We were an hour late. The sun was setting behind insipid, lifeless hills, and a pale salmon glow highlighted the waters in our path. My partner formed a dim outline in front of me, his urgent, quirky paddle strokes creating fleeting shadows over my bare legs. The water was smooth and we maneuvered easily. The high tide came in over two hours ago, covering the abandoned estuaries and sandy playgrounds so enjoyed during the hours of low tide. These public hot spots teaming with running children and beached boats during the afternoon were now vacant and silent. We were alone.
Our strict time schedule was sidetracked while playing with the seals. Long after the other (smart) kayakers called it a day and started back to Marahau while the sun was still high in the sky, we stayed, content to observe the playfulness and solitude of the handsome marine creatures. They slipped and slid under our boat, knocking on the bottom and bumping our submerged feet. Sleek and plump, they entertained us for hours before heading back to their sanctuary of moss covered rocks to assemble for the evening. Moms found babies. Dads found wives. Friends found each another. We heard their squeaky calls fading in the distance as we hurried away. Now, seals forgotten, we rushed to reach Marahau before we caused worry back on shore or worse, we may be charged extra for our late arrival!!
It didn’t help that my kayak buddy was a 6’4 mass of left feet and silly string thrown into a form of a human body. He had never been on a watercraft before, much less tried to propel himself around on a two person ocean kayak. Gumby would be an accurate nickname (you remember the twisty cool green guy that we collected out of McD’s Happy Meals way back when?). Every thirty seconds I had grit my teeth and remind Mr. Athlete to turn his paddle around the proper way. I was soaking wet because if and when he actually made contact with the water, he happened to fling it back in my face and I was now a quivering mass of gooseflesh. Oh dear…
Fate intertwined when we found one another at a local pub the previous evening. Easter Sunday celebrations brought people out of the wood works and we were all witness to the ma and pa oompha loompa band on the front deck. The tables were moved away to clear space in hopes that we might become drunk enough to dance along with the tone deaf musicians. As we waited for this spontaneous event to occur, we were squished together on the few remaining benches, the proximity of which made for fast friendships.
As luck would have it, the young man who accidentally poured his entire drink down my legs was also looking for a kayaking buddy. I learned this as he was mopping up my soda and rum soaked jeans. Kayaking was pricey; guided kayaking was more expensive and neither of us wanted to be at the mercy of a time schedule. The buddy system was the way to go and we made plans to meet the following morning rain or shine. (for those of you wondering, yes, the crowd did eventually make it to the dance floor that night.)
Now, twenty hours later I found myself wondering how I ever let this clumsy, “one egg shy of a full dozen,” “not the brightest crayon in the box” man into my boat! Just as I was ready to abandon boat and swim ashore, we saw the blinking lights of Marahau; it wasn’t too much further and my pal suddenly found his missing spurt of energy (too bad he ended up paddling us in circles!) Many muttered curses later, we beached our kayak and collapsed in an exhausted heap on the wet sand. Though there were a couple unmentionable phrases uttered by the tractor driver who had been waiting for us for over two hours, we weren’t in that much trouble. Worries aside, it had been a beautiful day in the Abel Tasman park. We all learn from our mistakes don’t we? From now on, I’m going to require a fitness test before taking on any unknown watercraft partners.
Not only can one go kayaking along the golden beaches of Abel T’s National Park, but trekking is also an equally entertained activity. Tiny, striped water taxi’s shuttle hiker’s back and forth along various points, leaving trekker’s the choice of walking all the way back to Marahau or being picked up at another beach site. I chose to be dropped off in Bark Bay, leaving me around 20 kilometers to walk that afternoon. I was alone for the first part of my hike until I ran across a family overcome with three crying, tired children. For the rest of the hike, I carried little Todd on my shoulders and was charmed with Mother Goose tales for two long hours. I wonder if I could put these experiences on my resume??
Living off the Land
I was staying at Old McDonald’s Farm, just around the corner from the entrance to the National Park. Our bunks were old and creaky, the kitchen was dark and was badly in need of some Mr. Clean action, and the windows were cracked, allowing a chilly breeze to sneak through in the middle of the night. The place certainly had character and lived up to it’s name! There were horses to pet and llamas to chase. Even an old dog made it’s rounds at night in order to receive his daily scratches.
My roommates in the rustic, wood cabin lot were two sweet girls from the States who had been teaching abroad in Australia. I convinced Sara and Liz to go mussel hunting with me one evening for lack of anything better to do. Actually, they were out of money and there wasn’t a store within walking distance to find dinner so we went hunting for our evening meal. As it turned out, we found way to many mussels to eat by ourselves so we rustled up some new friends at the nearby campfire to come and join us. It was quite a circus! Four people were stationed at the sink, cleaning mud off the shells, three others manned the boiling pots and the remainders ran back and forth, scooping out the steamed mussels and throwing in new ones. It was a meal fit for a king…..and totally free too!
Leaving New Zealand
Hostels in New Zealand are small and quaint. They have names like The Happy Apple, They Laughing Kiwi, The Bug and The Burnt Pie. Coffee, tea, and hot chocolate are free as well as rides to and from town. Complimentary push bikes sit on the back stoops, freshly baked loaves of bread (or cake or cookies) wait on the counter tops, a kitty cat often curls on your lap and a crowd of other travelers quickly become your best friends. Unlike the huge hostels that I often stayed at in Australia, these small cottages are homey and memorable. These experiences made it even harder to leave New Zealand.
After my trip to the Abel Tasman, I spent a wonderful sunny three days lounging at The Green Monkey hostel in Nelson. I slept in, I read books all day, I sat in street cafes and sipped coffee while people watching and I visited the famous fudge cafe at least once a day. Then it was off to Picton to board the Inter-island Ferry for the trip to the north island. My boarding time was at 5:00 a.m. so I slept most of the way through the Sounds and missed the stunning sights of sunrise. These were the same Sounds I had hiked only a week beforehand so I was content to catch up on my beauty sleep. Our early morning arrival in Wellington was windy and cold….not exactly a warm welcome but what’s new? Weather aside, Wellington is a lively and beautiful city. There is always music playing on the streets and activities to watch in the park. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to thoroughly enjoy the city. After a quick afternoon of souvenir shopping, I caught a bus straight up to Auckland for another early morning departure to Tahiti.
I had come full circle in New Zealand and Auckland seemed to be the revolving door that kept me going round and round. I knew my way around the airport (after five visits, I would hope so) and found my favorite comfy couch to curl up on for the remainder of the evening. Soon I’ll be lounging on the warm, sparkling beaches of Tahiti.