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A new and different adventure: Kayaking the Abel Tasman

Kind of a special feeling

Finding ourselves child-free and in Nelson after ANZAC Day during the school holidays, we came up with an adventurous plan – hit the water and go kayaking for a few days. While both of us have kayaked in the past, its mostly been single-day trips, and when not on Wellington Harbour, its also tended to be guided or part of a tramping club trip.

This time, it was just us, our plans and our kayak. Marks broken collarbone from October had stopped us leading a tramping club kayaking trip in Kenepuru Sound in the lead up to Christmas, but he reckoned it was fully healed enough to cope now. Time would tell, but we were hopeful, and confident that our worst case scenario was calling for an early pick up.

We opted for a three-day Park Start Independent rental. This way, we were paddling with the prevailing tides, and only had to be “home” by 5pm on our last day for pick up at the beach and transfer back to our car, rather than having to be at the beach, unpacked and waiting by 1pm for a park collection.

We wound up having an amazing time, with glorious weather, friendly people and charming seals. We’d do it again next year in a heart beat if getting to the Abel Tasman wasn’t so expensive, but we’d also love to take Mr6 with us, which requires waiting till he is 10 for kayak hire.

The Route

Kayaking in the Abel Tasman National Park means camping alongside the Great Walk. Hire Kayaks generally cannot go north of Onetahuti, and most companies offer a range of hire packages from one to five days, starting in the park or at Marahau.

Campgrounds and huts must be booked either via DoC directly, or via your kayaking firm (and if via the kayaking firm, expect confirmation of your booking to take a few hours or a day, as this is a manual process).

Travelling in late April, we were the last multi-day Park Start group to head off. That said, we still met a lot of other kayakers at our overnight stops, and there were a good number of people out boating in the park as well.

Day One – Onetahuti to Mosquito Bay

An early start from our accommodation in Richmond for the drive out to Marahau saw us hanging around in the crisp morning air waiting for our turn for an induction. We unloaded our kayaking gear from the car, tested how well some of it fit, grabbed a pile of dry bags and dropped everything into a couple of soft carry bags for the water taxi trip out to Onetahuti.

After an on-water session with others who were mostly departing directly, we headed back to the base to wait for our water taxi with one other couple also doing a Park Start. We were anxious to get moving! Once we did get going, the trip out to Onetahuti was smooth and quick, and before we knew it, we were on the beach, loading our gear into our kayak, tucking in to some lunch and then launching!

Due to the tide times, we opted to head straight to Mosquito Bay to unload the kayak and pitch our tent, before exploring the estuary at Bark Bay during the dropping tide. We grounded the kayak in the estuary, and escaped over a final sandbar with a scrape. Arriving back in Mosquito Bay a couple of hours after we left, we found that no longer could we pull right up to the campsite beach – now we had an impressively long portage to undertake to get to the campsite. Those who arrived later again had even longer.

The campsite here was lovely, apart from the gorse that was trying to re-grow throughout the campground. One of our fellow campers was an old acquaintance from university. We had a lovely dinner, a gorgeous sunset and a super early night.

Day Two – Mosquito Bay to Observation Beach

Awake early to find a very condensated tent and a very low tide, we didn’t rush into our day. Our plan was to hit Frenchman Bay (inaccessible by foot, but it looked gorgeous from above when we tramped past it the week before) and Torrent Bay Estuary during high tide, before lunching at Anchorage beach.

We portaged our kayak to near the water line and then came back for our bags of stuff (as the kayak was heavy on its own), and helped out a couple of other groups to do the same.  We launched into calm seas on a gloriously sunny and pleasantly warm day.

Arriving at Frenchman Bay as the tide was opening up its estuary, we were able to allow the tide to push us in. It was a solid bit of paddling to get back out, but the peace and bird song inside this bay was amazing. Similarly at Torrent Bay, the inrushing tide was very strong, and we were able to paddle all the way around this gorgeous bit of water that a week-ish previous we had walked across.

Paddling back out as the tide was still coming in was a serious work out for the abs and arms, and at one point the current grabbed us and nearly pushed us into an inbound kayak. We made it out, and enjoyed some peace and sunshine at Anchorage Bay for a bit over lunchtime.

Kayaking around the headland here to Observation Beach was straightforward, but can be tricky in strong winds and late afternoon if the surf gets up. Observation Beach wound up being nearly full for the night, with a series of northbound kayakers joining us later in the day. We lost sunshine early, so ate early and went to bed early to get out of the cold.

