We made the bus. And after a safety course from Marahau Sea Kayaks, we started our self-guided journey up the 55-kilometer Abel Tasman track in a tandem. Our plan was to kayak two nights and backpack two nights. Destination night one: Te Pukatea Bay, a three-hour paddle from the start. Our kayaking CV is short, and when I wasn’t picturing a massive great white devouring our kayak, I was picturing us capsizing in the open ocean, our belongings strewn about and our iPhones on mermaid craigslist. But our inexperience was no worries. We snapped into sync, me working the rudder and Jess up front navigating*.
It was smooth sailing the first two hours. Then one inevitably hits a rough stretch of water called the mad mile. When I saw the whitecaps I knew we were in for it. Hugging the shoreline, the waves pounded us from the side. I turned the kayak to face them as we paddled into the void, heading further out to sea with each stroke. I knew at some point we’d have to change course, but the swells seemed only to grow and I couldn’t help but picture the happy couple
on the brochure paddling with ease through crystal clear water. Meanwhile, there we were, white-knuckling it, dodging rocks and leaning into meter-high waves as they crashed over our kayak. My fears were only compounded by a recent incident where I capsized in Wellington harbor and I knew how easily it could happen. In the end, we managed to stay afloat and eased our way into the welcoming waters of Te Pukatea Bay.
In the morning we continued north to Mosquito Bay. Despite the ominous name, the bugs – which we had been warned about – were tame, and that night we stargazed to the Flaming Lips.
Day three brought the highlight of the trip. Leaving the shore behind, we paddled to Tonga Island in search of a seal colony. And what we found on the north side of the island was nothing short of a seal orgy! Check out the video. It was pretty magical. One even popped up to kiss Jess on the arm.
Following our seal show, we left the kayak for pick-up on Onetahuti beach, leaving with it the paddles, sprayskirts, flares, water pump and life jackets, and set foot up the track for the second half of our trip. We amassed quite a bit of rubbish on the first two days, taking advantage of the kayak’s ample storage to bring along wine, beer and food aplenty. I was anxious to dump the trash at Awaroa Lodge, a place that by name suggests a relative proximity to Awaroa campground, our destination for night three. However, after a few hours of up-and-down hiking, we arrived at the campground only to learn the lodge was a good 30-minute walk in the wrong direction and unreachable at the moment due to high tide. Needless to say, the bottles came with us and we ended up carrying upwards of 10lbs of trash with us over the last three days.
We arose from Awaroa campground bright and early day four and continued our walk north through an enormous tidal flat. This was our longest day on the trail and I’m 100% sure Jess would have hit the red button if we had a helicopter waiting for the call. But the views eased the pain. Though runoff from a recent storm had muddied the normally scope-blue water, the further north we traveled, the prettier it got, and when contrasted with the golden sand and green jungles, the ocean scenery of Abel Tasman is just bulletproof.
That night at Mutton Cove we had our one and only campfire. It was lit by a German teen drifter with a kind smile and a shitty tent. Mutton Cove was my favorite site along the track, gifting us a great spot on the beach and good bouldering rocks nearby. That night we celebrated the close of our journey with a bottle of Cloudy Bay from part 1 of the trip.
Our final morning, we made the three-hour hike to Wainui, thus completing the Abel Tasman track. All told, it was a great adventure. At different times scary, relaxing, challenging and above all beautiful. And though we had our ups and downs, we eventually grew to feel at home in the wild, as one does after a few days in the backcountry. You see things differently. You hear the birdsong. It’s a great feeling that borders on spiritual, and Jess and I are lucky to share that kind of love for the outdoors.
Later, back in Nelson that night, we took our first shower in six days. SIX DAYS! Must be some kind of record. We then set a different kind of record, eating and drinking our weight in an all-out who-cares feeding frenzy. After all, every backpacker knows the first big meal after days on the trail can be as satisfying as the trip itself. And as Jess predicted, the bed wasn’t bad either.