12/5/12 - 12/5/12 14 °F
Alarm goes off at 5:30, we smack it a few times before pulling ourselves out of a warm bed. Ugh. Oh, shit. It's Saturday. We're going kayaking! Now we're up! And off. We're in the car after a quick breakfast and several cups of Joe and tea. It's dark but not rainy and we dare hope that when the light finally does come it's going to be clear.
As the sun starts to rise behind the mountains and light penetrates the fog, we realize that all we see is still . . . fog. Damn. And more fog. No rain though so we hope and keep going. Marge is driving and I'm reading the map provided by Wilsons, the kayaking outfit that we're using for our sea adventure, and this one actually seems to know what it's doing. We're also on relatively flat roads for a change, so we're making good time. The fog starts to lift just enough to start displaying some of the topography and . . . oh my. The mountains frame the valley all around us, with gold and red and orange trees and shrubs lined up on both sides of the road. We realize just then that we're in orchard country and they are everywhere. Apple orchards, and pear orchards along with the random vineyard and sheep farm. Of course there are sheep - there are ALWAYS sheep! This is New Zealand after all. But the orchards are lovely. And vast.
Now the fog is really lifting and we see blue sky. Hallelujah! The coastline starts to appear again off to our right, nestled in between the mountains, and before we know it we're there! 1 1/2 hours early! There isn't a thing open except a little dairy (i.e., store) and Marge satisfies herself with a machine-generated cup of coffee. I sip on water and we both wait in the car. For an hour. People start to show up here and there. There really isn't anything where we are, other than the beach and a little tiny township up on the mountain about 500 ft up! The beach is directly across the street from the designated parking lot and there are 4 ticket booths for each of the 4 outfitters that have access to the beach, and the national park's water launch. There are a few modest lodgings, one cafe and a couple of farmhouses, but everyone is still nestled snuggly in their warm beds at this point and it's just the crazy people that are going out on the water at 8:00 in the morning waiting in the parking lot.
We watch a tractor pull up hauling a metal and rubber skiff, and then a truck pulls with a rack full of kayaks. Aaah, I think our ride has arrived. More cars and campers start to pull in, so we get out and brave the cold air. It's still pretty chilly at this point, maybe about 11C with a light wind, but on the beach it feels cold. We've both got our heavy coats on over multiple layers, Marge with capris and me in long tramp pants and closed shoes. We're going to kayak like this? Ha ha!
People start to convene at the ticket booths, and a stocky Kiwi with a great tan and a hat bearing the insignia of Wilson's Outfitters rounds the corner by the ticket booth and announces he's here for the Wilson's tour. There's about 10 people, including us, now milling around so we all turn and start to pay attention. He introduces himself as Tim, tells everyone to keep their tickets to give to the captain on the boat, but he's looking for two that are doing the sea kayaking. That's us! I announce our particpation and he does a decent job of covering his surprise at the old birds apparently taking his 3-hour paddle and trek! Good show, Tim. He turns out to be a great guy and an even better guide. We get on the rather large boat that is now holding about 40 people. Huh? Apparently, there are multiple tours and Wilsons has this thing down so well, that they drop people off and pick people up all along this deserted and remote national park, by water access only. That rubber and metal skiff they were bringing up the road is now lifted onto the side of the boat and they use it later to go retrieve a group of people from a deserted beach halfway up the remote coastline. Amazing, really. After two stops up the rugged coastline that is Abel Tasmin National Park, including one that picked up three more people that ended up kayaking with us, we're ready to disembark on a deserted beach with our guide, our packs and 3 double kayaks and that's it! A little daunting honestly, cause the only way back to the boat is by kayak and that's about a 3 hour ride. Sink or swim moment, literally.
The kayaks are ruddered, so the front person has the job of navigarting (Marge's job) and the back seater has the job of steering (me). Oh boy. We've got a relatively light chop on the seas with the wind, but as long as we don't run into a high wake, we should be able to keep upright. It was really amazing. The other 3 in the kayaks included a Kiwi couple from Dorkland, and a guy from Washington state who was in NZ for a travel conference. The 6 of us set out into open water after some brief prepping, adjusting and training by Tim. Off we go. We went straight out towards Tonga Island and navigated around it in pursuit of seal watching. These things were amazing. Little black seal pups jumping off rocks and swimming towards the kayaks made our afternoon. The only bummer was that because the water was relatively choppy, and we were in sea kayaks, we had the camera's in waterproof bags and it was a little iffy trying to get those out to get pics without capsizing. We managed some, but not sure how good they're going to turn out. It was good fun though.
We circumnavigated Tonga Island, which took the better part of 2 hours, and then headed for a secluded/protected lagoon for lunch. Here's where it got a bit . . . uh . . . awkward. The passage really narrowed and got shallow, so the rudder had to be pulled up so we woudln't beach the kayak. That means not steering, so when we went straight for the tree, I tried to use the paddle to avert it and only managed to nail Marge in the back of the head. Ooops. LOL. Poor Marge. Woke her @ss up. And of course for the rest of the afternoon, the standard comment was "Francie, watch out for that tree," in Kiwi!
We spent a quick 20 minutes on the beach, inhaling food and fighting off sand flies (which, by the way, have managed to aniliate most of my exposed skin on both legs and wrists - those suckers still itch!), before gearing up again and heading back off. We managed to be 15 minutes late for the boat, which was waiting for us on the beach. Oh well. What are they gonna do . . . leave us? Better not! We did a short trek after beaching the kayaks and rinsing off the sand and salt, to another beach and waited for our ride. We left the hotel at 6:45 a.m. on Saturday morning and pulled into the outskirts of Nelson at approximately 5:00 p.m. We enjoyed a lovely dinner overlooking the sounds. By the time we hit the hotel around 8:00, we were both wind burned and exhausted, but happy.
Asleep by 8:03 p.m. Out! Great day, great experience. Thank you Wilsons, and Tim, for a great day!