Posts Tagged With: kayak trip

Kayaking the Abel Tasman

It was a long drive to Abel Tasman after our stressful day on the glacier, but we split the driving between us and finally pulled into our accommodations around 9pm. We did some rearranging of our packs to make sure all our gear was in waterproof bags and then hit the sack to catch up on sleep for the next busy day ahead of us.

Abel Tasman National Park is well known for its gorgeous golden sand beaches, which you can visit either on foot, by kayak, or by water taxi. When I’d initially started researching Abel Tasman, I’d intended for us to just chill out in some kind of beach lodge for 3 days, but there’s actually no roads in the park, so we decided to make a pretty forgiving (read, slow) itinerary to see the park by kayak. Kayaking has been our newest hobby in Vancouver, so we were excited to try it out in New Zealand.

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You can kayak the park either on a guided tour or you can self-explore in rented kayaks. We’ve gotten pretty comfortable on the water and it’s a lot cheaper to rent, so we opted for the self-guided option. We rented from Abel Tasman Kayaks and they run a pretty smooth operation, starting with 2 hours of classroom/on water kayak training before letting you embark on your own. Then they loaded us into a water taxi with our kayak and shuttled us up to the end of the park so that we could spend the next 3 days kayaking back to base at our leisure.

We always rent single kayaks in BC and we weren’t too impressed when they forced us to rent a double kayak for “safety” reasons. I was pretty skeptical because everything I’ve learned about kayaking in Canada has reinforced that it’s a lot easier to rescue someone when you have two boats. But ATK insisted that because of the wind in the area, its safer in one kayak – after having now completed the trip, I’ve decided I agree with them. Our kayak was called the “Packhorse Express” and with good reason. It was a BIG kayak. A lot wider than I was used to and extremely heavy. We struggled to lift it with 2 people even when it was empty, but more on that later!

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Our shuttle dropped us a Onetahuti Beach, which is a gorgeous golden sand beach that stretches in a long half moon around the coast. It was noon by the time we landed on the beach and got our kayak packed, so we just had our lunch right there before setting out. Like I said, we planned for easy paddling days, so we decided to kayak up the coast in the opposite direction for a little while to visit Shag Harbour (Cormorants are known as Shags in NZ and NL people!). We’d heard it was really nice during high tide because you can paddle back into this river/tidal lagoon, which was really neat. It was a bit of a slow paddle up because we had a bit of a headwind, but it just made for a quicker paddle back down after! We stopped at another beach to go for a swim and then visited the Tonga Arches before paddling around the headland to Mosquito Bay, our campsite for the night.

Despite its name, Mosquito bay didn’t have any mosquitoes. It was still close to high tide when we landed, which was good because the beach is very shallow and there is a huge difference between the length of the beach at either tide and we didn’t want to have to carry our kayak up to high tide. The Heaphy Track, which is another of NZ’s Great Walks, runs along the coastline through the park as well, so a lot of the beaches and campsites are shared with hikers. But we picked Mosquito Bay because the track doesn’t run by the beach and you can only access it by boat, so we figured it would be less crowded.

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That was a good idea in theory, but it was also still summer holidays for the locals and we discovered that a popular activity is beaching your boat on the shore at high tide and then camping in it overnight. So there was a whole line of tiny sailboats that had sailed into the tidal lagoon and were now beached up on the shore. But it was a beautiful campsite and the water was really warm, so I had a great swim. After some really questionable weather on the Milford Track and Fox Glacier, Abel Tasman rewarded us with sunny, hot days!

The weka’s were a lot more rampant in the Abel Tasman though and were real pests around the campsites. Seth loved it of course, but they were constantly pecking around waiting for you to let down your guard so they could swipe your food. We actually misplaced one of our little ziploc garbage bags on the second night and all we can figure is that a weka climbed into our tent vestibule overnight and swiped it out of our bag (just a reusable shopping bag). We felt really bad about it and searched the woods all around the campsite to see if we could find any garbage, but there was no sign of it.

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We had a lazy evening at Mosquito Beach and I convinced Seth to sleep with the fly off the tent so that we could watch the stars overnight. I don’t think Seth really did any stargazing, but I had a great time and I did see a ton of stars and the milky way. It was interesting sleeping conditions though, probably because it was so warm, and I woke up with a layer of dew right over my sleeping bag, which has never happened to me in BC mountains when I sleep with the fly off.

