Saturday, August 5, 2017

Playdate with Pups

There is no place like my kayak on the ocean. When I can strike out on a day full of sun and calm waters, I am enriched. I love the feeling of pulling the paddle through glassy seas, watching the landscape slip past me, and hearing the rhythmic lapping of the water against the shore. I like to float through the shallows, looking down into the water at the rocks and sea life below. Every day in my kayak is a gift to me, but this past weekend was a paddle I will cherish forever.

With an amazing weather forecast ahead of us, Jeremiah and I loaded up the boats on Kevin (our car), and drove out to Kaiteriteri for 2 days of paddling in the Abel Tasman National Park. I have sea kayaked in Abel Tasman before, but I have never had an up close encounter with seal pups. On some of the islands throughout the Abel Tasman national park there are seal reserves. These are safe havens where mama seals can leave their pups for the day without worry of predators like orcas. This is where my heaven is.

After a few hours of paddling, we reached an island reserve. We paddled around the island in hopes of seeing one or two seal pups playing in the water. Rounding the corner, we came across our first seal pup. He was curiously swimming around another sea kayaker. Not wanting to steal their moment with the seal pup, we floated a good distance away, just watching the seal pup flip and float around the boat. We continued our paddle around the coast of the island and realized that the pup had left the other kayaker and was swimming over to check out our boats. We stopped paddling and just floated, so excited that the seal pup was taking so much interest in our boats. Then suddenly we were surrounded! It was as though the pup had sent a message to his friends,
"Hey guys! Come check this out!"

Out of the blue there were no fewer than six seal pups swimming and splashing around us. There is no other way to describe it, they began to show off. They waved their fins at us, flipped their tails back and forth in the air, did spins around the boat, jumped on and off the rocks... they played! One pup tried to jump on Jeremiah's boat but couldn't manage to stay atop the round hull. Another came right up to my boat and rested his head on the deck. He sniffed the hull and the paddle, curious about these strange new floating toys.

You may be thinking to yourself, where was mom in all this? Well the mamma seals were either out fishing, or laying lazily on the rocks watching the kids play. Every once in a while, one of the adult seals would lift their heads to yell at the pups, then they would roll over in the sun and fall back asleep. They seemed happy that the kids had something to play with. We spent a full hour floating in our kayaks watching the pups play. I could have stayed forever. For the rest of my life, I will hold onto this memory. Of their little splashes on the surface, their sleek brown bodies slipping in and out of the water, and the little pffft sounds they made when popping their heads out to take a breath of air. Imprinted in my mind are those big brown eyes looking right at me, alight with intelligence and curiosity, whiskers trembling.

Reluctantly, we left the island to finish our paddle towards Anchorage hut where we were planning to stay. The seal pups did not follow, they knew not to leave their safe haven. The weather was fine and we were able to make quick work of "hell mile" around the unprotected point of Pitt Head and into Anchorage bay. Thinking nothing could top this day, we pulled in tired and happy. However, the amazing day did not end with our paddle.

We completed our day with a sunset walk out to the point, a delicious meal, and a moonlight stroll down the beach. We had heard of caves at the end of the beach with glow worms and we wanted to check them out before bed. Getting into the cave was a bit of a squeeze, but it widened out inside. With headlamps on, you could see wetas (cave crickets) and glow worm strands shimmering on the ceiling. We clicked off our headlamps to see the magic of the glow worms, like constellations dotting the cave ceiling. As we sat in the dark, a low noise rattled through the silence. Startled, we both flicked on our lights searching for the source of the noise. As we were at the end of the cave, whatever it was had to be in the room with us.

Being in a cave is unnerving enough without strange growling sounds coming up out of the darkness. Flashing our beams around, I spotted a hole in the bottom of the wall of the cave. Peering down into it, a small grey, blue body come into view. Laughing, I moved aside so Jeremiah could see too. It seemed that we had unwittingly stumbled onto a burrow of little blue penguins! If you have never heard them before, you could easily mistake their guttural chirping for some kind of terrifying cave creature. Little blue penguins are the smallest species of penguin and they only come onto land after dusk to sleep in their burrows and shelter until morning. Exhilarated by actually having seen blue penguins, we climbed into our bunks at anchorage to rest.

Our trip to Anchorage offered us sightings of New Zealand fur seals, little blue penguins, tui, weka, weta, oyster catchers, grey back gulls and pÅ«keko all in one trip. I have never been on a trip so full of iconic New Zealand bird and wildlife. Of course on our paddle home the next day, we had the opportunity to spend yet another hour watching the seal pups play in the water. If ever you get the chance to do Abel Tasman by kayak, take it. 


Seal Pups at Play

Anchorage Bay
Drawing a line in the sand.

Hey There!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Wild West

The West Coast of the South Island is rugged. A constant pummeling ocean, rolling and smashing into the jagged rocks. When you get to the West Coast, you can hear the thunder of the ocean long before you reach it. In pockets where the cliffs give way to sandy beaches, surfers can be found on a "calm" day. Unlike surfers around the rest of the world, on the West Coast, they wait for the calmest days they can find to have a great surf. Normally the water pulls too hard and the rips are too dangerous for swimming or surfing. Even the landscape here is shaped by the wind. The trees grow in a thick blanket sloping away from the ocean, every one of them leaning inland.

This weekend Jeremiah and I made the trip down to Greymouth to pick up a sea kayak and we made the most of our West Coast trip. On our way down to Greymouth we stopped off in Tauranga Bay. We didn't have much time in the waning light, but we were able to walk out to the seal colony and watch the Fur Seals snuggling down for the night on their rocky beds. In Greymouth we enjoyed staying at the Global Village backpackers and we watched the rugby match at a local pub. Of course the All Blacks vanquished yet another unworthy opponent.

After picking up the kayak the next day, we made our way north to Punakaiki. We stopped up the Pororari River Track for a hike up the river gorge. Out in the bush we spotted glow worms and Wekas browsing for grubs. Giant cliffs on either side of us were our constant companions as we walked upstream. Impressive limestone cliffs and formations greeted us at every bend. I liked to imagine what it would be like to climb up one of those cliff faces. We also enjoyed ducking under trees whose roots created archways over the path.

After a snack break we made our final stop at my favorite spot of the trip, up the Truman Track. This short track leads you out to an ocean cliffside and to a beach that is only accessible at low tide. Jeremiah and I had fun running around the rocks, dipping in and out of the coves between the wave breaks. I was a bit slower because I've injured my knee, but I still managed to get around to the dry cove without getting my socks too wet. The beach here is one of my favorite spots in New Zealand for many reasons... but mostly because it is so wild! The waves are enormous! Standing on the beach you watch the ocean barreling towards you. I loved watching the water foam as it smashed into the pebbled beach.

Part of the magic of this beach is that underfoot it is completely covered with pebbles smoothed and rounded by the ocean. This is not a golden sandy beach like you would find in Abel Tasman. This is a rocky, worn, pebbled beach of the west coast. Lining the beach are seaside caves and waterfalls spilling onto the rocks. Jeremiah and I were the first to venture out onto this beach, newly exposed by the ebbing tide. Following our footprints, you could see where we had to run across the lower portions of the beach, trying to beat the next wave as it raced back in. A pattern of footprints, ocean smoothed pebbles, and reappearing footprints told our story.

I am so thankful that we had the chance to get away and revel in the ruggedness of the West Coast. Nelson is beautiful, but certainly not as wild as the tracks of Punakaiki. It's a good reminder of the places we have yet to explore in this beautiful country.


Fantail posing for just an instant