The Quiet Traveller: Day 13 – Abel Tasman

The sea kayak were doubles, so I paired up with Veronika and got in the front of the mighty vessel. We were given a kayaking crash course from the safety of dry land, and then we loaded the kayaks aboard the tractor trailer and headed down to the shore. The plan for the day was to kayak along the coast for a few miles, drop off the kayaks on a beach, and then walk back to base along the coastal path.

There were no other Stray bus members with us on this adventure, but there were a few members of the public, including a young Spanish couple and a fantastic Irish family, consisting of two parents who were definitely getting on a bit and their grown up daughter, possibly late twenties. It was a scorching, cloudless day, and I was interested to see how the classically pasty Irish would stand up to the heat. Although I had concerns of my own, which meant I donned my Australian style hat and copious amounts of sun cream.

The other member of our group was Oscar, our Kiwi guide and instructor. He was incredibly chilled out and incredibly young (younger than me), yet you felt that he knew his kayaking stuff. Out on the water I asked him if this was something he had always wanted to do. He replied that he had become a kayaking instructor straight out of school, because he didn’t know what he wanted to do, but he enjoyed kayaking. Sounds like you’re living life right, Oscar.

The sea was flat as a pancake and the wind minimal. We launched into the tiny breakers and I began windmilling my arms, attempting to dip the paddle ends in and out of the water without pouring the ocean onto my suncream-infused face. Being in the front, I had to operate the rudder. Since when did kayaks have rudders? This was news to me. Anyway, steering the vessel proved to be a lot of fun, especially when the occasional boat came past and I had to direct the bow into the wash. Sea-faring language is weird. Rudder is just udder with an ‘r’ in front. Port can be left, an alcoholic beverage and also a place to berth a ship. Don’t get me started on the shipping forecast – yes, I’m looking at you, Dogger.

With two people in a kayak you can go at quite a pace, and although we weren’t racing against our fellow kayakers, I did feel mildly victorious when we nosed ahead. The Irish parents soon fell behind, but to be fair they were doing a good job for their age. Our first destination was an island named ‘Adele Island’. Ironically, it was a really calm day on the water, nowhere near rolling at a depth of many fathoms standards.

The unique thing about this island is the noise it makes. As you draw closer, the sounds of many thousands of birds can be heard, a complete contrast to the near-silence of the forest on the shoreline. This is because there are no predators or diseases that have become abundant on the mainland, and it represents what the Abel Tasman area would have sounded like when Abel Tasman himself discovered it.

Banana camouflage is what gives this battleship formation the edge over the enemy.
Ironically, Adele would not be welcome given her track record of arson attempts on the natural world. What did the rain ever do to her?

It felt great to get out and stretch my legs, because as fun as kayaking is, the leg room is somewhat wanting. Still, not as bad as a Ryanair flight. We wandered around the island beach whilst Oscar prepared some much needed tea and biscuits. An island free of human activity, tea and biscuits, and beautiful weather. Life was at a peak.

Clambering back into our cockpits, we launched into the slightly windier open water once again. This increase in wind was because we had left the safety of the bay we had departed from, and I was glad I had re-doused myself in sun cream before setting off. Coming round the head of the island, we came across a seal colony, which really got me thinking. About how I wanted to be a seal.

Wake up. Roll around. Roll to find food. Roll back to sleeping area. Make strange noises. Such is the life of the seal. If only my life was like that. Oh wait…

My arms were beginning to tire as we edged closer to our final destination, a beach on the mainland. My main issue was that my swans were/are nowhere near sick enough to warrant calling a vet. Dipping was becoming stroking, meaning my oar end was not having much of a forward thrusting impact. Eventually, our plastic fleet made it to shore, and I gladly set down my paddle for the last time. Kayaking is fun but hard work.

On the beach, Oscar conjured up a thoroughly enjoyable lunch, and I spent the time chatting away to the amiable Irish family. It seemed the parents were visiting the daughter who was spending a longer period of time in New Zealand. It’s easy to see why people end up long term in what is such a great country.

Saying a slightly sad goodbye to Oscar and the Irish, who were getting the water taxi back to base, me and Veronika began the lengthy trek home. It was still scorching, but I was glad we were in the shade of the coastal foliage for the majority of the route. Over 12km and several hours later, we staggered back into The Barn, my legs like sausages and my German language skills greatly improved. That’s something I definitely did not expect to happen in New Zealand of all places.

The evening was spent reconvening with Stray people around a fire pit. I met a few more of my fellow travellers, including Freddy, a friendly Canadian (of course he was friendly) who lived in Vancouver, just north of Seattle. I extracted a few tips from him about Seattle for later on my travels.

I then got chatting to an American girl, who told me she was spending a few more days than just the usual two in Abel Tasman. ‘Why are you doing that?, I queried. ‘Well, it’s so nice here, and I’m introverted so I need a bit of a break.’ She didn’t have to say any more, I totally understood her. It’s incredibly fun but incredibly draining living out a rucksack, and I could tell that she wanted a few days off from carting her life and possessions all over the place. It was also very satisfying to meet someone on my wavelength in the same situation as me, however brief an encounter it was.

As weary travellers began to head to bed, I spotted a few people spread-eagled on their backs on the wooden decking, looking skyward. I decided to see what the fuss was about and tilted backwards to rest my head. Stars popped and flared before me, the like of which I had never seen. More and more kept appearing, and I suddenly felt small in the vastness of everything.

Track of Day 13 – He’s A Pirate (PoTC Theme) // Hans Zimmer


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