and then our speed (the slowest in the group) only to find out that Tyler had been holding the paddle backwards. That helped things a bit. I think it suffices to say that we could both benefit from some core and upper body strengthening. But seeing the landscape and rocks from water level proved worth the effort and sore muscles. Better yet, we got to explore coastline we hadn't hiked up to, as well as paddle around Adelle Island, where we saw several lazy seals sleeping in the sun. The motley crew (two women from Queenstown, a Canadian civil engineer living in Nelson and constantly trying to hit on women, and a strange Frenchman on holiday along with our fascinating Korean guide--she had previously been a bodyguard) made our way home, even "sailing" for part of the journey back.

Lagoon off Adelle Island from the kayak

The Dynamic Kayaking Duo

I think the best day, though, was our last. Our friends, JJ and Piper, who we just missed in New Zealand had left us suggestions, recommended going up to Mutton Cove, far up on almost the most northwestern end of the park, hiking partway back and getting picked back up by the water taxi. Only one company, Aquataxi, had regularly scheduled stops to Mutton Cove, so we booked the "Remote Getaway" trip with them, which included drop off at Mutton Cove and pick up later in the afternoon at Totaranui. We had hoped to hike further, but the time and tides didn't help our cause.

The water taxi ended up being a surprising pleasure on its own. The driver of the boat was funny and shared lots of stories about the names of bays, would stop by scenic sights for photos, and stopped for animal sightings--more seals and a group of dolphins on the ride home.

Split Apple Rock, near Kaiteriteri--we wouldn't have seen this without taking the water taxi

And Mutton Cove lived up to its reputation. We were the only people departing the boat at the beach, and the only people on the beach. For at least a little while, it seemed like a private paradise.

Two directions on Mutton Cove Beach:

View from hike to Separation Point of Mutton Cove

We did a short hike up to Separation Point from the beach then decided to eat lunch on the shore before moving on because I loved it so much. And lucky we did. As we sat with our PB&Js, we saw a seal swim past us, very close to shore. Then another. Then three started swimming and diving, still really close to where we were. How often do seals start gamboling in front of you on a beach?


We decided to get moving, only to have more adventures, including finding a beautiful, tiny secluded beach, where Tyler found a throughway, perfect at low tide, but we managed through with "low enough" tide.

Secluded beach past Mutton Cove

Tyler's shortcut discovery (my pants only got a little wet....)

It was a great hike--beaches and coast, forest in between, beautiful weather. Three days was a pretty good amount of time to explore with all the different variations--walking, kayak and water taxi--but I could easily been happy to spend much more.

Oh, and just for fun, there are lots of neat birds in New Zealand. We haven't yet seen the elusive kiwi, but here's my current favorite, the Oyster Catcher:

Oyster catchers, with their distinctive long, orange beaks


Dan said...

My favorite sentence so far during the trip: "And though I hadn't put two and two together, the golden sand is what leads to the amazing green color of the water. (Yellow and blue make....ah!)"

Mostly because I would have had the same reaction. :)

The General said...

The sad thing is, even though the guide pointed this out to us... I didn't REALLY get it until Sarah typed it out in the blog.

Me = Dense