Day Three – Observation Beach to Marahau

Another morning of glorious sunrise, the low tide enabled us to walk around to the other half of Observation Beach, which was actually in the sunshine. We packed up again and headed off to Adele Island to see if we could find some seals.

We found heaps! They were gorgeous, and so curious. Some swam right up to our kayak.

Returning back to the mainland, we opted to stop for lunch on Appletree Bay, where the toilets were revolting and the water was out. Fatigue was setting in, so we opted to return directly to Marahau from here, arriving at the entrance to the inlet at about 2pm. We arrived just as a couple of instructors from our company were wrapping up rollover training, so were assisted out of our kayak and whipped back to headquarters for hot showers super fast.

We unpacked our kayak, helped clean it up, loaded our car and headed all the way back to a gorgeous hotel in Nelson, where we cleaned up our gear and dried out our damp tent before heading to dinner in town.

Getting There

Between our tramp and kayak in the Abel Tasman, we opted to stay at a campground in Richmond. We stayed there for Christmas one year in the past and it was lovely, now it feels like it’s a bit more residential than holidaymaker. But the new owners are trying hard to upgrade it and are super friendly.

Our water taxi into the park was provided by our kayak hire firm, but you can skip the water taxi by doing a Marahau-Return hire. This will also save you a few dollars per person, and enable you to get on the water earlier on your starting day.

To finish our stay, we treated ourselves to a room at Century Park Motor Lodge in Nelson. Easily one of the nicest places we’ve stayed for a long time (the joy of not having a 6yo, so being able to get just a double room).

Then it was time to head home to Wellington, travelling on the BlueBridge, with a cabin (our preferred option, as it assures you of somewhere to sit down and gives you somewhere to leave your carry on bags)

Final Thoughts

We would 100% do this again, in a heartbeat. We had an amazing time, and would love to spend more time kayaking in the Abel Tasman. If you get the opportunity, do it.

We highly recommend the Park Start option, as it means you can explore more of the park as you don’t have to double back. An alternative if you want to walk is doing a walk and kayak combo – most firms offer these either guided or independent.

If you are confident about your kayaking, go independent. If you’re not sure, go guided. And yes, we recommend Abel Tasman Kayaks, they were super easy to deal with, lovely people, excellent condition kayaks and good rates.

PotW – Waterfront, Picton

London Quay, Picton
For some reason, most people never stop in Picton – they drive off the ferry and head south, or purposely arrive with barely time to check in for their ferry on departure.
The ones who do this with kids are totally missing out.
For our last big South Island holiday, we purposely planned for our last night to be in Picton, so we could waste time at leisure in this gorgeous wee spot. Sadly, it bucketed down with rain, so we were forced indoors for the morning instead.
Between the huge pirate ship to clamber over, the water play area and the beach access, there is also the gorgeous (and cheap!) miniature train, mini golf (not as cheap, but totally cute), along with other opportunities to explore. Parking immediately between the playground and the Interislander terminal is generous and has a 4hr time limit.
There are toilets near the Memorial Arch that leads to the main road, and its not a long walk up the main road to find multiple eateries, and a reasonable sized supermarket.

Patuna Chasm – Local Adventure

Bookings Required

You’ll need to book early for this adventure, as it only allows 20 people at a time to book in for the trip across private farmland and into the amazing chasm. Tickets are relatively inexpensive – $30 adult / $15 child – for the 2019/2020 summer season. Kids under 6 are not able to participate.

What to Pack

You’ll need water, snacks / lunch, something warm to wear in the chasm if its not a hot day. Leave a change of clothes in the car, because you WILL get wet. Take a camera. Pack everything that you don’t want getting wet into waterproof gear bags. Make sure you wear reasonably sturdy shoes – the walk in involves a chunk of up and down and is exposed, the river is full of tiny bits of gravel and slippery algae. Sunhat, sunglasses and sunscreen are essential for sunny days.

The Trip

You’ll meet in the farmers back yard. There’s a good amount of parking off and in the middle of the loop for everyone. Be a few minutes early to allow time to use the toilet in the corner of the parking paddock (it flushes, and there is a hose tap on the fence for hand washing after), and to ensure you have all your gear you need before you leave.

Health and Safety briefing was a bit haphazard for us – here, read this and then sign a waiver – and the briefing was even more so, a muddled run through of what we could expect from the walk as we drove across the farms in the 4wd. Apparently there is usually a trailer that they tow people out on, but it was broken, so they were using the bed of a truck and a 7-seater 4wd to do the transport instead.

