Friday, January 18, 2008

Abel Tasman, part 2

The kayak rental base in Marahau is one of the biggest operations in the world. But after three hours of standing in the blazing sun, sweat pouring down our faces as we practiced kayak strokes in front of our teacher, we couldn’t help but question the efficiency of the system. After lectures in wind, waves, various safety techniques and a mock capsize and escape we were finally ready to enter the “dangerous” waters of the Abel Tasman National Park. The clear blue water was like glass when we finally left to venture out on our own, each of us wearing extremely stylish bucket hats embroidered with kiwis birds that we’d bought 15 min previously.

The paddle to our first campsite took almost 45 minutes. (We had been told not to try to make it any farther on the first day.) But as Chris mentioned the crescent beach of Te Pukatea was as close to paradise as we have gotten. As we pulled up on the beach, there was no one in sight and the golden sand was beginning to glow as the sky turned pink above us.

The next morning we spent some time on the beach before taking a leisurely paddle on to our next destination, Mosquito Bay. This campsite is only accessible by water. Along the way we explored a few of the lagoons that are present in the park only at high tide. The tidal patterns in the park are crazy to experience. The water level can drop/rise almost 12 feet in some cases. This tendency results in huge sandy beaches that are visible only at low tide and beautiful calm lagoons that fill only when the tide rises. We were able to paddle to the head of the lagoons and up part of the rivers entering the sea.

New Zealand is famous for its birds. The lack of predators, besides possums and stoats which are a huge problem and I will get too later, the birds have no natural predators. On each of the beaches we stopped on we saw oyster catchers. These funny little birds are completely black except for their bright orange eyes and feet and long pointy orange beaks. We also loved watching the pied cormorants dive from 100 feet in the air fishing.

We thought Mosquito Bay would be somewhat quiet because of its water access restriction, but it turned out to be just the opposite. The protected waters of the bay drew a handful of sail and power boats, these boats anchored in the lagoon and as the tide went out they simply sat on the sand. Kinda weird to see boats just sitting on the sand. We set up our camp at Mosquito Bay, excited about the prospect of exploring the northern coast the next morning. After a slight mishap with some spoiled broccoli – yuck- we had dinner and sat on the beach playing cards. Chris invented a new game which we are calling Anapai after our first beach campsite of the Abel Tasman. The game is a mix between pitch and a game taught to us by some fellow trampers on the Heaphy Track.

Before going to bed that night I was brushing my teeth when I turned to spit in the bushes and saw a pair of beady red eyes staring back at me. Ahhh! A possum! It of course quickly climbed up one of the tree and sat there just watching me and our campsite. They might look like a cross between a raccoon and teddy bear but don’t be fooled, they are scary little things. The first time we heard a possum cry was on the West Coast with Sean. We were all sitting around the fire when out of the darkness came one of the eeriest sounds I have ever heard. Gutteral, cat-like, evil…I can’t even describe it. Anyway the possum was right above out tent all night. It woke me up half a dozen times and I nearly peed my pants not wanting the leave the shelter of the tent. In the end I made Chris come outside with me.

That night the wind picked up and in the morning we struggled to push out of the bay and make our way north. I was getting a bit nervous about the building swell, but Chris wanted to make it up to what we had been told was the coolest lagoon in the park, Shag Harbor. Along the way we passed one of the islands that ‘s home to a seal colony. I think the rough water forced them to take shelter because we didn’t see any. As we battled the waves and wind to make it across the open channel between the island and mainland, I was having doubts about our ability to make it around the headland to the lagoon. The swells were getting bigger, definitely some of the biggest I have been kayaking in. Chris won out in the end and we rounded the point to an onslaught on wind and water. The white caps were spraying us with salt water, but we managed to make slow progress towards our target. Sitting in the front of the kayak, I was lifted off the water only to come crashing down into the waves. On more than one occasion the waves actually poured over the edge of the boat onto my lap.

We paddled through the narrow opening into the harbor and entered a serene little oasis. Definitely worth the trip. Shag Harbor was a maze of rocky passages and clear green tinted shallow water. Beautiful. After just floating around we decided it best to make it back before the weather got any worse. Surfing the waves back we saw a handful of seals playing in the water by the shore. They next day we paddled back to Marahau and caught a bus for Nelson, reminiscing about the awesome last week in New Zealand.

Chris and I are sitting on our balcony in Bali. I am forced to wear a sarong and treasure my one pair of underwear, but more on that later.




chelsea said...

hope Shag Harbor treated you guys well, hahaha

ps. emma don't forget your motto "don't be a pussy"'s only a possum

Audrey said...

one pair of underwear? if it was me i would have left one of the seven anti-poo medicines behind and packed another pair.

also, i love the names of the places you guys are visiting. shag harbor is an obvious winner. mosquito bay - not so much.

Tyler said...

hahaha . . . great possum encounter! but honestly - they're so cute and cuddly, how can you be afraid? they're just a big ball of fur . . . and CLAWS and FANGS! they'll git ya . . .

taking note of birds! NICE. I love it when I rub off on my friends . . . I'm expecting a complete, annotated bird list by the end of your trip.

I'm heading to Kenya tomorrow (hopefully for real this time) - I'll be in touch!