Since leaving Franz Josef, I’ve been hopping around the northern part of the South Island for the past week or so. Some of the highlights included celebrating Thanksgiving in Kaikoura with a big turkey dinner (cranberries and pumpkin pie included!) with people from all over the world, many being their first Thanksgiving. I also finally went and saw Catching Fire at the cinema in Nelson, which I thought was well done and better than the book. The best part by far from this past week was visiting Abel Tasman National Park, which has been on my top things to see and do in New Zealand. Known for its stunning golden beaches, tropical-like climate, and captivating azure blue waters, it’s not the kind of place you would expect to find on the South Island. It felt more like something you would find in the far north of the North Island, around the Bay of Islands. It’s a special place and has been a popular getaway spot for both Kiwis and tourists alike. Despite being so well-known, it’s not difficult to escape from the crowds and find some solitude. I visited one of the larger beaches in the park one afternoon and had the whole place to myself!
The biggest attraction in the park is most likely the Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of country’s famous Great Walks. The whole thing is 54 km long and despite being labelled a coastal track, I found that a majority of it was actually inland with a few views and beach access points here and there. It’s still a beautiful walk well worth doing though. I wanted to see the park from all different angles, so I booked a kayak tour that offered an unguided day hike on the first day and a guided sea kayak the second day. I took a water taxi from Kaiteriteri (one of the nearest towns to the park) to a large bay called the Anchorage. On the ride over I met a nice girl from Germany, Kathrin, who coincidentally was also part of my kayak tour. We were both doing the walk + kayak thing, but we were both hiking different sections of the park. We agreed to meet up again at Bark Bay (our destination for the night) and I got off the boat at the Anchorage. From there, I walked north roughly 13 km through the bush to Bark Bay, where I spent the night in the hut. Huts are pretty common in New Zealand and are like wilderness hostels. It was it was definitely more of a glamping (“glorious camping”) experience than what I’m used to camping in a tent. It didn’t take very long to get there and with plenty of daylight left, I dropped my pack off and hiked a few more kilometers up the trail to see some other beaches.
Later in the evening, I had dinner on the beach with some of the other campers and we chit chatted until after sunset. After everyone else headed off to bed, I stayed on the beach for some stargazing. With so little air and light pollution in this part of the world, the sky is filled with stars–way more than any place I’ve seen anywhere else. And they’re so bright and vivid! Another natural wonder I witnessed that night on the beach was the bioluminescent bacteria glowing in the surf. They get brighter when disturbed, so every splash I made as I walked through the water glowed with a dancing array of little bluish green lights similar to the glow worms I saw at the Waitomo Caves. Speaking of glow worms, I saw several of them in the forest on the walk back to the hut. I never knew they could live outside of caves, so it was a nice surprise to find them! To top it all off, a few of us got up early the next morning and greeted the new day with a spectacular sunrise.
Day two was kayak day, so Kathrin and I met up with our guide at a little cove just south of Bark Bay. Going by sea is really the best way to see the park. Whether it’s by water taxi, sailboat, or kayak, it’s what makes this park unique from all the others. There are endless little coves, lagoons, and lonely beaches to explore. Going by sea also gives you the opportunity to see some of the local marine life that can’t normally be seen on land. During our trip, we saw a few seals and a little blue fairy penguin (the smallest in the world). Our guide, Chris, mentioned that dolphins (and on rare occasions orcas) can be seen in the area. In total, we paddled 17 km from Bark Bay all the way back to Kaiteriteri. I still feel sore in some spots, but it was a great day for it! The weather was perfect and even though it was a long day, it felt good to be out in the sun and water. Towards the end it did get a little challenging as the wind picked up and the swells got bigger, but Chris showed us some good techniques and we plowed on through the surf all the way back to town.
So that’s another item crossed off of the New Zealand bucket list!