(Another partial rewrite of a blog I originally posted from Deck 8 of the Cook Strait ferry on December 4th. If you’re feeling a little short-changed by recycled content, consider how much you’re paying for the privilege!)
Many of the people that take the Rimu tour hop straight onto a plane Sunday night for the long trip home. When I planned my grand New Zealand adventure, I knew that I didn’t want it to end with a full, crashing stop at the airport. I built in a few extra days at the end to facilitate a few solo experiences, with a plan to check out some cool spots that weren’t on the formal tour itineraries. Abel Tasman National Park was one such place.
I obviously love to hike, but I have always been curious about sailing. I live in a land-locked province with a variety of overgrown sloughs masquerading as ‘lakes’, meaning good sailing opportunities are rare. Meanwhile, in New Zealand sailing is pretty much the only serious rival to rugby as the national sport. I found a tour company in Nelson that offers combination sailing & walking tours of Abel Tasman National Park and indulged two of my passions in one fun-filled day.
The owner of the tour company, Jane-Maree, picked me up at my hotel at 8 am and drove me to her sailing centre near the park. The 75-minute drive from Nelson to Abel Tasman winds along the coast through sheep country, apple orchards and fields of hops. North of Motueka, the flatlands give way to mountain country. We picked up a few more tourists at the campgrounds near Marahau before doubling back to the secluded village of Kaiteriteri.
It was a gorgeous morning for sailing – sunny and warm with just enough of a breeze to make things interesting without intimidating a landlubber like me. A half-dozen of us met our skipper Tim on the beach and climbed aboard a 10-metre Turissimo class sport-sailing catamaran. I found a nice spot to sit near the bow and, before long, we set off from Kaiteriteri under motor power. I was a little surprised that we weren’t sailing right away, but Tim explained that he could get us closer to the shoreline scenery with the predictability of a propeller.
We curled around Kaka Island and turned north, dipping in and out of bay after beautiful bay. Tim steered us into Towers Bay and skirted past a most unusual rock formation. Split Apple Rock looks exactly like it sounds – it’s a glacial erratic that likely split during an ancient freeze/thaw cycle.
A nice sea breeze greeted us as we rounded the point, so it was time to go sailing. The skipper unfurled the main and genoa sails and began tacking back and forth across Sandy Bay. I watched carefully as he worked the ropes and rudders, expertly keeping the sails full. Despite the headwind, we were able to make about 9 knots. It was neat to watch the twin hulls slip through the water, feeling the cool wind and ocean spray on my face.
We zipped past a flotilla of sea kayaks near Fisherman Island, and we exchanged some friendly waves. Tim let me take the helm near Adele Island, and for a few exciting minutes I steered our catamaran through a series of turns. The skipper reassumed the helm and we made a dash out to open water. As our yacht came around to the west for a big loop around Te Pukatea, we picked up a bit of a tailwind and accelerated to 15 knots. There wasn’t quite enough wind to run up the gennaker sail, but with my butt planted only inches above the water the sensation of speed was still exhilarating.
After a two-hour excursion, the skipper retracted the sails and took us into Torrent Bay. Since it was close to high tide, we were treated to a tour of the multi-coloured lagoon. When our journey was complete, Tim backed the catamaran into Anchorage beach and let us off. I found a nice quiet spot in the shade and enjoyed my lunch while all manner of scantily-clad tourists frolicked on the beach. I combed the sands for a few new seashells to add to my collection before swapping my sandals for hiking shoes.
Anchorage is a relatively easy 12 km walk from the pick-up point at Marahau, and I had about four hours available. I decided to add on a 5 km out-and-back trip to a place called Cleopatra’s Pool to enjoy a full afternoon’s walk. The scenery on the Abel Tasman Track is sublime – the coastline is an endless ribbon of golden beaches, azure seas, and lush green forests. I particularly liked this view of Pitt Head and Anchorage from the highline trail.
The walk back to Marahau was just as scenic. It’s not a particularly challenging trail, but on this day it felt deceptively long. For the first few kilometres, I kept hoping that I would meet up with my new hiking buddies just around the next bend. I longed for my friends’ effortless smiles, their mischievous glances, their playful banter. It took awhile, but eventually my subconscious mind adjusted to my newly reinstated solitude. A lookout point high above Stilwell Bay provided an ideal spot to sit and exchange some text messages with my friends across various oceans. While telecommunications truly are wonderful, I would have given anything to have had an actual flesh & blood person at my side to share the view.
After a well-earned pint of lager at the trailhead bar, I met up with Jane-Maree for the drive back to Nelson. The night before had been a little restless; it was all I could do to stay awake. Jane-Maree and I exchanged stories about our respective countries to pass the time, and I learned a little more about ‘the top of the south’ of New Zealand. She dropped me off at my hotel around 6:30 pm, and after a quick shower I ambled out for a night on the town. Fortunately, Monday nights are a little livelier than Sundays in Nelson and I came upon a cool little brew pub with an excellent selection of Kiwi ales on tap. They also flame-grilled a pretty mean burger platter that filled the hole in my stomach, if not the chasm in my soul.
Song of the Day: “Adventures in Solitude” by the New Pornographers