Although we arrived in Motueka under sunny skies on April 25 (DAY 75), the weather quickly soured. That night a steady flow of rain started and didn’t let up until mid-afternoon on DAY 76. More rain was forecasted for the next day and a half so Carrie and I decided to wait out the bad weather before setting off on our planned kayak adventure.
We also moved into a cabin at the holiday park because our tent floor is coming down with a bad case of mold. The rain and dewy mornings along the west coast made it difficult to keep our tent dry. We’d pack it up wet in the morning with the hope of drying it out during lunch breaks in the afternoon but the mold got a hold. Now our tent smells like an unbalanced compost pile, an odor only delightful to pigs and sewer rats. We’re a little afraid the mold might start growing on us, and we’re too young to be moldy.
Since we had all of DAY 76 to hang out in Motueka we decided to go see “The Flying Scotsman”, which was playing in a cozy one-room theatre with couches and lounge chairs. Maybe this movie will be popular at home and encourage more people to ride bikes. Velodomes will sprout up across the country. Suddenly, everyone will be able to eat those huge restaurant meals and not gain weight. Heart disease rates will drop. Pollution levels will drop. Stupid diet regimens will disappear. We’ll be friendlier to our neighbors. Love and peace and tra la la.
We spent the next day (DAY 77) in Motueka as well. The town is full of hippy types, white dudes and dudettes with dread locks sipping tea and strumming guitars. Most of them are seasonal workers. They pick fruit in the local orchards. I’m sure we bathe more often than they do, which is funny, considering we’re the ones growing mold.
On DAY 78 we were excited to leave Motueka behind and head to the village of Marahau, which borders the national park and which is home to a zillion different kayak rental companies. We waited until noon to leave however because it was raining. Cycling in the rain isn’t that bad, but if you have a choice, cycling without rain is even better. The ride to Marahau was beautiful. The windy road led us along the coast and by huge big-glass-window homes, which reminded us of Tibouron.
When we rolled into town we bumped into the cycling couple from San Francisco Josh and Sarah we met way back in Fox Glacier. They had just finished a kayak trip and said they had a blast. It was good to see them again and to hear about their adventure. We exchanged emails to possibly get together back home.
During the summer Marahau is supposedly buzzing with tourists. The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is New Zealand’s most popular “Great Walk” because it’s an easy tramp and because hikers get access to a lot of beautiful beaches. When we pulled up to the holiday park in town, however, the place was a ghost town. The guy in the reception office said that once the Easter holiday is over, things really quiet down around the whole country. So instead of staying in our tent that night, we opted to be the sole inhabitants of the hostel with a kitchen and bathrooms all to ourselves.
Finally on DAY 79 we started our sea kayak adventure. We paid for a package that included two days of kayaking and one day of hiking along the Abel Tasman coastline. The two-man sea kayaks have three storage portals where we stashed our food, camping supplies and spare clothes. It was going to be similar to bicycle touring only much sandier.
After a safety and technique briefing and an in-the-water maneuvering test, Carrie and I were set free. At first, paddling in the glassy water near shore was a breeze. But after 20 minutes the paddle started feeling heavy and my arms were achy. I blame this on bicycling. Yeah our legs and lungs are strong but our arms have been neglected. Now it was time for them to feel the burn.
Luckily, it was getting near lunchtime so we had an excuse to find a place to rest. We made for an island nearby with loads of low tide beaches separated by rocky outcrops. The beach we chose had a great cave that was lined with mussels and seaweed near the bottom and ferns and other bush along the 15-foot high ceiling. During high tide the cave would be filled with the sea. After exploring the cave, I almost stepped on an injured weta on the beach. The weta, which looks like a big grasshopper, is the heaviest insect in the world. The weta we saw though wasn’t very big.
After a bit of lunch we said goodbye to our private beach, cave and weta and launched into the Tasman Bay. Even in open bay the water was pretty calm, thanks to a light breeze. This made the paddling much easier, which was good because it was hard enough as is. One of the main attractions of kayaking in the Tasman Bay are the large colonies of fur seals that inhabit the rocky shores and small islands. Carrie and I visited one of those islands before calling it a day but all we saw were some sea birds sunning themselves. That night we camped at the Bark Bay campground, which is a major stopping point for hikers on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. We made sure to get to bed early because we had plans to visit a place with a large seal colony that is only accessible during high tide, which was at 8 o’clock the next morning.
On DAY 80 we got up early and were on the water by about 8:30am. The paddle out to the fur seal colony at Shag Harbor was rougher than the day before. The clouds were looking meaner and the wind picked up causing the sea to get choppier. When we arrived at the mouth of the harbor we were a little disappointed. There were a few seals lounging on the rocks and one or two in the water but we were expecting to see a lot more. As we floated further into the protected inlet the water calmed and we could see the sandy sea floor about six feet below. Rocks jutted from the shallows and the thick foliage along the shore gave the water a brilliant green hue. It was beautiful. Suddenly, a few seal pups were swimming around and under our kayak. They darted to the surface for a breath only to dive down again for more underwater acrobatics. I was trying like mad to get a few good photos but they wouldn’t hold still long enough.
Then as we rounded another corner we entered what I can only describe as fur seal eden. About two dozen pups were playing in and out of the water. When we got closer they started crowding around us, tugging on the miscellaneous straps dangling in the water and playfully biting our paddles. Then a few pups took a try at boarding our kayaks only to slip off. Finally, a pup managed to climb aboard. It waddled up to Carrie to give her a sniff and then turned to me. How could you club one of these guys?
When I got the courage to touch one of the seals as it swam by I announced, “I touched one!” like a proud child. The seal’s fur felt soft and squishy, similar to a wetsuit. Carrie touched one too. We were having a blast and I like to think the seals enjoyed the company. Before we knew it we had to head back to drop off our kayaks at Onetahuti Bay. We said goodbye to the seals and paddled out into a healthy headwind.
From Onetahuti Bay we reorganized our stuff into our backpacks to continue the trip on foot. The original plan was to camp on a beach a couple of hours north but when the rain started coming down we decided to walk further for shelter at Totaranui, where we were supposed to catch a water taxi back to Marahau the following day. We arrived at Totaranui a few hours later completely soaked only to find out there wasn’t a hut. The whole place was just a campground. Because the ground was looking too swampy, we ended up pitching our tent under the roof of the public bathrooms. It wasn’t glamorous but it was dry and that’s all we needed.
On DAY 81 we went for a short day hike and then swatted sanflies in the glorious sun while waiting for our water taxi. I was excited to ride in the taxi because I’d never been in a speedboat before. All I have to say is the ride was the closest I’ll ever come to competing in a rodeo. We bucked across the water and in no time were back in Marahau, where we retrieved our bikes and rode back the wonderful, quiet road to Motueka just before a nasty thunder storm hit.
We left Motueka for Nelson on DAY 82. We’re flying from Nelson to Auckland so this was our official last long bike ride. Our trip is coming to an end. The kayak adventure was definitely a good way to leave New Zealand.