Day 2 was my favourite day of the trip. We had a lazy start, but unfortunately this time we did have to drag the kayaks all the way down the beach to put out at a much lower tide. High tide is really better in the Abel Tasman because you can access the tidal lagoons when the tide is up, so we had a lazy paddle to Bark Bay and Sandfly Beach and did a little exploring on the beaches since we couldn’t get into the lagoons.

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We had a little setback when we tried to go to one of the islands to look for seals, it was just too windy out there and after a lot of splashing around we gave up and navigated back to the shore. We had lunch in Frenchman’s Bay and then kayaked over to Torrent Bay, which was one of my favourite beaches. Torrent Beach juts right out into the bay with a massive tidal lagoon behind it. I think the lagoon always has some water in it, but how far back into the lagoon you can go is dictated by how high the tide is. 2 hours before and after high tide is the best time, so we decided to go for a swim on the lagoon side of Torrent Beach to kill some time. The water was so warm and as someone who loves swimming, I was so content swimming around in the bay.

2 hours before high tide we started to make our way in to the bay and landed our kayaks at the end. ATK had recommended checking out part of the Heaphy Track and hiking up to a little swimming hole called Cleopatra’s Pool. Unfortunately, we got the wrong landing point for the trail, so our walk was a few kms longer then it had to be, but it was neat to explore another one of the great walks. Between backpackers and hikers, there were a lot of people on the beach. There’s a big hut at nearby Anchorage Beach, so I think the trail draws a lot of day traffic from there. The pool was pretty nice – colder than the ocean, but not as cold as the glacial rivers. There were several little waterfalls, so we explored around a bit before heading back to our kayaks.

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It was around 4pm when we finished, so we decided it was time to make our way to our next campsite at Te Pukatea Bay while we still had the high tide working for us. Te Pukatea Bay is located just on the other side of the headland, separating it from Anchorage. It’s only about a 10-15 minute walk between them, but a bit more of a challenging paddle going around the headland. We had a headwind and it was windy, but still manageable. I was happy when we finally pulled up to the beach though.

Te Pukatea Bay ended up being my favourite beach! There were no boats or yachts along the beach and surprisingly few people camping there. It seems the facilities at Anchorage draw most of the crowds. We went for our third and final swim of the day and then took it easy and enjoyed the views. We went on a short walk around sunset and found a lookout gazing out towards anchorage and were rewarded with the most gorgeous pink sunset! Then on our way back to the campsite, we finally found the elusive morepork, a little owl that Seth had been trying to see since the start of the trip. They have a distinctive call and we’d heard them several times, but one almost dived bombed Seth’s head and we finally got a good look at it sitting in the tree at dusk – it was very cute!

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Our last day was a bit of a challenge. Keeping with the theme of the rest of the trip, Abel Tasman was experiencing “abnormal summer weather”. The first section after Te Pukatea Beach is known as the “Mad Mile”, so we knew it was going to be a rough paddle, but figured at least our arms would be fresh after a day of rest.

It was really windy and by far the hardest part of the trip. At first it seemed manageable and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves, but the further we went around the headland, the less it seemed we were moving forward. We had a headwind coming at us from the front, but there was also a swell on – so we had to keep away from the shelter of the land because the swell kept crashing against the rocks. So we had the wind against us in front and a side swell to battle at the same time. I think I may be prone to anxiety because I had a bit of a freak-out in the middle of the paddle because I felt we were going nowhere and the waves made me really nervous. But Seth was super calm; he knew we were making progress and that we just had to push through.

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That one mile is why I changed my mind about the double kayak. Single kayaks seems to be the way to go in BC, but our Packhorse Express was definitely made for big waves and at no point during the paddle did I feel at any risk of tipping the boat. I’ll also appreciated being in the same boat as Seth in that moment because he is a stronger paddler than me and I think we would have become separated if we’d been in two boats, which would definitely have stressed me out a lot more.

But we finally made it to the next beach and hauled the kayak up on shore for a well deserved break. It was still windy, but the paddling was easier so we had a nice time exploring a few more beaches on the way back. We decided to aim for Appletree Beach for lunch, which is the last stopping point before you head back to the rental. The map told us that they run water taxis from Appletree Beach because sometimes the wind gets too strong going back and to wait there if you didn’t think you could make it around the headland.

