Overcoming fear of kayaking was worth it

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Paddling in New Zealand's Abel Tasman National Park was a good way to see scenery, wildlife.

Kayaks are lined up at the staging point for the full-day Seals and Remote Coast trip. (Jon Collier/Special to The Vancouver Sun)

By Caralyn Campbell

Postmedia News

I spend half my life in the Southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia, a stunningly beautiful region world-renowned for kayaking and yet at the age of 52 I had never paddled one.

I'm not a strong swimmer and there's something about sitting so close to the ocean in a territory rife with sea lions, seals and whales in the deep frigid waters of the Pacific Northwest, that always made me feel extremely vulnerable (terrified). But when the itinerary on a recent trip to New Zealand included kayaking in this pristine place, I thought, "how could I not do this?"

Being a neophyte kayaker on a cold morning, (by New Zealand standards) I started out in a long-sleeved shirt and jeans - soon to be soaked through. On the break at lunch I changed into my second set of dry clothes; shorts and a T-shirt, which were soon also soaked through. Even with the aid of the fitted rubber kayak skirt meant to keep the sneaky puddle out from under your pants, somehow it gets in.

I went home in a towel. Note to self: next time you're kayaking, wear a swimsuit or a wetsuit, depending on where you are.

The day started at 6:30 a.m., after a restful night at Te Puna Wai Lodge, a lovingly restored 1857 bed and breakfast beauty, brimming with quirky art and antiques.

I instantly felt at home in our attic suite, with its sweeping ocean views from the big comfy bed, shelves filled with great books, a mellow CD collection and claw foot tub. I could happily have snuggled in for the day but adventure awaited. So, after a scrumptious three-course breakfast at the lodge, we hopped in the rental car for the hour and 20-minute drive to Marahau, home of Abel Tasman Kayak Adventures.

We were booked on the Seals and Remote Coast full-day trip, focusing on the Tonga Island Marine Reserve and its playful inhabitants - the NZ fur seal, Kekeno. "Of all things," thought Jon and I. Seals are so abundant at home they hardly seem a tourist attraction to us. In fact, ask anyone who fishes and they'll probably describe them as a pesky royal pain.

Nonetheless, ready for a paddle, we boarded a boat (on a trailer) in the parking lot and were towed by tractor to the launch ramp down the road. These guides are pros; within minutes we were in the water and on our way to a beach where our kayaks awaited.

After a brief safety rundown and paddling instructions on the beach, we launched ourselves and headed toward a nearby island.

The first part was a bit of a struggle for me, as we were paddling into the wind and it was choppier than I would have liked.

I wondered if I could do this. But the fact that I was not the oldest member of the group jump-started my competitive determination. Fortunately, the wind eased after the first half-hour and the sun finally burned its way through the clouds. By then I was feeling fairly confident.

There were nine of us on this trip; Jon and I, our Kiwi guide, a young man from Amsterdam and 55 to 60-year-old Kiwi girlfriends in matching T-shirts, with 'Dot's Lot' printed on the front. The 'Lot' were on their 13th annual New Zealand mystery adventure, always planned by Dot, who never tells them where they're going just what to pack.

On this particular mystery adventure, the 'Lot' were combining their kayak tour with a bit of tramping. Tramping, known elsewhere as hiking or bushwalking, is a popular activity in New Zealand.

In Abel Tasman National Park there are two walking tracks; the beautiful coastal track and the more remote inland track through the hilly centre of the park. Both tracks take three to five days to walk the entire length. There are huts and campsites where you can stay for a fee.

Established in 1942, Abel Tasman is New Zealand's smallest national park at 22,350 ha. It is famous for its golden beaches, turquoise waters, native bush walks and spectacular scenery.

Visitors can walk into the park from the road end car parks, catch water taxis to beaches along the track, or kayak along the coast as we chose to do.

About an hour into our tour, we rafted up together close to a collection of shallow pools near the rocky shore. From a respectable distance we watched dozens of seal pups leaping and diving under the watchful eyes of their furry trainers. We had to admit they were adorable little salmon thieves.

It was close to four in the afternoon by the time we approached the rendezvous beach where the boat would pick us up. Determined as a horse heading for the barn, I dug in on the last few strokes and skidded the kayak onto the shore, exhausted but extremely mellow.

After checking out the 'Lot's' overnight accommodation, (bunkhouse-style huts on the beach) we said goodbye to our new friends and hauled our soaking wet selves into the boat for the 20-minute ride back to the boat launch.

It was a great day made all the better by the good humour of our fellow paddlers.


If you go:

Air New Zealand is offering a seat sale with flights from Vancouver to Auckland starting at $998 and Nelson $1158 return. Flights must be booked by Sept. 21 for travel ending Nov. 22, 2011, and Feb. 2 to March 31, 2012.


The Seals and Remote Coast Tour at Abel Tasman Kayak Adventures is $225 NZD and includes lunch. www.abeltasmankayaks.co.nz

The Fifeshire suite at Te Puna Wai ranges from $265 to $325 NZD double, add $30 per extra person to a maximum of four. Breakfast is included. www.tepunawai.co.nz


Abel Tasman National Park

To protect the environment and promote an enjoyable experience for visitors, the New Zealand Department of Conservation requires that you book your visit and accommodation in the park. Bunkhouse huts are $35.70 NZD per person per night, campsites are $12.20 NZD. Children up to 17 years old stay with parents for free. For details visit the Online Booking System at: http: //booking.doc.govt.nz/Menu.

Organizations: Tonga Island Marine Reserve, Air New Zealand, New Zealand Department of Online Booking System

Geographic location: New Zealand, Abel Tasman National Park, Southern Gulf Islands British Columbia Pacific Northwest Abel Tasman Amsterdam Vancouver Auckland

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