New Zealand – Kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park, Nelson

Veering from one side to the other, my strokes growing ever more desperate, it quickly dawned on me that a tilt at yet another international sport was escaping my grasp.
Dreams of world renown playing cricket, football or rugby had already been scuppered by dubious natural talent and poor co-ordination, but perhaps – I had thought – rowing might be the answer.
Ten minutes into the nearest I could find to a warm-up before embarking on my Steve Redgrave-esque career – kayaking on the pancake flat waters of Abel Tasman National Park – those dreams were over.
My unfortunate kayaking partner and I were dropping rapidly behind the rest of our group (who claimed to have no international kayaking or rowing experience either) and had just narrowly avoided the tidal marking bouy.
It wasn’t proving the best way to see the park’s beautiful surroundings.
And that was a shame because Abel Tasman National Park – New Zealand’s smallest at 22,350 hectares – is well worth a look.
Situated close to Nelson, at the north of New Zealand’s south island, the park is a coastal wonderland of sea, sky, rocky headlands, lush native bush and golden beaches.
Tourists, arriving from sun-soaked Nelson – the town receives a staggering 2,500 hours of sun a year, can walk the coastal track over three or four days or explore by kayak, cruise boat, water taxi or sea kayak.
Packed with fantastic, secluded beaches punctuating the acres of green forest that fill the area, Abel Tasman National Park is also home to seals and dolphins – although I only caught sight of one seal.
There was plenty of bird life though, particularly in the form of the Cormorant, which New Zealanders call a ‘Shag’. Nobody seemed to know why.
The park was discovered by Dutch Explorer, Abel Tasman. His exploration of the area was hardly a roaring success though.
Intending to initiate trade with the indigenous Maori, he sounded a horn off the coast of one of the many coves.
Unfortunately for Tasman this signal signified a war cry to the Maori, who responded by sending out a raft of warriors to greet Tasman’s trading boat.
The Dutch vessel was rapidly sunk and Tasman fled the area, dubbing it ‘Murderer’s Bay’ – a name since changed in the interests of tourism.
Although not so disastrous my early attempts to navigate the park were equally unexceptional. Paddling out the kayak had been fine, but it was the steering that escaped me.
Fortunately, I managed to grab a front kayak, non-steering position after a tea break and from then on it was much plainer sailing.
Eat your heart out, Matthew Pinsent.

> Photograph: Photo taken by Steffen Hillebrand, near Totaranui, Abel Tasman National Park, NZ. Shared under Wikimedia Commons. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

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