Posted by: thezedword | March 20, 2009

Kayaking Kaiteriteri

img_2424I’ve been trying for a few weeks to figure out how to condense our entire trip so that it would be both fun for me to write about and for you guys to read about. At first I thought about chronicling each day, which would have taken me forever and it also would have been incredibly boring. So, instead, I’ll limit myself to the most fun adventures and the most interesting sights. First up, kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park.

Standing on Kaiteriteri Beach, Stacy asked an important question.

“There are seals in the park right?” The park being Able Tasman National Park, through which we were about to depart on a 17.5 km (10.8 mile) kayak trip.

“That’s what they said.” I replied.

“Well, are there things that eat sharks?” she asked, referring to the those massive, airborne Great Whites so often featured on the Discovery Channel.

When we booked out trip on the Kiwi Experience, we had been told over the next few weeks we’d probably see sheep, seals, dolphin, whales, kia, kiwi, penguins, deer, glow worms, caves, fjords, glaciers, mountains and we’d also have the chance to go bungi jumping, kayaking, skydiving, hiking on said glaciers, surfing and maybe even jet skiing. We’d heard that the Kiwi Experience was sometimes more like the Bus-Crash-Into-A-Ditch Experience, but shark attacks were not part of any itinerary.

Here to keep us safe was The Great Balzini. While we lathered on sunscreen and sized our lifejackets, the manager of Kaiteriteri Kayaks walked over to an old Ford Taurus-hatchback-looking car, cranked up some gypsy music and asked us to gather around the trailer that held the kayaking equipment. Suddenly the door rolled up and out jumped a man dressed in a leotard, a fake mustache and enough bronzer to make even the palest Albino look tan.

He was the Great Balzini and promised the greatest show of strength in any hemisphere. He broke a paddle in half right in the middle (conveniently where the little clicky button is that holds the two halves together resides) then reattached it using nothing but his strength. For his next trick, he took that paddle, attached two huge bags filled with life jackets to either end and lifted them with ease. He donned a lifejacket, asked someone to sit in a kayak, then dragged the kayak behind him, without breaking a sweat, though that may have been because the bronzer blocked his pores. He then announced that for his last act, he would crush seven steel drums under his feet. He lined up seven Tui beer cans in the sand. “If these steel drums seem small it is only because my huge muscles make them look that way,” he said, then stomped on each one until they were flat and sandy. We applauded and he bowed.

Minutes later The Great Balzini returned, this time sans mustache and he was dressed like your average kayak guide, save for the rainbow-colored beanie he was wearing. The strong man routine had been a right of passage for Scotty, the muscular guide who would lead our group today, and his reward for performing successfully was the rainbow beanie, an accoutrement given only to senior kayak guides.

After a long, bumpy water-taxi ride towards to the starting point, Scotty went over the basics of kayaking and I posed Stacy’s question to him.

“What, you mean like great whites?”


“No, the seals live here because the sharks don’t come in here. Either because it’s too cold or too shallow. I’m not really sure. Orca’s come in a few times a year, but that’s pretty rare.”

Scotty, our guide, and his rainbow beanie.

Scotty, our guide, and his rainbow beanie.

While I questioned Scotty’s credentials as a marine biologist, that he lived long enough to don a rainbow beanie and call himself a senior guide was enough proof to me that creatures that eat seals do not eat kayaks in these parts.

We then hopped in Desi, the name I gave our kayak, perhaps because being on a small raft in the open sea reminds me of my fellow Cubans or because I had just listened to “Cuban Pete” on my iPod. In any event, we took from the beach and started our full-day trip back to the beach from which we departed. With us were two Brit-Canadian teams. The first was made up of Monique, an extremely fit and energetic Canadian, and Kerry, an extremely unfit and whiny Brit. In the other vessel, Canuck Candice and Brit Cameron paddled together.

