Sea Kayaking the Abel Tasman National Park
On a fine summer weekend we’re spoilt for choice for adventures, so we decided to head North for some sea kayaking in the Abel Tasman National Park. The forecast was perfect – sunny, with light winds, with no swell. We wanted a relaxed weekend rather than a mission, so started from to Tōtaranui with options of heading a few kilometres South to Awaroa Bay and North to Mutton Cove and Separation point. The last time I was here was in the Winter when we walked a Northern loop from Whariwharangi to the coast and over the Gibbs Hill track. It was a real treat to experience the beauty of the park from the water this time. We spent the night just off the main track at the small, Waiharakeke campsite across the inlet 20 minutes North of Awaroa.
The Abel Tasman National Park is New Zealand’s smallest national park and is popular for its golden beaches, the easy 60 km coastal walking track, sea cruises and kayaking.
Access by road to the Abel Tasman is from Mārahau in the South, or Wainui Bay or Tōtaranui to the North. We drove couple of hours from Nelson on the SH60 to Takaka, then continued East to Pōhara and Wainui Bay. From there we took the gravel road over the mountain to Tōtaranui.
We had a couple of stops along the way. The first was for coffee and treats at the amazing Ginger Dynamite cafe at Riwaka. As well as a great coffee, we had an incredible lentil and potato pie (not most people’s top pie choice, but it has to be tried to be believed), and followed it up with a rasperry and white chocolate cruffin, which was oozing with fresh custard. Quite honestly our weekend could have just been spent there, but we managed to drag ourselves away with the promise of a different pie and pastry next time. Our second stop was to pick up the kayak we were borrowing from friends near Takaka.
Abel Tasman – Tōtaranui
We arrived at Tōtaranui campsite and got everything into the kayak. ‘Everthing’ included a bottle of wine and a wok – as we didn’t really have to worry about space or weight. Plus, I had forgotten to bring Rich’s sleeping bag, so there was additional space for plenty more things!
When we finished getting ready, I actually began to appreciate our surroundings in the beautiful, long golden sand bay. The large camp of 256 sites is set a little way back from the beach and is completely hidden from view. It was all hustle and bustle at the campsite, and it was lovely to see so many family groups and kids tearing around on bikes. On the beach, you would never even realise the camp was a stone’s throw away. It was very tranquil, with a few families dotted there and there – absolutely perfect.
We finally got going around 2 pm – just as the sea breeze started to come up. It was only about 3Kms to paddle, around Skinner Point to Goat Bay then down to Waiharakeke Bay. We took it at a fairly leisurely pace and it got more and more choppy as we rounded Ratakura Point and passed the little rocky outcrops. The wind was coming from behind, and we found ourselves surfing a little as we headed into Waiharakeke Bay.
As we paddled into Waiharakeke Bay, we could only spot one other couple on the beach. We pulled the kayak up out of the water and walked the 100m or so to the small (10 tent) campsite. To my complete amazement (I’d forgotten we were on a ‘great walk‘ route) there was a flush toilet – with toilet paper!! Oooh! this was shaping up to be a luxury stay!
There were numerous weka (cheeky, theiving, flightless birds) around, so we took great care to look after our belongings as we pitched our tent. I saw one duck underneath the closed vestibule of the only other tent at the camp, and emerge with a packet of tea bags, so I chased it into the bushes. Luckily it gave them up pretty easily. I’ve never seen weka so brazenly enter a closed tent vestibule before!! Clearly, these ones are particularly inquisitive…!
Waiharakeke Bay to Awaroa Bay (by foot)
Awaroa Bay was only a kilometre or so away, so we decided to walk there for a look. It being a ‘great walk’, the track was beautifully formed and it was an easy 20-minute walk following a little stream through the bush. We met numerous other people either day-tripping and/or walking the trail. All were meeting a water taxi at Awaroa Inlet. At low tide, you can walk across the inlet, but it was mid-tide when we arrived.
We had a quick chat with the people waiting for the boat, used the (flush) toilet, and headed back the way we came.
It was a beautifully hot day, so when we got back we walked the length of Waiharakeke Bay, had a swim and lazed around in the sun to dry off. When we got back to the campsite the other couple there handed us back our bag of breakfast cereal. Apparently, they had chased down a particularly determined weka to rescue it. We had left it in a double-layered plastic bag, in a fabric shopping bag which we had ‘securely’ tied and left in deep the vestibule of the tent. It seems that the Abel Tasman weka are a particularly wiley bunch!!
Waiharakeke Bay to Awaroa Bay (by kayak)
By the time we dried off the sea breeze had dropped significantly, so we jumped back in the kayak and paddled around Cave Point into Awaroa Inlet. We wanted to bag Awaroa hut, we so made our way into the estuary and glided up to the hut. We jumped out, said our hellos to the occupants, had a quick look around and were on our way again.
The tide was pretty low by now, and the estuary was shallow. The ripples of sand below us were mesmerizing.
When we got back to Waiharakeke we had been joined by a couple of other tents – both solo hikers who kept themselves to themselves. We set about making a gourmet campsite dinner complete with wine and dessert. The cereal-rescue couple arrived with armfuls of firewood they had gathered from the beach, and we debated whether lighting a fire was allowed. Just coming off the beach there was a large sign reading that fires were prohibited, but confusingly, the DOC Campsite sign read that fires were allowed in the fire pit. Given that the season had been very dry again this year, we didn’t think it would be a good idea to light one.
North of Tōtaranui
In the morning I woke at 5.30 am and went to the beach to watch the beautiful sunrise for half an hour or so.
On my return, I went back to bed and slept again for another couple of hours. By 10 am we were all packed up and ready to leave, having been especially grateful for our breakfast after yesterday’s weka incident.
Waiharakeke Bay was flat and calm, and it was another beautiful day. We slapped on plenty of factor 50, jumped in the kayak and headed North past Tōtaranui to explore the rocky headland before crossing Anapai Bay. It was low tide, and we saw a couple of seals and some underwater life.
The low tide revealed a few tiny sand beaches, so we stopped on one for lunch. We spent a couple of hours alternating between lazing in the sun and escaping the sun. It was magic.
We paddled the short distance back to Tōtaranui and were off the beach and packed up by mid-afternoon. The beach was much busier today, with lots of families taking advantage of the calmer seas.
On our way back we popped into the Tōtaranui campsite Information Centre which had some great information boards including the story of how the Abel Tasman National Park came to be and information about Project Janszoon who are restoring the ecology in the park.
After cleaning and dropping the kayak off back to our friends we rounded off a perfect weekend with an amazing dinner and some live music at the Toad Hall in Motueka.