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I think we could have gone all the way back, but the weather got noticeably windier the closer we got to Appletree Beach and we had a hard time landing the kayak on the beach. I decided it was time to call it quits and figured we could just wait for a water taxi while we ate our lunch. We got super lucky though and ATK went by in their boat just after we landed on the beach (we were still bailing the water out of the kayak from our awkward landing). I flagged them down right away and he didn’t hesitate in loading our boat on board and bringing us straight to the end. He said it was not good conditions at all and I think he was pretty much just running around retrieving people.

We only skipped about an hour of paddling, but I definitely think it was worth it. We were thrilled to have a hot shower back at the base camp and eat our lunch there. It was a challenging last day, but overall I had so much fun kayaking around the Abel Tasman. It was hot, sunny, and had amazing views, which is really all you can ask for!

Categories: Exploring New Zealand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kayaking Pender Island

Me and Seth went on our second annual kayaking trip over the labour day weekend and I have to say, kayaking is definitely working it’s way up my list of favourite hobbies. We had a great time exploring Sechelt Inlet last year, but I still would have picked a backpacking trip over a kayaking trip, but since Seth doesn’t like backpacking that much, it’s a lot of fun when the two of us go kayaking together. You’re definitely a lot more vulnerable to the elements in a kayak, but when you get great weather it’s the best.

This trip started with a really early morning ferry ride. The ferry doesn’t run very frequently to Pender, so we were pretty much forced to catch the 7am sailing out of Tsawwassen. The water was looking pretty calm, but there were some pretty dark and foreboding rain clouds hanging around during the ferry ride. Fortunately, the rain wasn’t in the forecast for long and the rain moved off by the time we reached Pender Island and the clouds started breaking up. We picked up our kayaks from Pender Island Kayak Adventures at 9am and hit the water as soon as we could get them loaded up. I have to give a shout out to Pender Kayaks because their kayaks are awesome! Ours seemed like brand new to us and had really nice hatches. I was looking back at our photos of the kayaks we rented in Sechelt and they really couldn’t hold a candle to what we rented on Pender.

We launched the kayaks out of Port Browning Marina, which is located on North Pender Island, near the road that connects to South Pender Island. There’s a small canal between the two islands at their closest point and from there you kayak into Bedwell Harbour, which is essentially a bay between the two islands. Our first campsite, Beaumont, was located in Bedwell Harbour. It isn’t too far from our launch point, so we were planning to kayak all the way around South Pender Island on Saturday, but we changed our minds last minute. We started the paddle down the east side of South Pender and there was a headwind coming back at us, so we decided to ditch the long 15km paddle around the island in favour of a more chill day at the campsite.

Our change in plans involved kayaking through the Pender Canal, which was a piece of cake at the time because the tide was going out and there was a nice current pushing us through the canal (foreshadowing!). We took our time exploring both sides of Bedwell Harbour before pulling into the campsite just before noon.

Pender Island is part of the Gulf Islands and has two backcountry campsites as part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. I was really excited about the prospect of staying in a national park, but I was a little less than enamoured when we pulled the kayaks up on to the lower beach at Beaumont. In addition to their dozen backcountry sites, the reserve also has a dozen mooring buoys located in the bay where people can park their yachts. I don’t have a problem with this, it just takes away from the view a little bit when you look out into the bay and instead of the natural surroundings, all you see is a bunch of yachts. Our campsites in Sechelt Inlet had been extremely remote, with kayaks as pretty much the only way to access them, so it was just a change in pace from that – something I had to adjust to.

What was more annoying though was that the site we had pre-booked had danger tape all around it warning that the campsite was closed due to a hazardous tree. I get it, you don’t want people camping somewhere unsafe, but come on Parks Canada, don’t sell reservations on sites that are not useable. Or if this was a new thing, then at least notify me and assign me an alternate site. It was super annoying to have to walk around and find another place to camp. The sign said that overflow camping was okay, to just try and pick somewhere low impact, so we set up on the bluff, only to be told hours later by a park ranger that we couldn’t camp there either. He did find us a new site, but it was a more than frustrating experience and we were not pleased to have to move the campsite.

But that was really the only hiccup with the sites and we did still end up with an amazing site along the bluff overlooking Bedwell Harbour. It was quite busy during the day with all the yachters riding in on their little dinghies to explore the park, but come nighttime, it was pretty deserted and we had lots of privacy.