Before long, we spotted the first wildlife of the day. Ahead of us, something dark floated in the water and Scotty went to get a closer look. He reached in and pulled out a bird and held it up by its wings, showing us a blue penguin. It was dead at the time. Scotty plopped it back in, we paddled over some rolling waves and into a calm inlet. We got our quick peek at the lush forest of the Abel Tasman National Park, the granite boulders that dot its shores and a large waterfall that came down through the park and emptied right in front of us. A few hours earlier or later and we wouldn’t have been able to see it; the tidal change would have left a large sand bank in place of the inlet we passed through.

And the tides in these parts were pretty drastic. A day before in Nelson, I stood at the steps of the cathedral, looked west and decided I wanted to see the beach before dinner. Stacy told me if I had been awake earlier on the bus ride in I would have known that there was no beach. I squinted, pointed, swore there was a beach right there and she said, “Fine, we’ll walk over there.”

Twenty minutes later I was standing on sand but it wasn’t a beach. It may have been at one time, maybe a few hours earlier. At present it was just a big, huge, expanse of sand and there was no water anywhere in sight save for a few lonely puddles. Crashed up on the reeds was a yellow sail boat, its mast tied down to the cabin and its unnecessary anchor was jammed into the ground about fifty yards away. Nearby the remains of another ship’s hull were scattered on the sand, next to a sign that read “DANGER! WRECK SUBMERGED AT HIGH TIDE”. I walked lightly over the mud towards a stranded sailboat, this one resting on its keel and held upright by metal poles dug into the sand. It wasn’t long before I had to chose between venturing all the way out to the boat or investing some serious time in cleaning mud off the only pair of sneakers I had. I settled for materialism over curiosity.

From where I turned back I could see two more vessels, one small motorboat even further out listing on its side, and a catamaran to my left that rested comfortably on its two hulls.  Walking back towards the shore, I found a set of footprints in the sand that came from the sailboat, which lead me to think that the person who got it stuck in the first place got a little claustrophobic and visited downtown Nelson, or someone else wore a pair of sneakers they valued less than I did my own and went all the way out to the boat, or a future version of myself chose this very location to deliver an urgent message to the present version of me, but since the present me is late very often, he was too early and returned to the future when he got tired of waiting around.

The stranded sailboat.

The stranded sailboat.

An hour or so later, Stacy and I were on top of a hill at the geographic center of New Zealand (GCONZ) looking back down at the “beach”. We had returned from the beach to take full advantage of a free beer tasting at our hostel, though our plans changed when Monique, Cameron, Candace, Kerry and a few others wanted to visit GCONZ. So off we hiked, chasing behind Monique as she powered up the hills, cheerleading Kerry, marveling at the views, listening to Cameron offer up the trivia that all the grass he had seen around was grass from England. From a top GCONZ, we could see the “beach” we were standing on before was actually the mouth to a river, one we had crossed on the way to the shore, and it was easy to see from its banks that it was as much affected by the tides as the boats stranded in the sand.

The small stuck motorboat.

The small stuck motorboat.

We could also see water started to move back in over the sand we had stood on not long before. Not too far past our “beach” we spied a long, thick strip of land between the ocean and the land. I’m no oceanographer, but I think it helped create a somewhat unreliable channel, that often leaves boats landlocked for 12 hours. We hiked past a group of sheep that were kind enough to let me take pictures of them and a spot that was either a pasture or where airplanes fly over to empty their bathrooms (the cow pies were the size of pizzas!), and we were on top of a hill neighboring GCONZ. By this time, the small stranded motor boat floated on the surface of the water, the tide was slowly rising up the keel of the sailboat and if anyone was inside the boat wrecked on the reeds, they still had a long way to wait before they’d be free.

The owner was careful to anchor the boat.

The owner was careful to anchor the boat.

The huge catamaran that was also stranded.

The huge catamaran that was also stranded.

