Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July 5 - Abel Tasman National Park (Kayaking)

I woke up early this morning around 6:30 AM. I hadn’t taken a shower in a couple of days and thought it would be a good idea to be clean before our trip. I didn’t feel like I needed to shave so it wasn’t going to take me very long. The showers were pretty big and hot like always.

Andy got up and took a shower as well. After getting cleaned up we went to the kitchen to make breakfast. We had two eggs left so we cooked those. We also made French fries, a piece of jelly toast and banana bread, with tea. Our last banana looked kind of gross so we threw it out. It had turned completely black.

We were able to pack up our things in the car and leave by 8 AM. We had to drop off the key to the cabin first. We drove down the road to Marahau that we had been driving along for the previous days activities towards Takaka Hill. There was a turn off not too far down towards Marahau.

The drive took about 20 minutes. We got to the Abel Tasman Center, the check-in location, around 8:20 AM. We didn’t need to be there until 8:45 AM, so we were plenty early. The town seemed deserted. We sat in the car for about 10 minutes and then went inside the building to find out what we needed to do. We thought if we checked in early then we could start kayaking early too maybe.

At the desk the lady checked us in and gave us some paperwork for our campsite registration. We also had to pay the remaining balance. I thought I had paid the whole thing before, but looking at my print out I hadn’t. In total the cost was $195 USD for each of us. It was expensive, but the campsite was $12.50 NZD per night and that was included. It also included the water taxi and kayak, plus a few other extra items that were provided.

The lady told us we needed to drive down the road a little ways to get the kayak and other equipment and get the kayaking information. We weren’t really sure where to go and we didn’t ask specific directions. The town was small so we figured we would see a sign pointing us to the right spot.

We drove for about ¾ of a mile until we saw a sign that mentioned kayaks. We saw a lot of them laying out so we thought that must be the place. We parked the car and went inside. The lady and man working there were talking and looking at the computer so we just looked around at the things for sale. They had some neat shirts, but they were $30 NZD. Way too much. For how much we paid to kayak they should give some kind of shirt out for free.

After about 5-7 minutes the lady realized we were there and got our attention. We showed her our paperwork and she asked about the water taxi back to Marahau from our ending point. We had the option of coming back on the 11 AM boat or the 2:45 PM boat. We chose to do the 2:45 PM taxi rather than the 11 AM to have more time to look around on our final day. It also meant we wouldn’t have to hike so fast to get to the pick up location.

We had everything we needed and went outside to meet the man that would be teaching us about the kayak and the route we were supposed to take. He showed us our kayak and said we could start packing it and then he would talk to us about the other information we needed to know. It was a two person kayak and included a compartment in the back, front, and middle. The middle compartment was the biggest.

With all the space we had Andy was going to be able to bring his backpack which meant it would be easier to carry all of our things on the last day of hiking. We were worried it may not fit based on other kayaks we had seen, but there was tons of room.

In the middle compartment we put the backpack, Andy’s mattress, my mattress, and the tent. In my compartment, the back, I just stuffed my dry bag which fit perfectly. Andy did the same in his front compartment. We had two small plastic waterproof camera cases connected to our boat. There was no way our cameras would fit in there. I asked if they had something larger and a girl told me they did. She showed them to me and I felt like it would work fine. Andy got one as well.

We needed padding on the inside and the one she gave me didn’t have any. She had to dig around to find some for a few minutes. I put my camera in and then clipped it to the boat. There were also straps to hold it down for more support. I was planning to sit in the back and Andy was going to sit in the front so that’s how we packed our things. We intended to change seats some as well.

As we were packing two other guys showed up. They were doing a kayak trip too, but I think they were either doing a day trip or a trip that only went to the first campsite for the night and then back the next morning.

They were packing their things when I noticed one of them had on a wetsuit. I knew they were provided, but didn’t know if I wanted one. I decided I would get one, but only put it on my legs and leave the top folded down. We had life jackets and water jackets as well to put on to keep us covered. Andy got some water shoes for his wetsuit so he would have something to wear. I just wore my toe shoes. The last piece of apparel was a skirt for our seat. It fit on us like a skirt, and when connected to the lip of the seat it acted like a cover to keep water out.

For the boat there was a hand pump to get out any water that got in and two flares. We attached these to the boat with clips and used straps to hold them down on top of the middle compartment. The last piece of equipment was a waterproof map that I connected near the back seat and let dangle off the side.

I finished loading my things and waited for our next set of instructions. As we waited for the last group to show up I talked to one of the girls working at the kayaking place. She was a college student majoring in Eco-tourism. It sounded pretty cool. I wish I had known about this major. I guess if you live in an area with lots of outdoor activities than it’s possible to make a living with it, especially when you charge outrageous prices for everything like they do in New Zealand.

