Quick question: what image pops into your head when you think of the Abel Tasman National Park? For me it’s golden beaches, calm blue sea (more on that later), and coastal kānuka forest. Having grown up in Nelson I’ve done several overnight hikes in the Abel Tasman National Park, but it’s an area just asking to be explored by sea. Named after Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, who was the first European to sight New Zealand, the park is the smallest of New Zealand’s 14 national parks, but has the highest number of annual visitors – a mixture of kayakers, boaters and hikers. We booked in to do a three day park start kayak trip with Abel Tasman Kayaks, starting in Marahau. After an intro talk, safety briefing, and practice paddle in Marahau Bay, we were given a map and dropped by water taxi at Onetahuti Bay around midday. Our two campsites were booked, and we had to be back in Marahau by 4pm on day three, but apart from that we were free to explore the coastline, bays and beaches of the Abel Tasman!
Our first night’s booking was at Mosquito Bay, just around the corner from Onetahuti Bay. We initially planned on having a chilled first day, but it was suggested that we visit Shag Harbour by the water taxi skipper and crew at Abel Tasman Kayaks. Both said that it’s the best part of the park, so we figured we might as well check it out! We were also warned that it can get rough around the headland just before the entrance to Shag Harbour, so we would have to play it by ear. No worries. As we got closer to the headland it started to get a bit choppy, and we figured that was what they were talking about. Nope. A little bit further around past Wharf Rock we got into some big waves, which look a hell of a lot bigger when you’re sitting down in a kayak. I reckon some of them were easily 1.5m. By the time we were in the rough of it we couldn’t turn around, so had to keep slogging through the slop (and into the headwind) until we got to the entrance of the harbour. As soon as we passed between the big rock stacks at the entrance to the harbour the sea flattened out, and we got to rest our arms and watch a fur seal sunning itself on a rock nearby. We spent a while exploring the harbour, and watched a seal pup playing in the freshwater stream that feeds it. Well worth the visit!