Last weekend was the regional anniversary making it a regional public
holiday, so a friend and I took the opportunity to leave the region and
go up north to Able Tasman for some sea kayaking.
Able Tasman is a national park at the northern end of the South Island
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Our kayaking journey was to start at Marahau and we figured that we
would go hard and finish up for the day at the ominously named
"Mosquito Bay".
We had done this before with our partners a year and a half ago, and
Mosquito Bay was our second night camping - and it was some hard-yards.
Then the return trip would consist of a more leisurely (figuring we
would be absolutely shot) paddle down to Observation Bay where we would
camp for the evening before an early start to get back to Marahau, and
finally the drive back to Christchurch.

So, it was a drive from Christchurch on Thursday with my kayak up to
Motueka - home of the fantastic but somewhat pricey Gothic Cafe. We
stayed the night at a camp ground deciding to rent a cabin, and ate a
fantastic meal at the forementioned Cafe.
You may call us soft as we were staying in a cabin rather than a tent,
but both of us wanted a good nights sleep before what we expected to be
a horribly drawn out, painful and exhausting mad dash - so please,
don't judge too quickly.

Friday morning rolls around and we make our way to Marahau where we run
through a 'briefing' (which was compulsory as we had to rent a kayak
for my friend) which consisted of how to kayak, what to look out for,
safety tips - comments to the foreigners about the liberal application
of sunblock and a wee while on the water under the watchful eye of the
instructor to make sure we weren't going to drown. Too easy! (ok,
that's what our instructor kept saying :-))
So, Friday morning was overcast but warm, after leaving our 'briefing'
and swarms of blood sucking insects before (and applying liberal
sunblock) we set off a little after 11 to begin our epic journey in to
the very bowels of desperate exhaustion.

We made a dash for Observation Bay which is situated in the "Astrolabe"
- an area that is particularily sheltered from the elements and tends
to be pretty calm. The water was fantastic, it looks like layers of
gently ripping green glass. We pulled in to Observation Bay where a
couple of ladies from another country were in desperate need of help;
they couldn't get their burner running so they could boil some water
for a coffee (bringing back memories of our last trip with our partners
resorting to using candles to heat water for a coffee; women!).
We helped them out as best we could, ate some lunch and pushed back out
to tackle a section of the park known as the "Mad Mile".

The Mad Mile is a section of water that is particularily exposed, there
is also a fair amount of rocks that sit a little below the surface, or
well above the surface is it is low tide (Abel Tasman is one of the
more tidal areas in NZ where it can be a 5m difference between high and
low tides!)
The Mad Mile doesn't really offer anywhere to land and can just get
So, we pushed our way along the Mad Mile - echoings of a paraody of the
Mad Butcher filling the air everyonce in a while. But all things said
and done, the Mad Mile was pretty tame that day.

So, with the Mad Mile behind us and both of us feeling remarkably good
we made pretty much a straight line to Mosquito Bay. Now according to
the maps we really aren't supposed to get further than 200m from shore,
but *ahem* we're not particularily good at judging distances :-)
And our instructor had said that if you were doing some big distances
then going outside the islands is good in a tailwind... ;-)

Past Pinnacle Island we travelled, seeing some seals frollicking in the
water and then we ended up at Mosquito Bay.
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Mosquito Bay is really quite amazing. In the link above you can see
the wee island at its entrance. At high tide you can't even remotely
touch the bottom as you walk out to it. At low tide however you don't
even get your feet wet! (well, didn't used to, there is now a sandbar
which diverts a lagoon/river outlet so you have to walk through it.
Mosquito Bay illustrates just how tidal this national park is (I think
that the tides were around 4.2m that weekend).

I looked at my watch...the entire time kayaking was a little over 2
hours and neither of us were feeling anything remotely close to fatigue.

We sat down on the beach, a short distance from a group of tourists (it
was honestly remarkable how many tourists were out so early in the
year). We waited until they wandered off before setting up a tent, and
moving our kayaks to safe ground next to our tent. The rest of the day
was spent killing blood sucking insects between swimming and walking
around the beach and lagoon.

Given our serious disappointment at how quickly the two of us could
cover distances, we decided that we would extend our trip and go to
look at the 'Arches' opposite Tonga Island, then we would make our way
back to Marahau a day early - if we were too fatigued after the Mad
Mile then we stick to our original plan and camp at Observation Bay.
One of the primary advantages of making it back to Marahau was that we
would spend the night in Motueka - this meant that we could go to the
Gothic again and this time have their absolutely, insanely tasty
stonegrilled Steaks (which we avoided on Thursday night as heavy foods
and exercise just don't mix).