The last group to arrive was two girls and two guys. One of the girls was a tour guide. I don’t know if she was a guide working for the kayaking company or if she just happened to be a guide going on the trip. I never bothered to find out.

We were all given a brief description about the areas we would be kayaking and what to expect and where we could go. Also where we would be camping and other necessary information about tide crossings and how to know what kind of wind we are dealing with. This was important because certain types of wind can be dangerous. We were told if wind was coming straight at us as we got away from the shore that we should turn back. This was a head wind and can be dangerous. I was sure to keep that in mind. There was a diagram on the map that showed this information as well in case we forgot.

We were now ready to head down to the water to get some basic instruction on how to maneuver the kayak in the water and demonstrate that we knew what we were doing. We loaded the kayaks on the trailer connected to the back of a van. The group of four didn’t come with us. It was just me and Andy, the two guys, the instructor and the girl. They each had a kayak as well. The guys had a double kayak while the instructors had single person kayaks that were smaller.

The drive to the beach took about 4 minutes. It wasn’t very far at all. At the beach we unloaded our kayaks and waited for our next set of instructions. When the kayak was fully loaded with all of our gear it was pretty heavy. I was not looking forward to having to drag it ashore at night. We had four people helping lift it, but later it was just be me and Andy.

The first thing we needed to do was learn how to attach ourselves in the kayak with our skirts. We were shown a demo at the base area, but now we had to do it ourselves. It was important to practice for a few reasons. First, we needed to make sure no water got in the boat or we would be cold. Secondly, and more importantly, if the boat were to capsize we would literally be dangling upside down unless we knew how to release ourselves from this death trap.

In order to get out safely we had to pull a small blue loop at the front of the skirt up and towards ourselves really hard. We were told to raise one knee as well to force it up if needed. It was important to keep the blue strap exposed otherwise we would have nothing to pull to get out. The instructor wanted us to show him that we could get ourselves and get ourselves out quickly if we had to.

To pretend like we were under water we had to close our eyes. We had to feel the sides of our seat and follow it around to the front until we felt the loop, then yank it. As we yanked we were supposed to jump up as if we had been released from the boat.

He told us when to go and we started. I felt my seat, grabbed my loop, and then pulled really hard. I tried to jump up, but I hadn’t pulled the back of my skirt completely off so when I tried to stand I just fell back into my seat. I looked around and everybody else was standing. I just yelled, “I died!” As in had that been the real thing I just drowned. Hopefully our boat won’t capsize. I don’t want to get too wet and I don’t want to have to drain water from the boat.

I had failed the first test, but we were ready for test number two, launch. The way this was done was by pushing the boat partially into the water. The front person would get in, strap down their skirt and then wait. The back person, me, would push the boat into the water and jump in and strap on their skirt. We did it pretty well.

As the boat was in the water fully we would release the rudder. The neat thing about sea kayaks is that they have a rudder for steering. It was controlled by stepping on pedals in the back seat. By stepping on the left pedal the boat would turn left, and the right pedal turned the boat to the right. It required multi-tasking, but it was much easier than having to paddle on one side or the other to steer. With the kayak we could paddle freely and the boat would still go the right direction as long as the rudder was pointed the proper direction.

Once in the water we were told to just practice paddling, turning, and doing other things. The two other guys looked lost. They didn’t seem to have any experience in a boat. Me and Andy have canoed, rafted, and kayaked before so it wasn’t very tough. It was actually pretty easy. At first we wanted our own kayaks, but after being in the water it seemed better to have a partner. Trying to paddle against the current, waves, wind, and whatever else would have been tough alone. I was thinking it would be about 8 miles a day for paddling and that would be easy, but ocean kayaking compared to a river is much different.

We practiced paddling for about 10 minutes. The instructor saw that we knew what we were doing and he gave us a few more tips and information and said we could go when we were ready. It was about 10:30 AM when we officially started our journey. It got dark around 5:30 PM so we wanted to be to our campsite by 5 PM. We had a little more than 6 ½ hours to get where we wanted to be.

If we were to paddle straight to our first stop, The Anchorage, it would have been 13 kilometers. We didn’t plan to paddle straight through though. There were a lot of coves, caves, rivers, and islands we wanted to explore along the way. We were told there were a few caves we could paddle into if the tide was right and a river we could paddle down partially.

Our first destination was Fisherman Island. It didn’t look far, but it was 4 kilometers from our starting point. It was probably about a mile or more off the closest coast. We basically were paddling in a more direct route and not along the coast. This meant that we were about half a mile from the shore as we steered towards the small island.