Since we had cut our kayaking short for the day, we decided to have lunch and then go on a hike in the afternoon. From Beaumont, you can hike up to Mount Norman, which is the highest point on Pender Island and has a great view of the Gulf Islands. At first it’s just a lovely little hike along the shoreline, but eventually you start climbing up to the point.

Now, it was pretty overcast and a bit windy when we kayaked in, but since then, the clouds completely moved out and we were suddenly faced with a gorgeous, completely cloudless, blue sky day. It’s only a 250 metre climb to the top of Mount Norman, so I wasn’t expecting anything too strenuous, but boy was I wrong. It’s not a technical trail by any means, but there are no switchbacks and it pretty much goes straight up to the point. Couple that with the hot and humid weather we were having, and it made from a pretty exhausting hike. It’s about 7km round trip from our campsite, but we were a puddle of sweat by the time we reached the top (to be honest, I think I was also fighting a bit of dehydration from our morning paddle).

But it was totally worth it for the view at the top! From the lookout, you could see straight over North Pender Island and out to Salt Spring and Mayne Islands. There’s no shade at the top though, so we enjoyed the view for as long as we could bare before seeking relief in the trees again. We were rewarded at the bottom though and went for a quick swim before dinner. The water was shockingly warm for the ocean and felt great on our muscles.

Our view from the bluff looks out on two small islands, although island is a generous term because at hide tide they shrink down to a collection of rocks, but it was a popular hang out location for birds (although surprisingly not seals). Seth wanted to get a closer look at them and the wind had died off completely by evening, so we went for a little sunset paddle to explore. There wasn’t much of a sunset (foreshadowing!), but it was so nice not to have to fight against any wind. After that we hit the sack and spent one of the warmest nights I can remember ever sleeping in a tent. I guess I’m used to sleeping in the alpine, which is generally cold at night, but it was so warm on Pender I don’t think I even did my bag up all night.

Day 2 had a lot more paddling in it than Day 1, but we had a little sleep-in and enjoyed a lazy breakfast looking out over the harbour. It’s hard to stay still for too long though because the water is so calm in the morning and evenings. That was probably my second biggest (foreshadowing!) lesson learned from the trip. It’s worth it to be an early riser as a kayaker because the wind tends to pick up later in the day and the water is a dream to paddle in at dawn.

But we hadn’t yet learned that lesson so we took our time on Sunday morning and it was probably around 9:45am when we finally pushed back from the beach. Our plan for Day 2 was to paddle out of Bedwell Harbour and up the outside of North Pender Island to Shingle Bay – the second backcountry campground in the reserve. It was about a 12km paddle, which we knew we had lots of time for, but would be more than we did on any one day on our last trip. We took our time paddling out of Bedwell Harbour. We paddled back to the islands and Seth was thrilled to see 2 black oystercatchers chilling on the rocks (the bird he did his Master’s thesis on). The wildlife viewing was excellent on Sunday and on the way out of the harbour we saw a number great blue herons and other birds and an otter playing on the rocks. We followed the otter for a bit as it swam along the shore and then found some islands at the end of the bay with a seal colony hanging out. We counted 7 seals on the rocks and a bunch in the water.

From there we started to make our way around the outside of the island. This was the single biggest mistake we made throughout the trip. It was a bit windy (although not too bad), but the water definitely got harder to paddle in when we rounded the corner of the island. It was still totally fine for paddling, but it’s a little more intimidating when you’re on the outside of the island with open water on the other side of you. We decided we were ready for a little break to recharge, but we’re dismayed when we couldn’t find any beaches along the coast. Which brings me to my biggest lesson learned: study your maps and know where your stopping points are.

We did have the marine chart for the area and we had given it a look, but we hadn’t adequately mapped out where we were going to stop. Our experience in Sechelt Inlet and the day before was that there are always lots of little beaches around to stop in. But around the south side of North Pender Island, it’s all steep cliffs with no beaches. It makes for scenic views, but not great when you’re getting tired and are in open water. A closer inspection of the map revealed that there weren’t really any beaches for a while. We rafted up for a bit for a little break, but your legs do start cramping up after long periods stuck in your kayak, so we soldiered on to try and get to the first beach we could see on the map, the appropriately named, Boat Nook.

I have to say, I did start getting some anxiety at this point. Seth really needed to pee, but I don’t think I was actually that tired, I just got really nervous about the lack of stopping places and the remoteness of where we were if something happened to us. The water was manageable, but it wasn’t the calmest and we did still have to work against wind and currents. I talked myself down as best I could though and we did eventually make it to the Boat Nook, which was a huge relief.

