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.


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