Once you’re at the gate, you start with a walk. A small climb and solid drop down to the stream, where you can see the optional exit point. Then you climb up a heap more and sidle around the edge of the chasm for a while. Taking two pre-teens and stopping for some lunch along the way, it took us maybe an hour to get to the actual entrance to the chasm.

When you’re in there, drop off the bulk of your bag and take a wander upstream to the waterfall area. It’s a great introduction to walking in the river. Collect your bag on the way back down past this spot. You can take your time from here on out – we were near the very back of our time slot group, and we still got back to the carpark with more than half an hour to spare.

There’s some interesting bits of walking through the chasm – over a rock and down a ladder, through overhangs, a short thigh-deep section under a water splash (not big enough to call it a waterfall). When you get to the area where you can see the track again, there’s an option to use a rope to climb a rock to get on to the track, or you can go into the next puddle and find an easier walk onto the track.

From here, the option is to walk back along the track or to continue down the river. You will be chest deep (on a normal height adult) if you go down the river, so make sure your bag is suitably packed if you want to go that way. Pick up is back at the drop off point and then its back to the car and home!

Getting There

You’ll need your own transport for this one. The Chasm is about 20 minutes drive out of Martinborough along some gravel roads. Stunning country and on a good day you get some lovely views.

PotW – Te Kapua Park, Turangi

Ohuanga Road, Turangi
This is one of our new favourite places to stop for a picnic and run around on any roadie through the central North Island. The playground is compact and simple, with some unique features, like the low-slung hammock swing. There are raised terraced seating areas, a couple of rubbish bins and ample parking. Toilets are located within the carpark area, and the playground is right outside the local swimming pool.
As an added bonus, being Turangi (a rather small town), its not far to the cafes for some food, or there is a dairy immediately across the road that also does fish n chips.
If you’re passing through and need a leg stretch, make the time for this one. You wont regret it.

PotW – Lyall Bay Beach, Wellington

Lyall Parade, Wellington
In a southerly, this playground is not for the faint-hearted, located as it is right on the side of the beach, exposed to the wind. But on a sunny day with a light breeze, it’s a great spot to blast out the cobwebs.
The play equipment here is simple, with a pirate theme. A swing, a slide, something to climb on, and lovely views – including to watching planes come in and out of the airport.
On a good day, parking can be difficult, as it’s a popular walking, dog-walking, surfing and swimming beach, plus the famed Maranui café is only a couple of hundred meters down the road in one direction, with the Spruce Goose a similar distance the other way. Toilets are available in the Lifeguard building just west of the play area.
Looking at Google Street View, this playground has been upgraded since we last visited.

PotW – Kaitaki Ferry

Interisland Ferry (Kaitaki)

The Kaitaki is the biggest of the 5 or so ferries that cross Cook Strait between Wellington and Picton. If you’re ok with confined spaces below the waterline and travelling with kids, then it also has probably the best Play Space of any of the ferries.

While the BlueBridge ferries offer a free movie, the Kaitaki offers somewhere for the kids to actually burn off energy – particularly useful if you are driving straight off the ferry and down the coast for several hours, as we often do.

The play space is located on Level 2, which is below the vehicle decks. This does actively mean it is at or below the water line (depending how heavily laden the vessel is), and thus there is no natural light (which is good, as it helps you forget where you are). It has a multi-level climbing space, like most good indoor soft play offerings, and there’s even a bar and café upstairs for parents to get a drink or a coffee while they listen for their kids turn to scream.

Not a playground that’s a destination in itself, but a useful thing to know about if you’re planning an inter-island crossing with kids.

PotW – Botanic Gardens, Christchurch

Christchurch Botanic Gardens, Armagh Street
Nestled deep in the northern half of Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens is an incredible play area. In summer, bask in the shade from the numerous mature trees, and paddle in the free pool. In winter, enjoy the peaceful escape from the city in a much quieter play area, and play hide and seek in the dropped leaves.

This is a fully-featured park. Swings, slides, climbing, swinging, bouncing. Swimming on a hot day. Shade for picnics, toilets nearby, and a good sized carpark just over the river. It can get busy, both in the playground and in the carpark, so be prepared to do a bit of hunting. You can also park out on the main road and enjoy a leisurely stroll through the gardens to the play area.

