My day in paradise!

We were given a wide variety of options for excursions in Nelson - it's a great area for things like sky-diving, trick-plane driving, ect.  That said, it's also just outside an amazing coastal national park - Abel Tasman.  My pitifully crap guide book did actually mention how great the park was, and I knew I wasn't going to be jumping out of any planes or anything, so I elected one of the full-day trips into the park.  Surprisingly, I was the only one who chose to explore the park, so I'd be getting up super early for my combo tour of kayaking & hiking in the park all by my lonesome.  I napped on the shuttle bus out to the edge of the park, and then met my kayak instructor/guide.  They let me know when I checked in that the option I had actually chosen had no participants on it, so they were squeezing me in with another group on a different kind of combo (I still don't understand how what I chose was different than what I did, so, clearly there are lots of ways to explore this area!).  It turned out that I would be in a 2-man kayak with the guide, and we would be with two couples on their honeymoons.  It was actually fantabulous that I was with the guide, because I'd woken up with a strange crick in my shoulder, and frankly, this way he could do most of the work!

We were apparently really lucky, because the tide was high enough that we could get out into the sea via a little river, which was actually a good thing too because the two couples had a bit of a learning curve with the whole steering in a straight line concept.  Once out on the open water, we had about 10-20 minutes of slight struggle getting out of the way of the incoming "waves" - not that there was actually surf or anything, but still the same concept.  Again - hooray for me having the guide!  He explained that in low tide, the whole area we were going over was actually just sand, and he also let us know we should be on the look-out for orcas.  We had heard the same thing the day before when looking for our pilot whales, and when I relayed that, he said we really could be in luck, because they have certain routes they take, and if they were in Kaikoura the day or so before, they could be in our area, and in fact they love the little bay we were trying to get out of.  He even told us a story about how a baby was playing around one of his groups one day, jumped, and actually landed smack dab in across the middle of one of their kayaks.  Apparently the kayak went straight down, he swam off, and the people popped directly up, no harm done.  !!!  I cannot imagine something like that, and was doing my best to paddle AND keep a sharp eye out.   Sadly, I must have been a day or two ahead or behind these mythical orcas, because literally every time I was out of the water, they had just been seen just nearby, but I sadly never saw them. 

We did see a bunch on the hour & half trip however.  First we got up close to the coast to check out some caves, and some tree-dwelling web-footed birds.  I forget their name, but this species of bird is super rare, and we saw one up in a tree (I don't think you can really see it in the photo), but here you go!
 

We then crossed over to one of the islands out in the bay to check out a seal colony - we only saw one or two, but you start to see just how gorgeous the area was, so just being out on the water was amazing.

One the way back to the mainland beach where we'd have lunch, we got to do a bit of surfing as the waves had picked up a little.  Again- really good thing I had the guide with me, because we really got moving over some of the swells, and I barely broke a sweat!  :)

On the beach, we checked out a kiwi-shaped rock formation and enjoyed a bit of refreshment: 

Then I found out that I was actually the only one that would be hiking back out, which was a smidge unsettling.  The guide was meeting a group at the beach to kayak back out, and the two couples were taking water taxis.  I on the other hand had a 12 kilometer hike to get back to the kayak center.  Luckily, one of the couples lent me their un-opened water, since I'd consumed much of mine during lunch.  The other bonus was that I had plenty of time to get back in order to catch my shuttle back home, so I didn't have to stress about moving fast.  So, after resting up on the gorgeous beach, I headed up the hill to reach the trail up on the ridge line.  Once up there, I got over my nervousness because - HOLY GORGEOUS:  
 Also- I could see just how well marked the trail was going to be (the kayak center was just beyond Marahau, which is the town at the base of the park I think):
 
The other bonus, was after the climb up to the ridge line, I would be calmly walking on either flat or slightly descending path.  Oh, and yes- it was consistently, fabulously, beautiful.  I mean, I was either being amazed by the giant palms & ferns, or dropping my jaw at the blue water vistas.  Just amazing.
Here are a few of the better shots:


 

Here's what the majority of the path looks like, when it wasn't going over little streams & by waterfalls:
 
At one point I finally realized the sandy beaches I was looking at were actually the where I had been kayaking into caves. 

 
Amazing how much the tide really does go in and out, especially since this isn't actually directly on the ocean (this is the strip of water between the north & south islands, but the land you can see really far off in the distance is actually a peninsula still on the south island, I think).  Finally, in actually less time than the estimated 3hrs 45 mins (including a granola bar stop to re-fuel), I made it down to the trail-head.  What was actually cool was the tide was so far out, that getting to the parking lot involved walking along these long bridges over sand, and people take the stones to write out messages & such.  I guess the tide is so gentle that they don't really wash away, so all these tributes stick around (lots of Jane loves John, ect). 

 
My tired legs finally made it to the kayak center where I gratefully plopped in a sunny spot to relax for a bit.  Some fresh cold water and yet another granola bar sustained me for the 45-minute shuttle ride back to the hotel.  Dusty and exhausted, I walked into the courtyard of our hotel to greet all my relaxed & refreshed buddies.  No time to hear their stories, I jumped in the shower and scrubbed my feet for forever - the layers of dirt & grime were intense.  Just an fyi- even with a water-tight bib over you, you still get wet when kayaking.  Combine damp pants with dusty trails, and, well, you can imagine. 
 
One of our guides, Lana, comes from the area around Nelson (lucky b*tch!), so her parents actually came to see her & they all made us a FANTASTIC buffet dinner.  I fell on the cheese plate appetizer like I hadn't seen food in weeks.  I didn't realize how much I missed cheese & crackers, but man - that really is one of my favorite things!  After dinner, drinks still flowing, we started watching all the videos people had purchased after their adventurous excursions (mostly the skydiving from earlier in the day).  Most of the group decided to go out for some more drinks, but I was completely dragging after my 6am start and tough day, so I let the kids go do their thing while I went to bed.  This is a day that won't be forgotten soon.  Gorgeous spot, plus the satisfaction of pushing myself physically equals one of my best days over the whole trip. 
 
The next day I would have to say goodbye to the tour and some really great people and move on to wine country.  Hopefully I would still be able to walk!