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!

After braving the big waves again we paddled south across Onetahuti Bay, through more sloppy water off Foul Point (made more enjoyable by a little blue penguin that popped up nearby), and finally coasted in to our first campsite! Through no plan of our own we arrived at high tide, which meant we didn’t have to drag the heavy double kayak 100m up the beach. As the evening got on the tide went out quite a ways, and we could walk out to the small island at the entrance to the bay, and explore the beach around to the south. Mosquito Bay is water access only, but still quite crowded as expected at the peak of summer. Someone had even built a swing beside the inlet to the estuary!

Day 2 looked quite daunting on the map, especially since we would be hitting the “Mad Mile” at the end of it. First stop was Bark Bay, just to the south of our campsite. We had been tipped off that there was a filtered fresh water supply that comes out of a pipe at the northern side of the bay, which was a perfect place to top up our water supply without landing! The paddle south to Torrent Bay didn’t take long at all, and we had time to pull in at a couple of beaches and relax while we waited for the tide to go out. If you paddle up to the stream that feeds the estuary there is a small area where kayaks can be pulled up, but it can only be accessed around 1.5 hours either side of low tide. The tide wasn’t in our favour, so we pulled up at a small beach by the coastal track, and walked the rest of the way to the pools. This was a great chance to stretch the legs, and check out some of the scenery by foot. Cleopatra’s Pool was very refreshing, and has a natural waterslide for anyone keen to slide down some smooth rocks.

Refreshed from our cool dip, we headed back out the estuary and across Anchorage Bay with the “mad mile” in the front of our minds. After the unpleasant experience going up to Shag Harbour and around Foul Point we were apprehensive about what looked like a long stretch of paddling around exposed headland. It turned out to be more of a mild mile – crossing choppy Anchorage Bay was hard work, but as soon as we rounded Pitt Head we had the wind at our backs, so basically coasted all the way to our second campsite! It was much smaller than the previous campsite, and we scored a sweet campsite nestled under some trees overlooking the beach and Adele Island.

In New Zealand much of the native wildlife is threatened by introduced pests such as rats, stoats, ferrets, weasels, mice and possums. A partnership between the Department of Conservation, the Project Janszoon Trust, the Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust, community and iwi is currently working to restore the ecology of the Abel Tasman National Park. A large part of this work is controlling introduced predators, and in 2007 Adele Island, Fisherman’s Island and Tonga Island were cleared of introduced stoats, rats and mice. This has allowed vulnerable wildlife to return to the island, and predator control throughout the park has enabled other vulnerable and rare species to return as well.

Waking up on the final day of our rental we were greeted with clear blue skies and flat sea, which Katie and I were both stoked to see! Compared to the previous days we didn’t have much ground to cover, so took plenty of time cruising south along the Astrolabe Roadstead. We stopped at a sandbar off Adele Island for a while, and I heard a few South Island robins singing from the coastline. On the eastern side of Fisherman’s Island we found a picturesque small bay to have lunch at, and look out over Tasman Bay.

All that was left was a slow paddle back to Marahau, thankfully with the wind at our backs! Despite both of us spending time in the Abel Tasman previously, we loved exploring it from the sea and highly recommend it. Each trip can vary depending on weather and your choice of campsites, but even though we had a mixture of weather and sea conditions we had a heap of fun!