I slept fitfully that evening, as I normally do on the first night in a
tent but this time it was mad worse by two factors - the occassional
screaming Possum and some fairly severe sunblurn that I got on my upper
arm (I changed tops early that day *after* I had put on sunblock.
Didn't even think to apply more as 'roughly' the same amount of skin
was exposed - it's remarkable just how vindictive the sun is, it
particularily loves to target areas where you missed putting sunblock).
Each time I would roll over and my sunburnt upper arm made contact with
the tent floor, I would move and it would honestly feel like someone
was peeling the layers of skin off me.
Though one of the most awesome things about sleeping around there is
just how close the sea sounds, the gentle lapping of the ocean on the
shore - disconcerting but quite soothing, melting away the cares of the

Morning rolled around and we busted a move pretty early; we were packed
up and out on the water by 8. We swapped kayaks so my friend could get
a feel for mine and I could come to the conclusion that the premium
that I paid for my kayak was well worth it.
So we kayaked out of the shelter of Mosquito Bay going North towards
Tonga Island. It was at this point that the wind started to pick up
and made things choppy. Now our last trip around Tonga Island the
water was fairly rough and I was in a double with my girlfriend. It
was made particularily challenging when she would insist of trying to
tip us out when she was throwing up :-/
I have come to the conclusion that the water around Tonga Island just
isn't particularily nice.
We made for the Arches, however the tide was high enough that there was
no beach left, only rocks, so we turned around and made our way slowly
back across the wind.

We started kayaking hard due to the increasing wind and we decided to
make for Frenchman Bay so we could swap kayaks back and take a bit of a
breather. It was quite strange really, the previous day we saw heaps
of people kayaking, this morning not a single one.
Getting in to Frenchman bay was challenging, the wind was pushing us
around, the tide wasn't being particularily helpful either, not to
mention the ever increasing size of the waves - but we got there and
took 5 minutes to chill a little. Getting out of Frenchman Bay was
even worse, we were cutting across the waves - those of you who aren't
watery people may not be aware how much having waves hit you side on
can destabilise you.
So we got out and pretty much took as short a route as possible,
cutting out Boundary Bay, Torrent Bay and the Anchorage. Once past all
of them it started getting pretty rough (bearing in mind we are
distinctly amatuers) as we hit the Mad Mile. We were getting waves
coming from behind and across - whitecaps everywhere. It was bad
enough that I was getting waves coming over my kayak. So it was a keep
going and go hard - stopping only makes you unstable.
Between Te Pukatea Bay and Armchair Island there are some rocks, you
really have to go out and around them. With me in the lead I was
debating if I could make my way through a gap between them of if I
should go wide (which meant right across the waves) and around. By the
time I was coming to the conclusion to go around, I was pushed so close
that I couldn't back paddle. So push on through, trying to avoid the
rocks you could see under the water. A particularily large rock that
was well covered in water became exposed right next to me in the lull
of a large wave. At that point I thought something along the lines of
'opps' ok, maybe there may have been some profanities involved ;-)

Thankfully there was only about ten or twenty meters of rocks to get
through and the tide was high enough that neither of us hit rocks and
we were lucky enough not to get pushed on to suddenly exposed rocks.

After that it was head down time - kayak hard, try to avoid getting
pushed in to the rocky shore whilst being battered by waves. My kayak
is nearly 5m long and I was frequently getting situations were a wave
would come under me, tipping the kayak forward so it would gouge in to
the wave that preceeded it. Not to mention that you would often put
your paddle in to water that was suddenly no-longer there or you would
end up with half your arm in water that wasn't there a moment ago.
MAD! ;-)

We rounded a point in to the Astrolabe and it went nice and calm.
Phewie! We made our way to Observation Bay and took some time to
recover. We really pushed to get through the Mad Mile and the earlier
section near Tonga Island. So sucked down some Leppins and realised
that we made even better time than the day before (including the trip
to the Arches).
So we had a more leisurely trip back to Marahau. It was around the
time we got to Marahau that we started to see groups of kayakers and
the wind dropped significantly.

We drove back to Motueka, rented a totally self contained cabin (the
other one just had beds), cleaned up and it was then that I discovered
I was blistering from the small area that was sunburnt :-( (should
have known better). So we went for a walk to get some lunch and to go
to a chemist to get something for my skin. Of-course all the Chemists
were closed :-( But it was during this walking around that I
discovered something quite remarkable. If I stopped and stood still
for any amount of time more than a couple of seconds I felt like I was
on the rolling waves!
It would have been quite funny to have become sea-sick a good hour
after I had landed :-)

So, we had our steak that night, had a good nights sleep and made our
way back home the following day.

As we were comming back, the both of us decided we are particularily
bad. We do a 'get from point a to b' type people. We both love the
outdoors, the scenery but it's all about being out there. We don't
need to see every bay.

Great trip, the 'rough' weather certainly improved my confidence levels
immensely (for example I went out kayaking today in stronger winds,
choppier water than I usually would and didn't think anything of it)
and I qualify rough because it was nothing that we couldn't handle -
and would only become dangerous if you panic. I'm looking forward to
doing it again!

I would thoroughly recommend doing it. Even if with a guide where your
gear is dropped off at each bay you stop at rather than having to lug
it yourself.