Best in Nelson
The Abel Tasman National Park is not the kind of place where you will meet outdoor adventurer and survival man, Bear Grylls, eating weka droppings and keeping warm in a possum skin.
However, it is a great place to visit, particularly for family adventures and school holidays are an ideal time to visit.
My friend and outdoor adventure-girl, Kay, moved to Nelson last year. Nelson's attraction was its proximity to three National Parks: Abel Tasman, Kahurangi and Nelson Lakes.
Today I am going to tell you about Abel Tasman, my favourite park. I am not alone with my love for this area; the Department of Conservation (DOC) estimates that 160,000 people visit the park per year, making it New Zealand's highest density park in terms of visitor numbers.
So what are Kay, I and another 159,998 visitors doing in the Abel Tasman? One option is to stay on the beach. Although strictly not in the park, the golden sand at Kaiteriteri Beach is the best in the South Island and you may have to fight for towel and car-park space in the summer months. In response to its popularity, the Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve Board has a redevelopment plan for the area to enhance the experience and provide more towel space.
Another option is to venture into a coastal wonderland of sea, rocky headlands, beaches and forest. If feeling energetic, you can walk the 53km Abel Tasman Track, which I have done several times.
My most recent walk involved three adults and five children aged between 8 and 12. We started at Marahau and completed three days' walking, staying in DOC huts at Anchorage, Bark Bay and Awaroa.
For the children, the absence of electricity, electronic devices, a fridge and other home luxuries was irrelevant, because of the fun they had swimming in the estuaries. They enjoyed staying in the “wild” with wekas and a friendly possum.
Bookings are required for the huts, which cost $32 per adult (campsites are $12). Children stay for free.
Those not wanting to stay overnight have lots of day options. You can walk into the park from the road end car parks, catch boat transport to beaches along the track or kayak along the coast. DOC estimates that only 20 per cent of visitors stay overnight.
If a traditional Kiwi camping experience is your thing then Totaranui, or “Tot” as the locals say, is the place to go. In a normal year you could be sharing with 800 others. There is a strong sense of community, and families have been camping there for several generations.
The mild climate makes for ideal sea kayaking at any time of the year.
Be like my friend Kay and load your kayak with camping gear, food and drink, and simply follow the coastline. The paddling is normally easy - although you have to be prepared for some pretty windy conditions, especially on the aptly named “mad mile”.
There are interesting side trips to the Tonga Island Marine Reserve, where fishing is not allowed and the resulting marine-life is prolific, making for excellent snorkelling. A favourite sight is seals playing and gliding sleekly through the clear water. The seals sun themselves on rocks in a similar way to people at Kaiteriteri beach.
Most of my forays into the Abel Tasman are by yacht with my family. A five-hour sail from Nelson gets us to Anchorage. This bay is perfect, with excellent shelter and is a mere five-minute row to the shore. We have spent many nights anchored there and many days exploring other beaches by boat or foot.
The estuaries at Awaroa and Torrent Bay are wonderful for splashing in, jumping off sand-cliffs and for building sand sculptures and amassing a wonderful shell collection.
Although the water isn't seething with fish, we have managed to catch lots of spotties. Fortunately, Mister 9-year old can now bait his own line and remove the fish he catches and I am no longer required for this smelly task. If we want something for dinner, we head out to sea and get a kahawai or gurnard.
We don't, but we see others having fun jet-boating, jet-skiing, and water-skiing.
This brings me to my only complaint, which is the wake generated from water-taxi traffic and some motorised boats. The wake peaks mid-morning and mid-afternoon as water-taxis disgorge, and then retrieve, their day visitors. The wake upsets my cup of tea in the morning and wine glass in the afternoon and makes reading more challenging.
If you simply want to enjoy the park, without expending too much energy, hop on to a commercial boat. Get taken to beaches for a swim or walk, view the sea life along the coast and thank your lucky stars that we live in a region with a golden gem of a park on our door-step.
My friend Kay loves Nelson life and has lots more adventures planned that I hope include me. Not only is she a great organiser, but she knows how to make the outdoors even better.
If Bear Grylls was in the park she would bring him lemons and freshly baked bread to go with whatever wildlife (exotic pests only) that he had caught.