Thursday, March 3, 2016

In the wake of Abel Tasman

As I went to launch my kayak at the Marahau boat ramp, a tractor driver expertly backed a boat trailer into the water. "Got a boat to pick up?" I asked "Got 14 to do in the next half hour" he replied, jumping off the tractor and running back up to the parking area to collect the next tractor and trailer as a water taxi ran up on to the trailer. In a moment the tractor driver had a trailer in place for a second water taxi, jumped onto the first tractor and drove the first boat up the ramp. I hurried to get my kayak out before I disrupted the smoothly oiled operation, part of Abel Tasman's burgeoning tourist industry.

Marahau local
"Canoeing along the coast is becoming increasingly popular" according to my 1989 edition of the Abel Tasman National Park Map. I'd tramped and sailed the Abel Tasman coast, but had never kayaked it. Back in Wellington I'd spotted a good weather window with no meetings, so booked the car on the ferry and drove across to Marahau. I set up base camp at Mcdonalds farm, a pleasantly shady camping ground up the valley from the coast, populated by Llamas and the remnants of the summer camping rush. I chatted to a fellow camper with an eBike, which he used to commute between his Moutere home and his permanent camper van at the camping ground.
Base camp at Marahau
That first morning I headed south to giant spheroid of Split Apple Rock, and on to Kaiteriteri. As I paddled through the gap between the shore and Kaka Island I met a squadron of tourists heading north, the first of many encounters confirming the 1989 prediction.
Doing the splits on Split Apple Rock
After coffee (on land, despite a floating coffee bar moored off the beach) I headed north again to Fisherman Island, beaching on golden sand along with several groups of kayakers, and a family picnicking on hors d'oeuvres ferried across from their speedboat. The clear water was inviting, so I snorkeled along the rocks, spotting paua and starfish along with fish. Back on shore, the other kayakers said "did you feel the earthquake?" Fortunately, I hadn't - I suspect knowingly snorkeling in an earthquake would be scary.
Fishermans Island
I paddled around Adele Island, trying not to disturb the seals slumbering on the rocks, and marveling at the birdsong blasting out from the predator free bush. Back when Cook visited the area, the noise of birds was so loud they couldn't sleep on shore. Places like Adele, where the threat of predators is being removed, have some hope that we'll be able to experience pre-European NZ, perhaps having to use ear plugs when we camp! At the beach on the western side of Adele, I spotted a notice on the shore that I couldn't quite read, so landed to check it out. The sign turned out to to be one that politely suggested you didn't land, and if you did, to carry out a full fumigation and pest eradication programme on your boat.
Kayaks being repositioned by water taxi
A feature of the Abel Tasman coast is a reliable northerly breeze that picks up in the afternoon, so I rode this back to Marahau. Water taxis zipped past, laden with kayaks being repositioned for people taking a kayak + tramp option for experiencing the park. At the beach, now with low tide a couple of hundred metres from the boat ramp, I foolishly spurned the offer of a lift on one of the fleet of kayak trailers. I attached my trolley wheels and trundled the kayak up to the carpark, finding the sand less hard packed than I'd imagined. To cap it all, at the car I realised I'd left the stand I used to help load the kayak onto the trolley back at the shore, so got to walk back again.

After a beer from the chilly bin at Base camp, and Terning down the road to a fine pino gris and pizza, the day seemed to be complete.

The next day I decided to see how far north I could go before the afternoon breeze kicked in. An earlier start at low tide meant trundling the kayak across the mudflats to the shore, but soon I was heading up the coast with a slight Sou'Easterly pushing me along. Lots of inviting beaches dotted the coast, but I decided on Watering Cove for my morning scrog stop - the beach was slightly sweltered from the swell. I chatted to the multinational hiking group filtering water and packing up their postage stamp sized camp, then headed around Pitt Head to Torrent Bay. A yellow blob floating past turned out to be Linus and Snoopy, presumably abandoned by a family yacht.
Snoopy and Linus after rescue
I kept going north to Bark Bay. Back in the 80s we'd camped here, thinking it crowded with 10 of us, and generously distributing our tents and flies around to discourage the following party of scouts from setting up camp on "our" beach. Now DOC limits campers to 40, kayak guides are continuously marshalling their fleets in and out of the beach, and a row of yachts occupy the back of the sandspit. A young camper was noisily dissatisfied with his parents choice of holiday - I handed on Linus and Snoopy as a pacifier, which was effective for at least for a few minutes.
Kayakers enjoy their isolated wilderness experience, Bark Bay
After lunch I picked up the afternoon breeze and headed back south. At the mouth of Torrent Bay, I found a deserted beach to snorkel from - despite the crowds on accessible beaches, there are still quiet spots, although we can't afford to lose access to beaches such as Awaroa. I passed Adele close enough for the birdsong concert, and headed down to Marahau, following a guided party that had rafted up and deployed a tarp as a sail to get them home.
Tarp sailing back to Marahau
While the kayaking had been great, my hips were telling me that three nights camping was enough, so I packed and headed back to Wellington, and a home that I didn't have to crouch to get into.