Day 9 – The morning began, here in permanent-good-weather Abel Tasman, with the sun shining, the birds chirping, a gentle breeze blowing, and the bees buzzing. Swarms of them. So. Many. Bees. Bumblebees everywhere buzzing and bumbling along and flying into things – like your face. Good golly. You know that horrible involuntary neck jerk when a bee or wasp bbbzzzZZZzzeessss right next to your ear, and then the embarrassing flailing of limbs as you try to knock the blasted thing away? Let’s just say I’m surprised I don’t have whiplash or something after suffering through the morning’s insufferable bumblebee plague.
Then again, I’m deathly afraid of all things buzzing, flying, and equipped with pincers, sharp teeth, and/or stingers. There may or may not have been some exaggeration, but it felt that bad, ok?
Today’s agenda was kayaking along Abel Tasman national park’s coast. The Abel Tasman tramp (hiking trail), I’ve been told, is the most popular Great Walk in New Zealand. Great Walk is a term for the 9 most popular tramping tracks within the country. The Tongariro hike to Mt. Doom? Yea, that was one of them. Le sigh. Anyhow, it’s supposed to be a very populated track. Annoyingly so. My way of getting around this was to kayak the waters. Plus this was really my only chance to get some sea-side exploring in on this trip. Out to sea we went!
But first, enduring the bumblebees and also learning very quickly that my guide was incompetent. That was unkind. He was not incompetent, just very very very very far from being remotely close to competent. He was a deep shade of green. He was 21. And I totally agree, age ain’t nothing but a number (amiright fellow 30s?), but this guy was green through and through. I sniffed out the inexperience within 5 minutes, when I asked him what type of shoes I should wear on the trip. Our exchange went a little something like this:
Me: “What’s the best footwear for this trip?”
Him:“Whatever you prefer to wear,” he replied without making eye contact.
Ummm… ok… but I’ve never done this before so I have no idea what I prefer.
Me: “Soo… like… if I wear tennis shoes, is that going to be ok?”
Quizzical look from the little guy.
Me: “Oh sneakers. Sneaks. These things.” I point at my shoes.
Him: “Well yea you can wear those. When we get off the boat you’ll be up to your knees in water, so they might get a little bit wet.”
A little bit?!?!? Are you crazy dude, I didn’t bring like 10 pairs of shoes with me, I have to keep these dry!
Me: “Alright then, flip-flops it is.”
I knew then that this was gonna be a looooooong day. I began to regret going for the all-day vs. the half-day option. It’s hard to know with these things. Oh well. The best I could do was enjoy the splendor surrounding me. Abel Tasman is not light on splendor.
So you know how I chose kayaking in order to evade the tourists? Just like the bumblebees, there were swarms of them. Kayaking is THE thing to do, besides the Great Walk of course. Oh boy. So my group loaded into a water taxi – just a big motor boat – and then waited while 10-12 kayaks were piled up in the back and secured with rope. Waited in the hot, hot sun listening to the incessant buzzing of bumblebees. As you can tell, this was not my favorite part of my trip. No worries. It got better.
The taxi ride out was a bit cold with the wind and all, and I regretted not bringing a second layer, which I meant to but just forgot. Turned out not to matter a great deal because the sun provided much of the warmth for the day. They dropped us off in the northern part of the park, a bit upwards of the Tonga area, close to Shag Harbor (ew, no, not what you’re thinking. Shag = cormorant in NZ speak.) From there we’d kayak down to our stopping point – Anchorage Bay.
We hopped into our kayaks – I had to share mine with our guide, oh joy – and off we went into the crystalline waters. There were 3 kayaks total, one couple from Germany, and a couple girls from Taiwan. Once on the water, I felt transported to another world. Ready for it? Fake. It all looked too perfect. The foliage here is too green, and the ocean is too blue. And clear. And perfect. I clearly can’t get over this. It’s weird.
We kayaked around some islands. The wind was strong, but luckily in our favor, so it pushed us along as we made our way south. We found a few bull seals, one that looked like a king sitting fat and proud on a rock, regally basking in the sun. Some of the seals were in the water cooling off, swirling around, flapping their flippers, being all sorts of adorable. To my extreme disappointment, no pups. Pups come in the summertime. I’m a bit too early for the pups. Boo.
In general there was way less wildlife than I had anticipated. I had visions of frolicking seal pups, waddling blue penguins, armadas of rays swimming underneath. A tad unrealistic, I suppose, but the contrast between my fantasy and the reality was too stark to not induce a touch of disappointment. I enjoyed the many cormorants and other birds we saw along the way. I would tell you what they were, but Greenie (I have no idea what his name is) knew very little beyond his tour script, so rather than answer my “What is that bird?” questions, would pretend to think about it and then abruptly change the subject.
We stopped in Bark Bay for lunch, and the Germans continued by foot. I had the dubious pleasure of continuing with Greenie. I did learn some cool things from him though. Conservation efforts for the park are in full swing. They’re injecting the pine trees with poisonous sap to kill them off so that only native trees will make up the majority of the greenery. The plan is to have this project complete around 2042. So when I come back when I’m old and stale I might see New Zealand’s coastline restored to it’s full original glory. The area, Abel Tasman, is named after a dutch explorer that spent fair little time on the land, forced out by attacking Maori wakas (canoes). Mr. Tasman called the bay he was attacked in, Murderer’s Bay. It’s now been renamed as Golden Bay. Perspective, eh?
21 year-old Greenie told me he studied adventure tourism as his degree. Well that is way cool. He said he did all kinds of adventure things – climbing, caving, diving, etc. – and then chose an area of specialization. He chose sea kayaking, obviously. He’d only just graduated from his program, this was his first job, and he’d been guiding people for 2 weeks. This explained a lot.
We ended our kayaking trip at Anchorage Bay, but still had to wait for a water taxi to take us back to Marahau. We were early, so there was an hour and a half to kill. But I didn’t realize we’d have time to kill. And I didn’t bring a book – this is basically my worst nightmare. On a spectacular beach and no book? NO BOOK!?!?!? (Reading books on beaches is one of my all-time favorite things to do). But I did have my phone. So I improvised. First, I had to explore the beach, check out the shoreline, look for any cool rocks to hop around on, and see if there were any interesting creatures in tidal pools and stuff. Once I’d done that, I made myself a pillow out of my wet bag, got comfortable as I could, and played I Shall Wear Midnight from my phone while enjoying the picturesque view in front of me. It wasn’t all that bad.
They finally picked us up and took us back to Marahau, where little tractors were waiting to tow us back to the water taxi center. The changes with the tide here are dramatic, so there was much more beach to drive through than there had been in the morning. Pretty cool actually.
I was ecstatic to be free of our awkward guide. I’d had a fun day despite it all, but freedom and solitude was what I wanted most by day’s end. Also, there had been a creeping tautness in my neck and throat. The perfectionist in me was starting to get all antsy about my itinerary and making sure I did everything I wanted to, and did it right. So, in response to this, I’ve decided to hell with it all. I will stay another day. To do nothing but enjoy this seaside town and read. My absolute favorite.