When you think of New Zealand do you picture turquoise waters, golden beaches, and verdant palm trees? After spending three-days honeymooning Abel Tasman National Park, we sure do. The northern-most tip of the south island is the country's sunniest region and beholds their best coastal park. We always wanted to hike its lush trails and kayak its coves, but we didn't want to rough it too much on our honeymoon...enter Wilsons Abel Tasman. This historic luxury outfitter leads trips through the park with overnight stops at their boutique lodges for gourmet food, hot showers, a comfortable bed, and cocktail hour. Now we are talking!
Nelson is the closest city to Abel Tasman and a perfect launchpad for Wilsons' trips. It's the south island's most historic town, well renowned for the arts scene, and hosting dozens of cultural events throughout the year. We went to South Street with its original 19th-century cottages and enjoyed musical performances, food tastings, and an antique car show that was taking place for the Heritage Festival. After a great day in town we arrived back at our accommodation to find Wilsons had left us two complimentary travel bags and information about our upcoming Abel Tasman excursion.
In 1672 Abel Tasman was the first European explorer to set eyes on New Zealand but no westerners inhabited the region the British sent a settlement fleet in 1840. Wilsons’ great-great-great grandparents were among the first pioneers and eight generations later, the family continues the tradition of Abel Tasman exploration by leading trips through the national park and to their historic homes (the only beach-front lodging allowed in the park).
All Wilsons' trips start with a boat ride along the incredible Abel Tasman coastline, through its vibrant waters and granite headlands. From there you can hike, kayak, run, and/or bike anywhere from one to five days. We signed up for the “Three-day Kayak & Walk” which involves hiking the northern beaches and forests and a two-day kayak through the southern islands and coves, totaling 32 kilometers of exploration.
The forests were a lush combination of beech, rata, tree ferns, and the occasional red polka-dot mushroom. The trees would open up to breathtaking vistas of the beaches below, where we spotted everything from seals to cormorants to sting rays.
Just before dusk we arrived in Awaroa Inlet and Meadowbank, the Wilsons' historic family home and lodge. After a delightful shower, we enjoyed dinner and relaxed by the fireplace with a glass of wine, listening to the fascinating stories of family’s early days in the wild frontier.
The next morning we fueled up with a hearty breakfast before our 4km scenic walk over the Tonga Saddle to Onetahuti, our put-in spot for our sea kayak adventure.
We kayaked along the rocky coast and into the beautiful Bark Bay inlet for incredible nature sightings, including the endemic Blue Duck! It looked like an average duck to us, but judging by the excitement in our guide Whitey’s voice, a sighting like this is a very rare (so rare in fact, it was only the second sighting in Abel Tasman over the last two decades).
After lunch we paddled to Tonga Island, a breeding ground for New Zealand fur seals. The seals spend their first few months around Tonga honing their swimming and hunting skills. We watched them take quick dips then scamper up the rocks to catch their breath, flop about and nap. Our guide said, sometimes the curious pups even hop onto the bow of passing kayaks. We would have waited all day to give a seal a ride, but sunset and a hot meal at Torrent Bay Lodge were calling us to shore.
We were shown to our lovely room and went straight to relaxation mode. Sitting back enjoying the ocean view, nibbling on hors d'oeuvres, and sipping a bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc...heaven.
With fine food and a great night's sleep under our belt, we were ready to take on the final 12km-stretch of kayaking. We celebrated our Wilsons journey at Split Apple rock, one last gorgeous cove before the port at Kaiteriteri. We felt such a sense of accomplishment but it was definitely Wilsons incredible guides and pampering that was the secret to our success.
Much love from Abel Tasman,
Anne & Mike
Note: Wilsons invited us to be their guests; however, all opinions are our own.