For the first 20 minutes the sea was really calm. It was like paddling across a lake. The weather was perfect. It had been rainy and cloudy the past few days in the area, but the forecast for the next few days was warm clear skies. Warm meant it was about mid-50s, but that felt great to us. As we got a little farther out we started going back towards the shore a little bit to make sure we didn’t go too far out to sea.

I have never been in a small boat so far off the coast before. At the beach I have always stayed with 20 yards or so of land so this was a new and exciting experience. It was actually a little scary at times. There are Great White sharks that come into the New Zealand waters, and a decent sized seal population in the area. Recently there was a shark attack in Australia I had read about and I saw in a newspaper the other day a story about a kayaker in Australia that was being followed by a Great White shark.

There are also Killer Whales and other sea creatures that pass through this area as well. I’m not sure if any of them come at this time of year, but the fact that they do pass through is still scary. As we got closer to the shore we followed it for a little ways and then started heading out to sea towards the Fisherman Island again.

As we proceeded it felt like the wind was picking up again and coming straight towards us. We were told if we felt head winds to stay near shore so we did for a few minutes. The wind seemed to die down so we went for it again. The last 30 minutes or so of paddling the wind seemed stronger and the sea became rougher. The waves were never that large, but I was trying to steer us in a way that we would hit the waves head on rather than sideways or at an angle so we wouldn’t capsize.

Going up and down on the waves was similar to being in a wave pool on a raft. About a mile behind us we could see a few other kayakers. I think it was the group of 4 that had the tour guide girl with them. Not many other people were kayaking at this time of year.

We reached the island around 11:15. It didn’t take as long as I thought it would. We paddled from the right side to the left side. There was a small sandy beach so we landed. We had to pee from all the rocking around in the boat so we just went in the bushes. Of all the islands that we could see on this kayaking voyage this was the only island we were able to land. The others were either too rocky or protected marine areas where landing wasn’t permitted.

We took a few pictures of the kayak, sea, shore we had come from, and ourselves. We had also been using our gopros the whole time while we paddled. Andy had his in front filming himself. I had mine attached to the boat facing towards me too. I had it on a clip with a sticky pad under it, but every time I turned it on or started filming it came off. I don’t know how it didn’t fall in the water because it was just balancing on it’s own.

Since we landed I didn’t feel comfortable having it like that. I ended up putting it on my head strap and wrapping it under the ropes that held my T2i camera down. This allowed me to have a higher angle and gave the gopro more security. It also meant I could put it on my head when I wanted to and get different angles.

When we got back in I got in the front of the boat and Andy got in the back of the boat to steer. The hardest part about steering was the fact that I had to paddle, look where we were going, and use my feet. It wasn’t that hard, but usually when paddling to turn left you would paddle on the right side. For the kayak to turn left I had to step on the left peddle. Therefore, my arms were wanting to do one thing, but my foot needed to do another. At times I wouldn’t be paying attention and I would just push the same peddle that I was paddling on to turn. It didn’t work. The rudder also moves on it’s own from the current so to keep going in a straight line I had to keep pressing both peddles at the same time or alternate which one I pressed.

The front seat meant I had to be the navigator. Since we were in the open sea there wasn’t much to navigate around. Our next point of interest was Adele Island. This island is much larger and about a mile away from Fisherman Island. Rather than paddle back to the coastline we just headed straight towards it.

This meant we would be even farther from the shore, but it would save about 30 minutes of time. Since the island is kind of big we didn’t intend on going all the way around it. My goal was to be there around 12 PM, then head to shore and have lunch somewhere.

As we paddled towards it the waves were somewhat calm, but there were areas where it was larger. These were mostly caused by the boat taxis that were speeding around stirring up the water. The wake they left behind rippled out to where we were.

We approached from the southeast so we decided we would go from the southeastern corner and then around to the front on the northwest side. The island had many more rocks on the coast than the other one. It also had more rocks to try and avoid, but nothing too dangerous. This particular island was supposed to have a lot of birds since there were no natural predators.

As we paddled along we saw a few seals laying on the rocks. We continued down the northern part of the island to see more. The instructor had told us that there are some that frequent this part of the island, so we took advantage of it. We ended up seeing about 12-15. Most of them were sleeping, but none of them got in the water even though we tried to make noises so they would get in.

To be continued...

The side of the island that we explored had a few openings that created water caves. A few of them we could actually paddle into. The first one we explored had a narrow opening that turned to the left after 10 meters. The boat was just thin enough to squeeze through. It was kind of dark so we couldn’t see very well.

We backed out so we could get our headlamps out to see what was inside. I had put mine in my dry bag so I couldn’t get to it, but Andy had his in his camera box.  

To be continued...

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