Sunday, February 26, 2006

Abel Tasman and Monueka

Headed North and East towards the town of Monueka where we spent the evening before heading off to the Abel Tasman area for a 2 day kayaking adventure in one of the most beautiful areas of the world. Similar to the virgin islands in terms of terrain, blue sky, beautiful clear water, birds everywhere.

In the morning we headed out to our kayak rental agency. We were on an unguided 2 day trip but the bus driver was also a guide and they wanted to be sure we knew what we were doing before sending us out in the company kayaks for 2 days so he wanted us to stay with him for the morning. The guide took to us immediately when we mentioned we were from Portland, apparently he's spent some time in Eugene and the pdx area so we were all good to him. (he immediately assumed we would be totally fine, and while in the end he was correct, we were less prepapared relative to the work we had put into getting things together for the milford trek).

After getting the rest of the crew together he let us stay with the guided tour. He gave us the basics of how to paddle, put on the spray skirts, etc. We were off, headed out with the rest of the crew. We stopped for lunch and chatted with the others on the tour. The waves were calm. Before we left on our own for the next day and a half he gave us a crash course on weather in the abel tasman which translated to 'you never really know, so ignore all the noise coming out of my mouth'. we headed out towards an island he suggested that we take a look at before heading north and the winds immediately changed from about 5 knots to 15 knots (you can tell because occasional whitecaps are 10 knots, constant whitecaps are about 15). it took us way too long to get to the island and we were pretty exhausted. after that we headed back to shore. we were paddling our hearts out and not making much progress against the wind that we were fighting againts (remember, 15 knots velocity to stand still....) so we make it into shore where its easier to paddle. we know this because apparently stacey heard him say it...i was too busy trying to figure out what he was talking about when he mentioned 'if a black line appears on the horizon...and then some words i couldn't process'. i mean, what black line? what does it look like? is it like this '-', a short black line or like this '--------------', or did he mean a grey line, like we could already see? And the seas were rough, i mean, our boat was kinda sloshing up and down these swells and we were kinda freaked out. When we were with the guide everything was kopasetic, but now things were getting crazy with the weather, but it was still beautiful outside, just wind and waves. and man, i was doing a horrible job with the rudder, just horrible. stacey didn't get ticked off once and was paddling her heart out to get us back to shore. (i was still looking at the horizon, and the map, and the waves...). i figured so long as the wavelength of the waves is less than 1/2 the boat we were probably okay and right now they were about 1/3 the length of the boat, but all this caught us off guard relative to the peacefullness of the morning waves.

We finally make it back to the shore line, and we just kept paddling. turns out, we made it back to shore, but now we had to deal with these gigantic rocks in front of us...i mean, were we supposed to go around them, between them? around meant crazy waters, through them meant the risk of tipping in a not too nice place, and i still have a scar between my eyes from the last little rock i talked with from a kayak.

so we go between the rocks, and fast, being careful to make sure the depth was enough, and we end up being okay, and we see on our map all these little shark fin shapes, which really mean waves and not sharks (no legend on the map but it was pretty obvious by the conditions and the names like 'mad mile', and stuff like that).

so we make it through those rocks, and two or three more sections, and we decide to skip just one more beach, but then we see that this big boat come out of a bay, and i happen to have a map with a big boat in a bay called anchorage so i know that that is one bay AFTER our beach, so we turn around just to check out the beach. no kidding, the wind was so bad we just pointed the boat at the beach and it was pushed into shore, took less than 5 minutes to get across what took about 20 minutes the other way. turns out, this was our beach that we were camping that night and we had almost passed it. so we pulled the boat in, dried off a bit and tried to calm down from the obvious freaked out 'what the heck have we gotten into feeling we both had'. we weren't really saying much to each other which was kinda odd, just looking around. i wasn't feeling particuarly confident about things before landing, and had just been wondering 'if this is as bad as it gets, we'll be fine, but how much worse does it become?'.

on the beach we are approached by our guide and the rest of the crew that had followed the shoreline for their guided portion of the tour....everything was 'cool' to him which is pretty consistent with how all the guides are in new zealand, i kinda wonder if somebody drowns is it still 'sweet as...cheers mate'' in this culture. i mean, everything is 'sweet as' until what? what event? death? broken limb? sweet as? i know it sounds pessimistic, especially coming from a culture as ruled by fear as america, but man, this is the other extreme. so, he says 'i was really glad to see you guys turn around from that island, it was crazy out there, 15 knots wind and you were out there fighting against it.'

so we retire, quiet. wonder what the next day is going to hold. we also took a small walk to anchorage, about 30 minutes away, to steal some fresh water and see how they live on the other half of the island where there were showers and stoves and such. for those that have seen 'lost' you know how it is. its like we stumbled upon civilization before walking back to our tent for the night. we cooked up a backcountry meal along with some extra noodles and munched a couple toblerones i had stashed in my pack.

the next day was MUCH more normal. we got up, paddled around, saw some seals, schools of small fish, ducks, seagulls, and beautiful scenery. no currents, no extreme waves, even saw a blue penguin on our trip back in the aqua taxi which was just crazy cool. we finished about 4 hours earlier than expected and were able to catch a bus back to town to get our car and head off to Nelson, our next stop. the bus thing was weird, he just picked us up where the aqua taxi dropped us off and drove us 45 minutes back to monueka, and dropped us off. no charge. like 'hey, bums, just get in my bus and i'll drive you back, no worries mate, sweet as'.

oh, the aqua taxi: basically, in abel tasman, you can paddle as long as you want, then these boats come by and pick you up and take you back to the main launch point, or anywhere else, for a reasonable fee. they will come by and pick your boats up to, so you can avoid doing out and backs, just basically paddle as far as you want, pull off on a beach, and hail an aqua taxi back. they take care of rounding up the boats at the end of the day and getting them back to various companies, is that cool or what?

Nelson and Picton are next. Then we head to the North Island.

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