February 24, 2014
Steeply rolling hills of native bush that practically tumble into a beautiful blue sea define the shoreline that extends from Torrent Bay up to Totaranui, the prettiest and most heavily visited region of Abel Tasman National Park. Frequent sections of coarse golden sand soften the contrast between bush and sea, while rock outcroppings add a fourth element to the already mesmerizing combination.
There are mainly three ways to experience this rightfully popular coast – boat cruise, kayak, or coastline trek. For those short on time, tour companies and water taxis offer scheduled services to various points along the coast.
Experienced sea kayakers can rent kayaks out of Marahau (at the edge of the national park) with Kahu Kayaks and travel up the coast on their own. This is, however, into the prevailing wind.
Generally companies also offer a service, for a fee, to pick up the kayak at your chosen end point which allows you to walk back along the coastal track, one of the Great Walks of New Zealand. I could not find anyone, however, that allowed you to kayak just the Tonga Quarry marine reserve, the upper portion of the park, without being part of tour.
As we were in the category of short on time, we decided to do a sea kayaking tour with Wilsons who offers a variety of boat cruise, kayak and walking options. The Tonga Island Seals option starts with a cruise up the coast to Tonga Quarry.
The cruiser, quite full on a Monday morning, made a couple of stops to let off other passengers before dropping us off at the beach where our kayaks were waiting for us.
Our guide, Emma, gave us a quick but thorough lesson on sea kayaking 101. The kayaks come equipped with steering pedals so you don’t have to do all the steering with the paddles, a spray skirt so you generally only get mildly wet, and dry sacks for belongings including one that mounts on the top of the kayak for your camera. Still, I wouldn’t try to take photos from a kayak with an expensive camera unless you really know what you are doing. I use my cheaper water proof camera for such situations.
While Emma was very friendly and professional we had the bad luck to be in a group with an elderly German couple who had never kayaked before. Consequently they were extremely slow and much of our 2 and half hour kayak trip was spent waiting for them. This meant we crossed over to Tonga Island, spent about 5 minutes at the island to look at the seals, and then crossed back to the main island where Emma showed us how to kayak sail.
You line up all the kayaks side by side with the outer two kayakers holding up a large sail and off you go. Saves time and was somewhat interesting but in the end we felt that we had little actual quality kayak time. I would hesitate before going with this kind of group again, especially when priced at 195 NZ per person. That said, with a different group the experience could be exceptional.