No matter where I go in New Zealand, I am constantly amazed at how universally beautiful the country is.
No no, snow-capped rugged mountains, turquoise lakes and conical volcanoes aren’t enough, there also has to be crystal clear sea that collides with white sandy beaches too. New Zealand really does have it all.
At this point, I am not even surprised anymore.
While exploring the South Island with Haka Tours, I woke up excited each and every single day because I knew everywhere we went would be mind-blowingly beautiful AND diverse. Not many countries can boast those kinds of landscapes all packed into 2 islands.
For New Years we were looking to spend a couple of days up in the Abel Tasman, one of New Zealand’s most beautiful and most famous national parks on the top of the South Island.
We arrived at Marahau as the sun was setting spectacularly in preparation for 2 days of exploration. The evening was spent drinking far too many beers and way too many jello shots with the locals at the backpackers around a bonfire and singing classic songs while making new friends.
What a place to ring in 2014!
Up bright and early the next morning, we were ready and packed for 2 days of exploring the park, with just our backpacks and our feet.
Abel Tasman has some of the most beautiful walks and hikes you can take in New Zealand, and because of the coastal setting it’s really different from most of the mountainous treks I’ve been on, cough cough, it’s a lot easier too.
It’s so beautiful that it’s one of the 9 Great Walks, some of the most popular multi-day hikes around Middle Earth, I mean New Zealand. Normally it’s 3 to 5 days to cover the 55km inside the park.
Catching the Aqua Taxi in Marahau, we zoomed up through the turquoise waters towards Bark Bay where we start the 2 day hike back out of the park. Because the long track curves along the coast, it’s ideal to boat in and walk out or vice versa, even combining parts of the walk with kayaking.
That first boat ride was the beginning of me being soaked until dinner time. Disclaimer – usually this part of New Zealand has the most sunshine of the whole country, but of course I brought the rain.
Claiming the back seat of the boat for photos, the roof tarp ended in the row in front of me leaving me uncovered, which I was totally fine with, I settled in for the ride. As soon as the boat started up and the front lifted up out of the water, the roof tarp tilted at the perfect angle to dump all the rainwater that was on the roof right on my lap. Think waterfall.
Sigh, why me?
Any residual grumpiness from my unexpected early morning shower was quickly washed away (pun intended) as soon as we spotted a group of baby seals basking on some rocks on the shores.
Cue girlish squeals. Is there anything cuter than a baby seal flopping around?
Nope, don’t think so.
Cruising along the Abel Tasman coast, the feeling of love and respect I have for New Zealand’s natural beauty was piqued. Again. Surprise surprise.
Often when traveling around this part of the world, I feel myself start to roll my eyes and think, “seriously?” questioning how such a place can be both consistently and diversely gorgeous.
Hugging the coastline in the little boat as we made our way towards Bark Bay, gazing at the seemingly untouched forests, beaches and coves, I couldn’t help but wonder what it must have been like to experience New Zealand long before it was colonized.
As it turns out this part of New Zealand was the first to be “discovered” by Europeans way back when by, you guessed, Abel Tasman, in 1642, over a century before James Cook would arrive.
Abel Janszoon Tasman ( I shit you not, that’s his real name) was a Dutchman mapping for the East India Company in the Pacific when he anchored in Golden Bay and was promptly attacked by the local Maori and left.
Well done Maori!
Walking the first day was easy and beautiful, in spite of the occasional deluge, soaking whatever dry parts of me were left. It was also the day I learned that my old North Face rain coat was not 100% waterproof. Fabulous.
Luckily the sun came out in the afternoon as we neared the end of the hike and into the magnificent Torrent Bay. One of the coolest features of Abel Tasman are the tidal ranges.
There are extreme tide changes here. At low tide the water recedes so far out to sea that you can cross the sandy bay on foot. I recommend removing your boots first. Obviously this means you have to pay attention to the tide times otherwise you might get left stranded.
By the time we arrived in Anchorage, the sun was shining and it was the first time I felt properly hot in New Zealand!
As my last night with Haka Tours, we went out with a bang and got to sleep on a boat backpackers!
Anchored in the Anchorage harbor, AquaPackers is New Zealand’s only floating accommodation. AWESOME!
Grilling out, we had an amazing barbecue dinner on deck while getting to know the crew and few other guests before being treated to a spectacular sunset, which of course made the earlier rainfall worthwhile.
And it only got better when the sun went down.
That night was one of those serendipitous travel moments where a great group of people from all over the world spend the evening talking about anything and everything drinking a lot of beer and watching the bright stars twinkle above.
There are many spectacular places in New Zealand to watch the stars, but from the deck of a boat in the middle of a national park slightly drunk might top them all.
The next day was spent walking out of the park, bouncing across rope bridges, wading in the water and taking a million photos.
I labeled this story as an introduction for a few reasons, mostly because I wanted to introduce you all to this glorious area of New Zealand that often gets overlooked by those stomping down the traditional tourist track, though it’s still very popular.
But I also wanted to remind myself that I only had a little introduction to Abel Tasman too, and I can’t wait to go back! This is one of those areas you can see yourself (ok, me) returning to for an annual summer vacation or getaway with friends. Still very kiwi and untouched, Abel Tasman definitely makes the top 10 list of my favorite places in New Zealand.
Have you been? Have you heard of Abel Tasman? Could you have imagined that New Zealand is home to such fine sandy beaches?
Many thanks to Haka Tours for hosting me in on the South Island. Like always, I’m keeping it real – all opinions are my own – like you could expect less from me!