A crashing wave, a mad scramble for sunglasses and hat washed away, the victory of retrieving one item and mourning the loss of the other, the surprise of the second wave dumping on my now-exposed head and tipping the kayak, relief that nobody was present to judge my moment of incompetence. It was only day 2 of my trip and I was already learning crucial lessons; from then on all important things went inside the boat for surf launches and landings! The Tasman Sea is a great humbler and this early underestimation of the power of the waves on what I had judged from the beach to be a relatively innocuous break occupied my mind for the next 9hrs whilst the relentless sun seared my unprotected eyeballs. The West Coast demands respect and even with a favourable forecast I was determined not to misjudge its powers again.
Barely controlled surfs over shallow, sandy bars were rewarded by the sanctuary of river mouths. Clear yet tannin-tinted fresh water, teeming with eels and trout, cleared the dried-on salt of the ocean and refreshed my thirst. Tuis trilled and piwakawakas pranced around my tranquil campsite and I rejoiced in the serenity of sunsets and solitude. The time outside the boat to sit and enjoy my surroundings with no pressures other than purely basic needs was rejuvenating and I found a simple pleasure in the fundamentals of campcraft.
Pushing ahead of the forecast storms and keen to end the West-coast leg before they set in I rounded the Northernmost point of the South Island and scoped my landing point on Farewell spit where 4wd tour trucks emerged onto the sand. Due to the forecast, a limited amount of freshwater and not wanting to land in the reserve I had decided to portage the spit rather than paddling round. This involved 3hrs of hauling gear and then the boat across the 4wd track and it felt good to put the legs to work after a week of being in the boat. Unfortunately, in trying to miss the storms I’d arrived at low tide and the spit stretched for a further 2km of soft, wet sand. Resigned to reading my book for a few hours waiting for the tide to come in I was pleasantly surprised by an invitation to a local bach for a shower and a sandwich. Throughout my trip I was often inspired not only by the natural beauty but by the kindness of strangers I met along the way, always happy to offer food, water and even a hot shower in exchange for tales of adventure.
Seals stretched regally on rocky outcrops and their pups filled the air with unearthly sounds. Beaches stretched for kilometres as tourists paced along or zoomed past in water taxis. The Abel Tasman is a renowned sea kayaking destination for a reason, and it was nice to not be the only boat on the water for a change. However, the busy campsites and influx of people was a challenge after so much time spent with my own thoughts. Listening to conversations over dinner and hearing about families, couples and friends setting out on their own adventures was heart-warming though.
Having taken to the seas after being starved of whitewater due to a small drought on the South Island the rain in the Abel Tasman got me excited to bust out the last 30km to Māpua and hitch a ride back south to hit up the rivers. My body was sore but my soul was satiated and I am incredibly grateful for the time spent solo at sea.