By the last count, there were over a million different options for kayaking trips in the Abel Tasman! There are so many options and factors to consider it’s enough to give you a headache, and that’s even when you know the Abel Tasman coastline well.
Then the timing of the tides on the day you are planning your trip, as well as the time of year and the prevailing winds all provide additional levels of complexity. However, it doesn’t really need to be a complex or difficult decision if you break it down in terms of the time you have available and what sort of experience you are looking for. All the options are beautiful, and really, you can’t go too far wrong. But here are some decisions to consider to optimise your time in the park.
How long do you want to spend in the park?
Fleeting visit (a few hours)
If you’ve only got a couple of hours then a short paddle departing from Marahau or Kaiteriteri is about the limit of your options.
If you are setting off from Kaiteriteri you might catch a glimpse of the Abel Tasman in the far-off distance if you paddle north like Ian Ferguson at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games when he won three gold medals.
The best option for a short kayak is to start at Marahau where you can either head south to see Tokangawhā (Split Apple Rock) or north towards the Astrolabe Roadstead, the stretch of water between the mainland and the two islands, Fisherman and Adele.
Half a day to play (4 or so hours)
If you’ve got half a day then your options start to open up for either a half day freedom rental and even for a guided trip.
Marahau Sea Kayaks (MSK) have a half day rental option called Southern Coast. As the name suggests, this option allows you enough time to explore the southern coast of the Abel Tasman. It takes most people a little over an hour to get from Marahau to the first beaches in the Astrolabe so that means you’ll have a couple of hours for some exploration before you need to paddle back.
MSK has three options for half-day guided trips. A Half Day Blast involves a paddle from Marahau to Observation Beach – or vice-a-versa – and a water taxi ride for the other leg. If you like a good sleep-in then the PM Paddle sets off at either 10:30am or at noon. You start the trip with a water taxi ride to Bark Bay in the middle of the park from where you paddle back south to Anchorage. From there you jump onto a water taxi to be back in time for happy hour at Hooked on the Marahau waterfront. There is even a half day option for the northern part of the park. The Marine Reserve Express will get you a water taxi ride straight to the heart of the park so you can paddle between Onetahuti and Bark Bay, right through the marine reserve.
A day trip in the park (full day out)
A full day trip provides another mountain of options as you can now either do a full day of kayaking, guided or unguided, or do a combination of walking and kayaking.
The most popular combo walking/kayaking trip is the classic Freedom Anchorage. You paddle out from Marahau to Anchorage, the first major campsite and hut in the park from the south. You leave your kayak on the beach at Anchorage and it gets collected by a water taxi. The choices are either to camp at Anchorage for the night, to continue north up the Abel Tasman Coast Track on foot or walk the 13km back to Marahau.
The most popular freedom walk and guided kayak option is the MSK’s Gourmet Platter (GP). It sounds kind of complex so you might want to concentrate for a moment as we explain it. The GP starts with a water taxi ride from Marahau to Torrent Bay from where you walk for a couple of hours through to Bark Bay. This is a lovely section of the track with nice elevated views of Torrent Bay and more secluded bays like Frenchman along the way. It also takes you across the recently upgraded Falls River Swingbridge which provides a fantastic view of the river and out to the open sea through the bush. After you eat your lunch on the beach at Bark Bay you get picked up by an AquaTaxi that will bring you south, back to Observation Beach where you meet up with your kayak guide. After some safety and paddling instructions you paddle over to Adele Island to check out the NZ fur seal colony and the incredible birdsong present on this predator-free bird sanctuary. The day finishes with a paddle back to Marahau.
The most popular full day is the Magical Marine Reserve. After a water taxi ride, this guided kayaking trip has paddlers setting off from Onetahuti before winding their way down to Anchorage over the course of the day. If the wind gods are with you that final section through to Anchorage is completed with a kayak sail. The full day freedom option, Freedom Islands, involves a thorough safety briefing in Marahau before you set off at your own pace to explore the Astrolabe.
In it for the long-haul (aka a multi-day journey)
For the purists out there, a multi-day paddle the length of the coast from Marahau to Totaranui, camping along the way, is the quintessential Abel Tasman kayaking experience.
If you’re doing this trip in the summer we usually recommend setting off from Totaranui because the prevailing northerly wind will help push you back to Marahau.
There is nothing quite like paddling along the coast during the day at a leisurely pace, exploring the tidal inlets and stopping to relax on any beach that takes your fancy, on the way to your next campsite. When you get to that campsite you pull your kayak up past the high tide mark and pitch your tent or claim your bunk in the hut. The next day you do it all again!
To go guided?
Another decision you have to make is whether you want to do a guided trip or what we kayaking types call a ‘freedom rental’ a.k.a kayak hire.
As Kiwis, we don’t tend to think we need a guide in our home country so most locals choose to head out in their kayak without a guide. If you are doing a freedom rental, you’ll need a paddling partner as none of the kayaking companies will rent a single kayak to a lone paddler. This is a safety thing. If an inexperienced kayaker is out on the water and things turn to custard, those are the people who tend to get into trouble. Single kayaks are not as stable as doubles in the water and two people can help each other out in an emergency. Guided kayaking options are more expensive than freedom rentals but people do get a lot more out of those trips as the guides share their knowledge about the local history and ecology along the way. It’s also reassuring to have an experienced guide with you on the trip with a UHF radio and good knowledge of the local topography and conditions.
Whether you do a guided or a freedom trip, and even if you happen across less than ideal conditions, kayaking in the Abel Tasman is a wonderful experience.
Blog by Brendan Alborn
Brendan has a long association with the Abel Tasman, visiting it for the first time when his parents moved to Marahau in 1997. After spending much of his life overseas, Brendan and his family moved to the area at the end of 2010. When Brendan is not spending his time in the outdoors he seems to spend much of his time creating even flimsier justifications for spending more time in the outdoors.