It’s early, again. Only this time we meet dawn with a little more of a struggle than the past few days. We’re finally accepted a time difference and this early feels like any other early I’d feel anywhere else in the world. At the Wakefield Quay in Nelson we grab breakfast and enough food to sustain the low spots of the day and start the hour drive to Abel Tasman – a national park that is, flat out, a jungle. We park in the tiny, tiny town of Marahau – which is essentially a boat dock with a coffee shop. At this shop we meet our guide, Milan of Abel Tasman Paddleboarding who hands us a sack lunch and points to a spot on the map about 10km away and says “I’ll meet you guys there at about noon, yeah?”
And that was that. Fortunately the tracks on this end of the park are so well travelled that there isn’t a chance anyone could get lost. We stop numerous times along the way, cutting away from the trail to wander down to beaches where the tide was out, picking through sea-shells, wandering through caves that had drained. We pass campers who have set their tent up along the beaches, we pass by backpackers who were trekking in from a weekend out in the back somewhere.
Abel Tasman is just one of numerous ecosystems that we’ve come across so far. From the dried out, quasi deserts of the Christchurch and Marlborough regions to the wet, temperate area around Picton and the Marlborough Sounds to this – a virtual jungle growing up all around us. The vegetation grows thick with totally new plant life. All around us the Silver Fern grows – this is the plant of New Zealand – featured on the flag and apparel and a part of all the uniforms for the national sports teams.
The walk along this track was rather easy, even relaxing, until the last few hundred yards that took us up a steep pitch and down again a thousand vertical feet to the beach. A crowded beach, a cove hidden away from the roughness of the Tasman Sea. Dozens of Kayaks, paddle boards, boats and an aquatic adventurer for every one of them stand on the sandbar eating lunch, or knee deep in the water taking pictures, cooling off. The afternoon winds are starting to pick up here, the surf gets rougher than the calm waters that we had been walking by all morning, and only now do we climb on top of the boards and head back.
I have SUP’d all of two times in my life to this point. Both were on the still, reservoir waters of our land-locked home state. In Colorado a small ripple of water from a gentle breeze could have knocked me into the freezing reservoirs. On the beach I look out at the ocean and the waves that flow in from it. I had never encountered anything like this and it took all of this time for me to eventually realize – I am totally and completely horrified of the ocean.
This doesn’t come as too big of a surprise to me. Swim lessons in my younger years were cut short when I lacked the endurance to pull myself the length of the pool(I had zero body fat in my younger years, I sunk like a rock no matter what) and the swimming merit badge was the last, regularly-postponed hurdle between me and achieving my Eagle Scout rank. The sport of swimming has never been a strong suit. Living in Texas and then Colorado has only extended this shortcoming. To be confronted with an entire ocean of water brings a sense of guaranteed failure – ultimately and completely.
The paddle brought us back down the shoreline we had hiked earlier that morning. All of the beaches we had meandered through early this morning were now submerged coves. Caves had filled with water. The brush of the shoreline now lapped with the ending of the waves. And all the while I can’t stand up on this board to save the life of me. The waves knock me over, my legs – built on the stability of enormous granite mountains – are not meant for the fluidity of the ocean. My previous SUP experience at home in Colorado was on the calm, glass-like waters of reservoirs and lakes. Colder waters, sure, but less of the unexpected. In a landlocked state something like a paddle board or a surfboard is a novelty – something that is hung as decoration or conversation piece. Here, Milan has a dozen of each. Every board with it’s own story. Most he wont mind losing. A totally different way of life.
I spend most of the day powering through on the more stable and balanced foundation of my knees. Three hours after we started paddling we are back at the boat ramp of Marahau, wind-whipped, sunburnt and wholly exhausted from paddling against the waves.
We stop in at Marahau’s tourist cafe/bar for a beer with Milan. Somewhere up the hill he has a house with no locks on the doors. “Sometimes I’ll leave for a few weeks on a tour or something, and I’ll come back and my plants will be watered and my house will be cool and there will be a meal in the oven and fresh food in the fridge. Hard for your neighbor to do that for ya if you lock up the doors.”
A totally different world here.
Read On: Hokitia