Sun and Sand at the Top of the South: Abel Tasman, NZ

The perfect antithesis to the wet and rugged coasts found further south, Abel Tasman’s golden sand beaches, sun-filled fruit orchards and warm, Caribbean-blue water make it a paddling paradise. Although it’s consequentially more commercialized, the region is also rich in history and Maori culture.

We link up with Kyle Mulinder, a charismatic guide for the Sea Kayak Company who takes great pride in his Maori heritage and carries on tour his grandmother’s conch, or putatara. The shell is a traditional Taonga puoro, Maori musical instruments used in the recounting of creation stores. Mulinder shares some of these stories, enacting each tale as he tells it, dancing and drawing in the sand in front of his international audience: a couple from Germany, two girls from France, two Americans and two Kiwis.

He relates his own speculations on history and what first contact must have been like for the Maori—indigenous Polynesians whom it is believed traveled over 2,500 miles to New Zealand by dug-out canoes, or waka, and settled some 400 years before the first Europeans—when Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sailed into nearby Golden Bay in 1642. Although Tasman is credited with “discovering” New Zealand, he and his crew actually never set foot on the island. When the Dutch sailors attempted to land in the bay, a major agricultural area for the Maori, they were met by a fleet of war canoes. Four of Tasman’s men were killed in a bloody skirmish and the explorer hastily sailed away, never to return.

After our tour with Mulinder, we paddle to the far end of Abel Tasman National Park and pick our way back over 30 miles along the shore for the next three days. It’s a leisurely trip compared to our initial adventure on Stewart Island. The skies are clear and the sun so powerful that unshielded skin burns in minutes. We seize the opportunity to paddle in the cool mornings and linger at offshore island fur seal nurseries, watching the curious pups play in the clear water. Water taxis buzz up and down the coast throughout the day, but in the quiet evenings we share well-equipped campsites and swap stories with other kayakers and hikers from around the world. 

kayaking in Abel Tasman New Zealand

TIPS FOR VISITING ABEL TASMAN

Water taxis make it possible to shuttle into Abel Tasman National Park from the villages of Marahau or Kaiteriteri, then paddle back. Allow one day from Anchorage Bay, or three days from Separation Point at the park’s north end. Another popular option combines paddling
out and hiking back on the Abel Tasman Coast Track. Arrange rentals or a guided tour with the Sea Kayak Company (www.seakayaknz.co.nz). 

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