Hauling the bright yellow kayak over the burning sand under thirty degrees of sunshine was a thankless task, but we were lucky to be enjoying such weather within Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand. It was December 23, which added to the surreal nature of the experience. Having crammed the camera into the small dry hatch, and clipped our rubber skirts around the seals of the seats, we pressed off, and began the 17 kilometer paddle north along the shore.
The water fell away from the nose of the kayak with consumate ease, the surface stretching away to the horizon, flat as a sheet of glass before meeting a cloudless sky, the boundary between the two almost indiscernable. To our left, shrinking as we moved away, the land consisted of a dense, lush green atop a few rugged, unstable rocks, tree roots holding the rubble in place. Occasionally a horseshoe bay would sweep back into the mainland, offering pristine sand and crystal shallows, but in every other direction the endless blue was only occasionally broken by a jagged outcrop of rock, weather-worn into incredible shapes, an apple split in half, a fantastical spire. As Bark’s Bay fell away, the water only got clearer, the tip of the paddle easily visible when plunged under the water, with the ripples dying just a few feet away.
Approaching one of the rocky spits of land, a group of New Zealand Fur Seals basked in the glorious sun, flopped lazily on their backs, occasionally ruffling their furred collars and grunting in annoyance. The Fur Seals mate and raise their young on these rocks, which are of supreme importance to their survival, a fact which was made abundantly clear when we drifted within a few feet of two dominant males fighting for supremacy. The bigger the rock, the better chances the male has of finding a mate, and there were only so many rocks to be won…
Approaching the half way point, sunkissed and dehydrated, we pulled in to one of the pristine coves for a light lunch. The warm sand ran for a dozen metres before hitting the now familiar rock and green of the mainland, which then flew into the sky with dramatic gradient, promising a spectacular view. Unable to resist, despite the ache from paddling, we climbed the steep slope to the top and stood over one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen – greens and blues that even the most talented artist could not capture, a yellow sun perfectly spherical, the sandy bay a crescent moon. Descending in awe, the experience was hightened when, paddling in the shallows, a large stingray the shape of a fat teardrop glided effortlessly past us, combing the bay floor, before falling back into the distance. Nature was everywhere, and she was bountiful.
As we pressed on, the wind began to pick up, making the final few kilometers hard work. However, prepared for this, and knowing the only way back was the way we had come, we linked kayaks with out fellow kayakers and raised our oars, a sheet tied between them, and sailed effortlessly back to Bark’s Bay, passing a couple of tiny, playful blue penguins splashing in the water, defying everything I thought I knew about penguins and the cold. Abel Tasman National Park had rewarded our hard work with a stunning display of nature and beauty, a display that to this day lives vividly in my memory.