Abel Tasman National Park: Nature's balm
The Abel Tasman National Park might be the country's smallest national park, but it's arguably the most scenic.
Abel Tasman Marahau Lodge, where I'm staying, is a peaceful and beautiful introduction to the park. It's a short walk to everything: the Abel Tasman National Park entrance, the eateries and store on the Marahau foreshore, and the Park Cafe and the Fat Tui, which open for the summer season.The lodge is also next door to Marahau's other tourism offerings, including horse trekking and kayaking.
Scott and Jocelyn Hendry took on the place a year or so ago, and have done a substantial amount of work refurbishing the chalets. They're fresh, clean, stylish, and modern, with restful views out to mature trees. A well-appointed camp kitchen houses a small library with the best selection of books I've ever seen while travelling. Scott tells me 90 per cent of their guests are from overseas, which seems a pity when the location is so stunning and the chalets luxurious.
My roomy chalet has a private patio and is bathed in sun from large north-facing doors. The lodge grounds look out on to the peaks of the inner Abel Tasman. There are significantly more birds here than back in town, probably thanks to the combined efforts of several groups working to restore birdlife in this area; tui fill the air with late-afternoon song. After one night and a well-presented continental breakfast, I feel like I'm on a holiday in a far-flung corner of New Zealand.
In the morning, I'm up early to get to Wilsons Abel Tasman – no apostrophe, they say, because they don't own the park, but the family has a rich, long and fond connection with the area. I've booked a Beaches, Bays, Kayak, and Walk tour, which includes a packed lunch, and join three overseas travellers on the kayak leg. Yesterday's sun has turned into a stormy day, and our guide hands out hats and thermals and makes sure we have enough gear.
We take a water taxi to Torrent Bay, where Wilsons has a beachfront lodge – once the family's bach in the 1960s – for those who are staying overnight. Winter storms have whipped away much of Torrent Bay's sand and threatened its baches with erosion, but bulldozers have reshaped the beach using sand from the bay, and there's now a wide, thick new beach.
After a comprehensive safety session on the beach – helpful, because one of the travellers cannot swim – we're in our kayaks and paddling around the bays. It's a little hard-going in the wind and swell, but our guide is adept at keeping us off the rocks and away from trouble. It's not quite time for baby seals, but he takes us to Adele Island, where we see several bull seals sunning themselves on the rocks, and there's even a little blue penguin to keep us company.
We pull into Bark Bay for lunch, and I'm reminded again of how stunning this coastline is. The water is aqua-blue and the sand only more golden the further you venture into the park. Our guide pulls out a thermos of hot water and boxes of tea, coffee, Milo, and miso soup; it's a welcome stop to help thaw out chilled hands and feet. Bark Bay is a popular resting spot, but today, there is just one other couple, and the serenity is lovely.
I'm walking back, so my kayak is picked up and I set off on the hour-and a-half trip back to Torrent Bay. I have walked this entire coastline several times, but it's wonderful to be back on the fringe between the bush and the golden sand, with opportunities to dart down side trails to explore shifting golden crescents of sand, or to visit headlands, taking in the wide blue vista of Tasman Bay. In fact, I do this so often that I'm running late to meet the pick-up time, and soon I'm jogging through the trees, regretfully passing some of the prettier bays. I see just two other people.
The water taxi pulls up just as I make it to Torrent Bay, and it picks up a few groups of chattering people who have had their own bush day trips. I greet my kayak crew and we zip back to Kaiteriteri just as the rain sets in with a vengeance.
It's lucky then, that my next stop is Kimi Ora Eco Resort. These clifftop chalets and units are surrounded by native bush and are just a 10-minute walk to the beach. As well as accommodation, Kimi Ora runs yoga retreats and other wellness activities, such as music, art and meditation. There is a strong environmental focus, including solar water heating and grey water reuse, plus all food waste is composted.
The retreat has stacks of things to do – it has DVDs, books, a billiards and table-tennis room, bicycles, several spa pools, a steam room and sauna, a day spa with European-style treatments, and lovely grounds in which to sit and relax and enjoy the view over the bay.
I have a comfortable chalet with large windows overlooking the golden sands of Kaiteriteri's estuary. It is one of many roomy Lockwood units that are warm and well-appointed, with a sunny deck and a cosy nook with dining table, perfect in which to curl up with a book when the evening chill arrives.
In the evening, I eat at The Views, the resort's fully licensed vegetarian restaurant. I choose the arancini risotto balls filled with camembert, followed by haloumi and delicious vegetables. Much of the produce is from the resort's extensive organic gardens, and the menu changes frequently to take advantage of the seasons.
The next morning, I rise early to go for a jaunt along the fitness trail, which is next to the Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park, and work up an appetite. I discover Kimi Ora's breakfast buffet offers an amazing variety. No tiny boxes of cornflakes here – the buffet is full of nuts, coconut, cereals, organic cheeses and yoghurt, fruit, spreads, breads, juices and plenty of hot and cold drinks.
Just before it's time to leave, I enjoy an incredible massage in the retreat's spa, where I'm shown some stretches for my tight shoulders. On the way out, I stop for lunch in Kaiteriteri. On this sunny Sunday, it's filled with families, travellers and others out for a meal, enjoying the start of a long summer in one of the most beautiful spots in New Zealand.