I couldn’t believe it though when I checked the time after we pulled up the beach. We hadn’t even been kayaking for 2 hours! We ended up paddling probably 9 of our 12km in just 2 hours. It had felt like we were on the water forever, but the anxiety had just made it seem longer than it was. It wasn’t even noon yet, but we wanted a nice long break, so we decided to have an early lunch. There wasn’t much paddling left after that, so we had a leisurely paddle to Shingle Bay.

It’s hard to say which campsite I liked better. Shingle Bay was pretty much just a meadow and orchard, so it didn’t have much privacy, but I liked the vibe there a lot better than at Beaumont, which had been dominated by the people in their yachts. Shingle Bay was really chill. There’s a bunch of apple trees in the orchard and there was a family of deer that hung around all day eating fallen apples. It was low tide when we arrived, so Seth spent some time exploring the tide pools and I did a bit of reading.

What did surprise me about Pender Island though was the lack of kayakers. Sechelt Inlet had pretty much been exclusively kayakers, but because of the nature of the campsites being located on an inhabited island, there were all sorts of people at the campsites, none of which were kayakers. We saw a few people out for day trips, but the two nights we were out, Seth and I were the only people that kayaked to the campsite. People at Beaumont either hiked in or came by yacht, and everyone else at Shingle Bay hiked in. It was a bit odd though because while the campsite is promoted as a backcountry site, apparently it’s not very far from the parking lot, so everyone was carting in all this fancy car camping gear like grills and coolers in wagons.

We hadn’t planned to go out paddling again, but everyone was crowded out on the point to watch the sunset, and we decided it would be more enjoyable to watch it from the water, so we decided to go for another evening paddle. Best choice ever! I didn’t think the sunset was going to be that great because it was pretty cloudy, but it ended up being incredible and lasted for ages! It started off as golden yellow and then changed to pinky-purples, before going a deep red/orange at the end. It made for some really gorgeous photos on the water and we saw a few porpoises as we were paddling around.

We had an early night again though because we had a big day ahead of us on Monday. We had to undo all the paddling we’d done over the past 2 days, about 15km, and we had to do in all in time to catch the 3pm ferry back to Vancouver. We got up at 6am and were on the water by about 7:15am. This was one of the best decisions we made all weekend and really cemented the lesson that the water is best in the early morning. It was slightly choppy right when we started paddling, but it was only because we started just as the tide was changing, after that it was dead calm on the water.

We took a short break again at Boat Nook to prepare for the long section, but the kayaking was a dream this time around! It was so calm, we cut through the water so easily and we saw so much wildlife! We saw tons of otters, seals, and birds, and were again joined by 2 porpoises. There was still some mist hanging over the water and it made for some really gorgeous photos against the rocks. It was a totally different experience than the day before, thank goodness.

We had planned to stop at Beaumont for an early lunch, but we made such great time on the way there that it was still too early. So we stopped in for a pee break and then decided to make an attempt at the channel. We asked Pender Kayaks about the channel when we picked up the kayaks and they said it could be challenging when the tide is going down (which is was), but we didn’t have much choice but to make an attempt at it. As soon as we got close you could tell there was a current, which tried to turn us around, so we stuck to the edge of the channel. The hardest section though is going under the bridge because all the water funnels through the piers and it’s quite strong. That was the hardest part for sure and was pretty exhausting. I was making progress through the opening, but it was definitely a challenge to make any headway and my arms were so tired.

Fortunately there’s a beach just to the left of the channel when you exit, so we made a beeline there for a quick break before crossing the rest of the channel and landing on a beach on the north end of South Pender Island. We had lunch there and enjoyed the last few moments of the trip before kayaking back through the marina and returning the kayaks.

So it was definitely an eventful trip, as evidenced by the length of this post! It was only our second trip, but I definitely feel we learned a little something new every time. Our paddling skills are definitely improving and hopefully we’ll continue to get more planning savvy as we continue. It was a lot different than Sechelt Inlet and I’m pressed to say which one I enjoyed more. Sechelt is definitely more remote, but we saw so much wildlife on this trip and I felt that there was a lot of variety between campsites and paddles. There’s a ton more campsites to explore in the Gulf Islands, so we’ll definitely have to go back!

Categories: Life in British Columbia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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