Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Abel Tasman National Park

Jan. 24, 2013
The day dawned bright and sunny, so we made this our day to visit the Abel Tasman Park.  (Abel Tasman was a Dutch explorer and apparently the first European to see Tasmania, New Zealand, and some of the other Pacific Islands – he’s the person for whom the Tasman Sea, Tasman Bay, and Tasmania are named – and the Abel Tasman National Park, which is New Zealand’s smallest national park, but one of the most visited.)
After a quick consultation with our B&B hosts, we headed out to the small town of Marahau, where we bought some provisions and hopped on a water taxi.  The water taxis are really more like water buses, having a specific schedule when they head out to a series of beaches on the coast of the park.  People can hike from beach to beach, or kayak, or water taxi, or any combination of all those modes of transport – and there are huts and a few lodges or hostels where people can sleep.  I think there may also be areas where camping is allowed as well.  We just went as day trippers, figuring we’d go round trip to the furthest beach, then stop at one beach for the after noon before pick up and heading back to Marahau.

Well, this was quite a trip.  First, the Marahau beach has almost mud flats, then sand flats, then a very flat beach – which means at low tide, the water can be as much as a kilometer out from the high tide mark.  So rather than having a kilometer long pier, the community has a novel way of getting boats out into the water:  each company has a series of small tractors (with waterproof engines somehow, I don’t know how they did this) which drag boat trailers out into the deeper water.  All passengers climb into the boat, don life jackets, and then get dragged by tractor out into the sea.  It was the funniest thing to see and do!!!!  The system works, but it just was pretty funny to see these little tractors hauling boats around in the very shallow water.

We stopped at a series of beaches, lovely golden sand crescent-shaped beaches with turquoise water, all kinds of shore birds and sea birds, dark green evergreen trees beyond the beach – people hopped into knee-deep water as our skipper handed over their gear, or unstrapped the kayaks so they could load up and paddle away.  We were the only day trippers on our boat, and watched passengers get off and on with piles of gear to last them for days or weeks as they trekked around the park.  Looked like fun, but, well, given the weather we’ve experienced, I’m not sure I really want to hike or camp in the cold and rain.  Because we watched clouds blowing in, the sky grew grey, and of course the air cooled down a bit.

There were great rock formations – the famous Split Apple Rock, which is a huge round boulder, sitting on top of a pile of other huge rocks, but split in half like someone took a monstrous knife and slice the round rock in half – looking like a colossal petrified apple, suspended in time and space.  There were other giant boulders, one the size of, oh, maybe a two-bedroom house.  Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a gigantic single boulder, not even at The Baths on Virgin Gorda!  

And there were other weathered rocks that looked more like modern sculpture – I had fun trying to catch photos while avoiding the spray our little boat was kicking up – it was a very bouncy ride, and the further out along the chain of beaches we got, the bouncier the ride.  It was almost like a carnival ride, somewhere between a bucking bronco and a roller coaster – great fun!

We reached the farthest beach, and picked up a few more people, then headed out to Tonga Island, 
where there’s a seal colony.  There were a few seals napping on rocks, and some young seals (adolescents, not the cute pups) who were calling – our skipper said they might be last year’s pups who are still calling their mums.  Very cute sleek black seals playing in the water, or standing on the rocks making these sort of barking screaming noises – made me wish I had a few fish to throw for them.  We watched them a bit, but had to keep to our schedule and headed back.

At the second to last beach, when we had another eight or ten people to pick up, our anchor chain got all tangled – our poor skipper spent probably a good fifteen minutes standing on the fore deck trying to untangle it so he could drop anchor and back in close enough to the beach for the people to get on.  Another water taxi skipper climbed on to help, and eventually they got things sorted out and we collected the rest of our passengers. 

Between the anchor problems and the change in weather – it was now quite grey and the wind was picking up – we decided to skip being dropped at the beach for our picnic, and we just headed back to port.  And then, the tractor drove back into the water with the trailer while the skipper steered the boat back onto the trailer, and we kind of got locked into place.  Then hauled out, driven up to the boat parking lot (for lack of a better name), and out we climbed.

It was fun, it was beautiful, and it was over too soon.  And our Caribbean-temperature-spoiled selves were chilled and ready for some hot tea and coffee to warm up.  We ended up with our picnic being eaten at Marahau, at the café where we bought our hot drinks; the staff didn’t mind our picnic at their tables when I explained that we were too cold to stay on the beach.

I also saw more great blue herons, a great white heron, various terns and sandpipers and other shore birds, gulls, ducks, and maybe even an osprey (or it was a giant seagull, larger than normal, so it also could have been an albatross for all I know).  No penguins, although there were more penguin caution signs.  And no dolphins or whales.  But the singing seals made up for that.

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