Our common attack is to park in the gardens and walk out to the CBD for lunch, but there is a café within sight of the play area that offers ice creams and similar light food, along with another more substantial one about half way back to the Museum.
Speaking of, make sure you visit the Museum on your way past. Its free (or Koha if you feel inclined), and is really interesting. On your wander into the city, you’ll also get to see a tram car, and the Rollickin’ Gelato shop. Forewarned is forearmed, because you wont escape a stop related to either.

It’s a solid walk for little legs, so if you still have a buggy or a carrier, we recommend taking it if you’re using this wonderful playground as a launch pad for exploring whats been redeveloped to date in Christchurch city.

Highlights: 2019

I’ve struggled with getting trips written up this year, often not tackling them till well after the fact and ending up having to back share them. Some trips, while awesome, are still not written up! So, I thought, lets at least do a summary of this year and some of the amazing and awesome adventures we have had (because we’ve had a lot).
Where there are posts, I’ll link them so you can read more. Where there aren’t yet posts, I’ll try to come back later and link them once written.

January
Starting the year in the Hawkes Bay heat, we abandoned our tent site at a managed campground a day early as we were just exhausted from how loud it was. Mr5 got to go on a 4wd adventure with my uncle and he loved it.
We then headed out to Castlepoint for a long weekend, which included swimming in the surf for the first time for Mr5.

February
We stayed close to home all month. A couple of daywalks for me, lots of trips to the bike park, and an attempt to watch some amazing planes at Wings over Wairarapa (the big plane we wanted to see had technical isssues so didn’t arrive).

March
Our first truly massive adventure – Mr5 and I flew over to join Mark in Melbourne for the better part of a week. We had an amazing time, did lots of touristy things, spent loads of money, and generally enjoyed ourselves. I actually really liked Melbourne this time, compared to when Mark and I did our honeymoon there and it just seemed like we were marking time there waiting to go on to Tasmania. We also had a weekend at the ski lodge.

April
Another big month – Mr6 did his first Great Walk, hiking two of the three main days of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. We then sent him to Christchurch to go kayaking alongside the track for three days.
Later in the month we popped out to Castlepoint for a weekend.

May
I had two quick weekends away – one for the Hawkes Bay Marathon weekend (I ran the half marathon in just over 3 hours) and the other to put in the bulk food at the ski lodge in preparation for winter.
We also enjoyed a kids night tour at Zealandia that was Mr6’s birthday present

June
A cold and damp month spent mostly at home. Mr6 was invested as a Kea, we went to Jumperama, and we watched the Matariki fireworks from Wadestown Hill.

July
School holidays meant more travel – this time a week at the lodge (wet and no snow, compared to 2018’s masses of snow), followed by a week in Rotorua. We did the luge, dinner at Stratosfare, the Redwoods Tree Walk, and made several visits to Kuirau Park.
Later in the month, Mr6 and I had a weekend at Castlepoint with my parents

August
After taking the tramping club families to Battle Hill for lunch cooked on a fire (an annual tradition), and enjoying an Adults-Only weekend at the ski lodge, we had our biennial trip to Queenstown for some southern skiing. Another amazing visit, with great snow conditions at Cardrona and pretty mint weather.

September
At the very end of the month, we returned to Queenstown and picked up a campervan to start a truly epic and amazing holiday.

October
The month opened in Milford Sound and only continued to shine. We road tripped via Lake Hauroko, across to Dunedin, up to Moeraki Boulders and back to Queenstown. We picked up friends there and hit up the Rakiura Track Great Walk on Stewart Island.
The month rounded out back at the ski lodge for the long weekend, where the snow had already largely departed the lower slopes.

November
I headed to Melbourne again for a girls weekend to celebrate a friends 40th birthday and had an AMAZING time. Holy wow, kid-free travel is good, but kid-and-husband-free is even better!

December
All quiet on the travel front until school finished. We celebrated the start of summer holidays by heading up to Castlepoint again for a long weekend, did a ride on E-Bikes out to Pencarrow Head one afternoon, and went up to New Plymouth to explore and camp.

PotW – Ben Burn Park, Wellington

Campbell Street, Karori
Ben Burn Park is mainly a sports field, focussed on athletics and cricket, but tucked away at the north end is a small playground. Featuring a couple of standard pieces of equipment (swings and a slide), it also has a wee wooden maze, which is quite unique and a lot of fun for younger kids.
Parking is along Campbell Street, toilets are down at Karori Mall (at the end of the road). While this is just a standard little play area, its still a great local park for residents and somewhere different to explore on days when Karori Park is busy. The reserve also features an annual local Lions Club fair in about February.

