ABEL TASMAN NATIONAL PARK, NEW ZEALAND — Nearly every tourist itinerary has to include a stop in Abel Tasman, but we weren’t sure how long we wanted to spend there.
This national park on the Tasman Sea is famous for sun and beaches, two of Beth’s favorite things, and a 60-kilometer coastal track for hiking, one of Torsten’s favorite things. But Beth had read that the trail is crowded, with ant-like convoys of hikers.
We decided on a one-day sampler, a guided kayak trip to Observation Beach with an unguided 9-kilometer hike back on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track.
We let a Marahau Sea Kayaks staffer talk us into that instead of “freedom” kayaking, which would have given us more time on the water, because, she said, we were the only people signed up. But when we showed up, there were an older couple from London, two young women from Melbourne and our guide’s sister and her boyfriend from Nelson. Oh, well, our arms were still sore anyway.
The day was perfect, warm and clear, with a few wispy clouds in a blue sky. After the usual orientation, we walked to the beach, where we were amused to see a row of tractors parked in the ocean — the tide was going out, and they’d be needed again soon to haul out the water-taxi boats, passengers and all. It’s kind of a ridiculous sight, a boat full of people in life vests being towed down the road by a tractor, so we were glad we could walk.
Our plastic tandem kayak was a tub, just like the one from Anakiwa, but it wasn’t hard to keep up. Pretty soon, our young guide, Gaby, pulled us onto the beach at Adele Island for a snack. We felt like preschoolers, but hey, we like cookies. We also got to sample Milo, a drink made from milk powder, malt barley, sugar and cocoa. Everyone else in the group drank it as a child and swore that it’s nutritious — and it’s made by Nestle, so it must be, right?
Gaby said there was a colony of New Zealand fur seals on the other side of the island, so we paddled there. Just as we glided by a beach, a mother and pup came bounding over the rocks — literally bouncing up and down on their fins, as if they couldn’t wait to get to the water. But at the edge, they stopped, and the pup nursed for a few minutes. Then they slid into the water and toward us, playfully pursuing each other. It was a special treat to see them so close, Gaby said — we thought so, too.
At noon we pulled onto the sand of Observation Beach. Gaby spread out her picnic cloth again and served up juice and coffee, and we ate the lunches we brought.
It was pretty pleasant sitting there on the sand, watching the traffic on sea, beach and air (we saw six motorized hang gliders, which buzzed the beach like a swarm of mosquitos), but after a while, we headed for the track. The 500-meter uphill trail to the main track was incredibly steep, and if it had been mud instead of hard-packed dirt, I’m not sure we would have made it.
But the track itself, when we got to it, was a walk in the park — shaded, level, hardly any rocks or roots. Our mistake was trying to find Cleopatra’s Pool, a freshwater inland spa. It was hard to tell how to get there from the map we had, so first we went a few kilometers west to Stillman’s Beach, then back toward Anchorage Bay, and finally we gave up. Beth picked up speed as we again approached Stillman’s, where she went for a lovely swim. As she waited for the sun to dry her, we watched the tide come in fast, swallowing a sandbar almost completely by the time we left.
There were indeed lots of people on the trail, most of whom greeted us with a smile and a quick hello. Many were backpacking, staying in beautiful campsites along the beaches. We were just a little envious. For a cheap beach holiday, you can’t do better than Abel Tasman, and the word definitely had gotten out world-wide.
Back in the campground, we sat on chairs outside our tent and watched the last strays coming in off the track, which starts half a block from The Barn. A duck came waddling up to Torsten and, to our surprise, plopped down next to his chair instead of begging.
It was our last night of staying at a campground, other than the two Great Walks we’ll be doing, and we weren’t sorry. The location of The Barn was great, and it had little cabins that looked pretty nice, but we felt as if we were in a college dorm, with young people who haven’t yet gotten the hang of adulthood. When we went into the kitchen to heat up our lamb sausages and quinoa with pumpkin and feta, it was a pit, with pizza crusts left on the counter and a pot left to boil on its own. If we were 20, we might be okay with that, but we’re definitely too old for it now.