Day 158: With And Without A Paddle

Fri. 18th January 2013

Its easier than paddling!Motueka is the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park. The park, like the Tasman Sea and Tasmania is named after the eponymous Dutch navigator – another gap in my knowledge filled. Kayaking and walking are the classic things to do in the park and today we have signed up for kayaking. We did have the option to do a mix of kayaking and walking but as we are walking tomorrow we opted for a full day’s kayaking (with the Sea Kayak Company).

Our trusty steedWe’ve never kayaked before (other than a 2 minute paddle back in Rangiroa) but we are sure that nothing could possibly go wrong. Also, I am intrigued to see where they put the motor…?? Joking aside, our guide told us that sometimes when she has Japanese tourists, they expect that there will be one guide per kayak who will do all the paddling for them. They are then surprised when they get presented with a paddle.

People take second priority to kayaks in the taxi!The first pieces are certainly easy enough – we are collected from our campsite and driven to Marahau which is the end of the road at the southern end of the park. We then load into water taxis – whilst the taxi is still on its trailer attached to the back of a tractor. The tractor then reverses the trailer (and taxi) down the slipway and into the water, the taxi floats off and we are underway.Simples!

What are the two things I'm supposed to be doing?The water taxi takes us up to Onetahuti which is two thirds of the way up the National Park – and hence as close to the north east corner of the island as we will get. The kayaks arrive by separate taxi. The only option is for tandem kayaks. Like with foursomes in golf (where each team of 2 players takes alternate shots with a single golf ball), we work out some ground rules to avoid arguments. There are two jobs for both the front and rear paddler:

  • Rear paddler: Paddling and steering (there are foot peddles for a rudder);
  • Front paddler: Paddling and obeying orders (no comments about this being tricky for Janet, please – it was in the wedding vows).

Heading offOver the day we get better at all of these and by the end we are definitely not the gumbies of the group. The paddling is the trickiest part all of this. Not only do we need to be in time, but you are supposed to use stomach and shoulder muscles rather than arms (pushing with top hand rather than pulling with bottom hand). It did make a huge difference, both to our speed and to the tiredness in our arms, but our shoulders are really feeling it tonight.

Bothered? I could be...There are 8 of us (in 4 kayaks) plus Kim, our guide in our group so we are happy that we are all going to see and hear everything. The first leg is a 20 minute (apparently!) paddle over to Tonga Island where there is a seal colony. It is breeding season and so the colony is mainly pregnant females and young pups. As usual, the seals are sunning themselves on the rocks and relatively few are out on the water. None come out to see us – sometimes young seals are so curious that they will climb up on to the kayaks.

Picnic lunch all roundThe next leg is down the coast to Mosquito Bay where we land on the beach for lunch. We point out that this is not an auspicious name but are told not to worry as our next stop will be in Sandfly Bay. A picnic lunch is provided for us and it even includes freshly brewed coffee. I am developing a deep dislike to instant coffee and really appreciate that both Aussies and Kiwis seem to like their coffee. To ensure that I have a balanced diet, I take a piece of carrot cake in each hand, so all is well with the world.

Fancy a shag?We take time to appreciate the golden sand and to watch the shags (cormorants) and the hungry seagulls. It also gives our arms a chance to recover. Our hopes to leave the rain behind on the West Coast have been realised and it is a lovely, warm sunny day (sorry to those in the UK under snow) with only a light wind. Kim says that we really did get lucky as for the last few days it has been windy.

The sandbank at the entrance to Sandfly BayAfter lunch, it is back into the kayaks, still heading south down the park and then past a sandbank and into the mouth of the Falls River. It is easier paddling now that we are going downwind and with the tide. I think we are also getting better at this kayaking malarkey. We go a little way up the river and pass under a swingbridge high above us – we will be walking this section of the coastal trail tomorrow and so will see the view the other way round then.

Up the river and under the swingbridgeBack out to sea and round Pinnacle Island for some more seal viewing. The wind and the sea are getting up and it is harder to paddle in a swell with the kayak rolling. Then it is time to get the sail up! This involves holding the kayaks together in a raft and then tying a square sail to the end of two paddles (held by the paddlers in the back corners of the raft) with the front of the sail held by the paddlers in the front corners. You can only go downwind like this and it is not zero effort with the need to hold the sail up and the kayaks together – but it is different and it is a bit of fun.

Pinnacle IslandThe end of our kayaking is in Anchorage (no, not that one). Kim tells us that we have covered 11km which we think is not a bad effort. It is certainly a different way to get around and the only way to get close to the small islets off the shore. The seals would have been thrilling if we hadn’t been completely sealed out in the Galapagos (oh dear, we are getting cynical). Some of our group are staying overnight in a houseboat and there are also camping options in the park.

Getting the taxi out of the waterWe are happy to get the water taxi back to Marahau – one day is enough for us. The arrival in the water taxi is the reverse of the departure – the tractor reverses the trailer down the slipway into the water and the taxi just motors on and the tractor pulls trailer and taxi out. Its how we used to launch and the recover our dinghies when I went sailing as a boy, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see it done on a larger scale here.

Gothic restaurant in MotuekaBack at our van, our arms are telling us that we definitely deserve an apres-kayak beer – but please can we find a way to drink them without having to lift those heavy bottles! Motueka has one final surprise for us today as we head into town for dinner. We have eaten in the van every night since we collected it and we think that tonight is a good night to eat out. Whilst we are generally disappointed with the look of the restaurants in town (especially the Irish Pub which we had thought would be a sure thing), we do find a Gothic themed restaurant in a converted church. It was certainly different and we appreciated not having to cook.

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One Response to Day 158: With And Without A Paddle

  1. Just making splashing noises in the back seat of a kayak is not funny! Just ‘cos you thought I would not notice you were not pulling your weight.

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