PotW – Kuirau Park, Rotorua

Ranolf Street, Rotorua
Kuirau Park is always our first stop when in Rotorua, regardless of what the weather is doing. This play area is directly adjacent to a large and active thermal area, which is its main attraction.
Back when I was a child, Kuirau Park was all about the thermal vents – the hot pools, mud pools and smelly steam – and the thermally heated warm water paddling pool.
Some time in the last few years, a childrens play area was installed alongside the paddling pool. Its got a great few features, including a massive climbing net that Mr6 is in love with.
The old paddling pool was out of action last time we visited – it developed a crack we believe. But don’t despair, there are now two smaller paddling pools tucked up a path the other side of the lagoon from the old pool. They’re just as warm and welcoming on a cold winters day.
Parking is pretty good, although it might get busy if Saturday morning sport is on the rugby fields opposite the playground, or if there is a craft fair or festival on the large plaza next to the play area.

What went well in 2019?

2019 followed the same pattern as 2018, with a lot of travel squeezed in. We started the year camping in Hastings and crashing at relatives in Napier, spending less than a week at home before heading out to Castlepoint for a long weekend. Mark led the way to Melbourne, before Mr5 and Amelia joined him for a long weekend. We had both family and Adult-Only adventures on the Abel Tasman in the April holidays, then spent the July holidays between Whakapapa and Rotorua.

Around those we managed a night walk at Zealandia, a half marathon in the Hawkes Bay, and several other local adventures. August saw us on our biennial trek to Queenstown for skiing, before we returned to Queenstown again for a campervan adventure, with friends joining us for a trip to Rakiura. In November, Mark and Mr6 went to Christchurch, and Amelia went back to Melbourne. Christmas was at home, and the year ended at a campground in New Plymouth.

We continued in the tradition of spending a lot of time utilising facilities that are familiar. Group holiday houses, the ski lodge, several trips to Castlepoint. When we went to Queenstown for skiing, we drove the extra distance to Cardrona rather than taking the shorter trip to Coronet Peak.

Our plans to have friends kids with us on our adventures fell through – in April due to a stingy boss cancelling my friends leave, in August due to tight finances and a lack of leave, and in October because their child just was not ready for that level of exertion (but the parents still came, which still made a lot of difference).

Three years in a row we’ve done something dramatically different to previous experiences. This year we hired a campervan for 10 days. We looked into this last year for our time in the Coromandel, but that area is not overly receptive to freedom camping, so we skipped it. This year, we were heading for Fiordland and Southland, and there were a number of places we wanted to visit that were infeasible any other way.

A lot of our other adventures were much like things we’ve done before – visits to the ski lodge and Castlepoint, Skiing out of Queenstown, tramping and camping – albeit some with minor twists, like Mr6 climbing Castle Rock for the first time, and tramping in new locations.

We managed a couple of Adult-Only adventures. Mark got a week in Melbourne to attend a conference, then we flew Mr6 to Christchurch for a week so we could go kayaking in the Abel Tasman together. Last minute spaces came up on an AO weekend at the ski lodge, so we grabbed those, and Amelia hit up Melbourne for a friends 40th on her own.

Mr 6 took a record 10 flights (2 international) and 4 ferry sailings (one set across Cook Strait, the other across Foveaux) this year. We were grateful to hit no major issues – even being at the airport at 4:30am went smoothly.

Our year opened in a campground and finished a different campground. Our travel was more extensive than was really feasible and the latter part of the year only still saw travel because we had made promises to do it. 2020 will be a significantly quieter year, with a focus on low-cost and local adventures.

We avoided significant dramas this year. Despite the challenges we faced in managing the volume of travel this year, we wouldn’t change it. A couple of big years was a little bit too far, and we all feel that, so cutting back for 2020/2021 shouldn’t be a big ask for anyone. We’ll probably still try and keep the tradition of an October adventure though. Not sure where yet.

Our only plans for 2020 at this stage are a long weekend in Queenstown to celebrate our 10th anniversary (because we’ve fallen in love with the scenery), and an adventure departing Christchurch after Christmas. As someone who loves exploring and adventures, this is slightly terrifying, and only palatable because plans are coming together for our big 2022 Round-the-World adventure.