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On the way back from Moteuka – a memory of New Zealand

On the way back to Motueka I picked up a young English hitchhiker by the name of Sam. He’d just spent two days rock climbing at Paynes Ford, a limestone cliff with such evocatively named climbing routes as Gobble Gobble Yum Yum, Send A Gorilla and Stoned Monkey . If climbers were allowed to name the rest of the planet, you can’t help feeling, the world would be a much more colourful place.

 

Sam took my nose into totally new territory. A combination of strong physical exertion, several days of wilderness camping in manly company and the natural reluctance of youth to plunge into cold water with soap had given Sam an aroma you could carve. I gave thanks that it was a warmish day, and I could drive with the windows open. Apart from the damage to my nostrils, Sam was a delight, high spirited, talkative and bubbling over with enthusiasm with his new-found passion for rock climbing. He was on a working holiday, presently apple picking, and hating it, but he only had another week to go before he had enough cash to hit the road again.

 

I spent the night in Motueka, at the delightfully named Ashley Troubadour Motel, run by John and Coral Horton. As she led me to my quarters Carol told me I was very tall and I said it was the high heels and she was kind enough to laugh. When she flung open the bedroom door and asked if the bed was big enough, I asked if she had any good looking sisters to share it with me and she thought me quite the rake. I was grinning like an idiot, overcome at so much flattering womanly attention. As she was going out the door of my room her walking frame caught in the patio door runner and she had to be rescued.

 

The next day was miserable, the grey sky leaking rain, and I thought there was a good chance the kayak trip I’d planned would be abandoned and I could spend the day warm and dry in the car but there on the beach at Kaiteriteri was my guide, Pania, verbally cuffing me into action with contagious good spirits. There were nine of us including Pania, and from the beach we waded out to a speedboat that took us from the southern end of the Abel Tasman National Park to Bark Bay, which lies about midway along the park’s coastline.

 

My kayak buddy was Annie, who I liked instantly, but then you cannot fail to like a person who is dressed exactly as you are in a life jacket over a damp, flaring neoprene paddling skirt – an outfit that resembles a Victorian corset, with a similar comfort level. I asked if she came from Canada, because when there’s an element of doubt, it’s better to mistake an American for Canadian than the other way round. “No but I wish I did,” she told me with endearing candour. She came from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and she cocked an eyebrow and told me I’d better not make any jokes that involved the word “mini”. “See that?” she said, bunching her arm, “that’s mostly muscle,” and indeed, Annie was a woman of Junoesque proportions. She was in her early 20s, at the tail end of a year in New Zealand, and soon to return home to study to become a midwife. “I’ll steer,” she said, and there was no argument.

 

We paddled around nuggety headlands where the sea sloshed and sucked at granite shelves, past gannets arrowing into the water, past seals and beaches stained with iron ore, which gives them an enticing golden colour. There’s majesty in this place, and the cockpit of a sea kayak is the way to see it. Despite the weather, I regretted that it wasn’t longer than a day trip. What could be finer than surfing onto a beach in the afternoon, breaking out the wine, flinging a few sausages on the fuel stove and sharing salty tales with your fellow kayakers?

 

Sea kayaking is voyaging for sybarites. A kayak will get you places where nothing else but a helicopter can, with a payload that hikers can’t even consider, like fold-up chairs and an espresso coffee maker and bottles of sauvignon blanc. You can even take a pillow, and camping with a pillow is the acme of outdoor deluxe. Of course, in Abel Tasman National Park you won’t be alone. This is the most popular sea kayak spot in all of New Zealand, and since the number of potential campsites is limited on these wild shores – and you might be sharing them with hikers as well – things can get a little tight.

 

In the afternoon we rafted our five kayaks together, hoisted a nylon sheet and sailed from Adele Island across the broad mouth of Sandy Bay. At the southern end of the bay we paddled around in some caves by Split Apple Rock, which is truly wondrous, a granite sphere perhaps five metres high which has been cleaved straight through the middle. To me it looked more like a walnut than an apple but it’s one of those iconic bits of geology that has been used to sell all kinds of messages, from divorce to Barclays Bank Wealth financial planning. Pania told us a complicated Maori story about the rock, which involved a princess, a king and a warrior, but Annie kept paddling me around the rocky islet on which it sits and so I only got the story in snatches. There were mugs of hot chocolate waiting for us when we got back to the beach at Kaiteriteri. As we said our farewells, Annie gave me a peck on the cheek and for a while I felt quite faint. For a soggy day, it had turned out just fine.

 




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