We were spared such a fate in Abel Tasman while kayaking. After giving us some time to take pictures, Scotty led us back out past the penguin, over some rolling waves and announced our next destination: a seal sanctuary. We couldn’t get very close; seal rules stipulated that we had to keep 20-feet between us and the rocks the seals sunbathed on. Wet, they are easy animals to spot, both by sight and smell. Dry and sleeping, they look exactly like the rocks they’re on top of. Most were sleeping, occasionally we heard a pup crying. Scotty said it was around the time of year when pups are born, so they were crying for their motherseals to come and feed them. The motherseals didn’t seem to care very much. One swam near us, a few more, including enormous, fat, lardy bulls lounged around on the rocks, soaking up the sun. In a few months, the pups would be larger and would act more like playful teenagers. Scotty said they’re fond of nibbling on anything that hangs off a kayak, will bump into them and will climb on the back and pose for a photo. All unprovoked and unrewarded, just for fun.

We still had many hours of kayaking ahead of us, we tucked our cameras back into our waterproof bags and Scotty pulled out a tarp from his. We lined up our three kayaks, hooked the tarp up to our oars, held them up, made a sail and rocketed away. We covered about 2 km and did it so fast, Scotty had to yell for us to stop, tie up and let us drag him. Even the Great Balzini’s muscles were no match for New Zealand’s wind. Before too long, we dropped the sail and paddled into the beach.

Scotty made us coffee and Milo and served up some wraps and sandwiches. We reapplied sunscreen (very important in the harsh Kiwi Sun), went for swims in the cool water, admired the huge boulders, laid on the sand that looked like couscous (I’m told it’s because the sand is all eroded marble), then took off again. This was about the time Scotty announced that by the end of the day, we’d have kayaked 17.5 km. It was not something our driver, Nancy (a male), had mentioned when he passed around a clip board and signed people up for the excursion the day before. A few complaints from Kerry and others bought us another short, 15-minute break, then we paddled towards Kaiteriteri Beach, still some four hours away. We attempted to sail again, though abandoned the endeavor when we’d discovered the winds had changed and the three kayaks nearly capsized at the same time. We tucked the tarp away, then Scotty pointed at a white house and said “Paddle towards that, it’s where we want to go.” He might as well have asked us to paddle back to the North Island, it looked about as far. On a side note, even though it was a national park, there are a good number of homes still there. There is no real electrical grid through the park and many don’t have indoor plumbing, but they have a killer view and, if you built your house there long enough ago, the potential to clean up some serious dough; Scotty pointed out one smaller house that was built for $100,000 was sold for $7.5 million.

Our group photo at the end of the trip.

Our group photo at the end of the trip.

By the end of the day we were all tired, none more than Kerry, who claimed to have been so exhausted she passed out, yet managed to keep moving her arms and paddling. On the beach, she refused to speak to anyone, opting instead to incessantly suck on her water bottle, and only communicate through nodding or shaking her head. The driver/kayak guide who picked us up at the hostel in the morning drove us back and Kerry got on the bus, ran to the back and laid down across the big seat and went immediately to sleep. I think, just for a moment, I saw her sucking her thumb.

Later that night Stacy and I tried to get our own sleep. We had rented hired a double room in the hostel and she read her book while I jotted down notes about the day. I just rediscovered this interesting fact, that I couldn’t find a way to go back and work into the post. There are heaps of apple orchards in the valleys between Nelson and Able Tasman. The owners of these orchards have upset the people who live in the houses up on the hillsides because they have covered their orchards with bright red netting. The idea is that the red nets will make the apples more red. From what I remember of physics, when you see the red in the skin of an apple, it’s actually because red is the only color the apple is reflecting; it absorbs all the others. So, in the case of the netting, red nets above red apples means less red light actually gets to those apples, because the color red is reflected away by the net. Maybe that was the point, who knows. It just didn’t make any sense to me.

Anyways, as I finished my notes of the day, Stacy and I found it impossible to fall asleep. Not because we were overly tired, not because we were so excited from the day, it was because the wedding downstairs had moved on from nuptials to midnight karaoke. Between Kiwi renditions of Johnny Cash and Britney Spears, I wrote down this: “Kiwis suck at karaoke.” That may be a sweeping generalization, but at midnight, after a long, breathtaking, awesome, tiresome kayak trip, it seemed pretty self-evident.

An amphibious vehicle at Kaiteriteri Beach.

An amphibious vehicle at Kaiteriteri Beach.



  1. You keep writin’ and I’ll keep readin’. Good stuff.

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