Kayaks and Caves in Kaiteriteri

Kayaks and Caves in Kaiteriteri

I woke excited for the day. Today I was swapping pedalling for paddling to spend the day on the water exploring the coastline and bays of the Astrolabe alongside the Abel Tasman National Park. It is New Zealand's smallest national park which is named after Abel Tasman, the first European said to have discovered New Zealand in 1642. A dutchman, he named it after the dutch province of Zeeland. Given that four of his men were killed in his attempts to engage with the local Maori and he didn't actually set foot on land in the region, it's surprising that the area bears his name. Then in 1770 Englishman Captain Cook sailed here, couldn't see the land due to the weather and charted the area as Blind Bay before finally in 1827 Frenchman Jules Dumont D'Urville came and landed here in his vessel Astrolabe from which the area gets it's name.

Walking the fifteen minutes to the beach where I would meet my guide and group for the day I took advantage of the early hour to call my Dad (thirteen hours behind NZ time). It was lovely catching up with him but worrying to hear the news of the coronavirus that was taking hold in Europe. Arriving at the beach my worries melted away as I watched the sunrise welcome the day.

Good morning world

Further up the beach I met my guide, Mitchell from Kaiteriteri Kayaks and the other five people that would make up our group for the day. We then boarded a boat that took us north up the coast to Anchorage where we would start our paddle from. It was overcast and cool but as long as it stayed dry then I was happy!

The Astrolabe coastline

With everyone kitted up and briefed on safety we were paired up in double kayaks. I've only ever kayaked solo and so was apprehensive about having to rely on Amanda from Colorado as my paddling partner. It's been a good few years since I last took to the water and I'd forgotten just how much I enjoyed the motion of paddling. Amanda seemed nice enough although she didn't seem overly enthusiastic about the paddling aspect of the trip and I'm sure she spent most of her time taking photographs whilst I provided the paddling power.

What a way to travel

We hugged the coastline as rounded Te Puteaka Bay passing Watering Cove and Observation Beach. Seeing the land from the water was a refreshing change of scenery and the beaches looked idyllic with orange sands set against the bright blue of the sea and the vivid green backdrop of the bush.

Beautiful beaches

Landing at Akerston Bay we had a nice picnic lunch on the beach. Sandwiches, cookies and a cuppa hit the spot and we had some time to relax, swim and explore.

The sun had appeared and was warming the day although there was a slight breeze that was enough to put me off swimming as I hadn't brought my towel. It is definitely a few degrees cooler here on the South Island and I found myself wishing for a long sleeved t-shirt once we'd stopped paddling.

Back in the kayaks I was now in the rear and controlling the steering. Amanda had nowhere to hide now as I could see her every stroke of the paddle. She was most certainly fading and we were only halfway through the day. Spending the day using only my arms was a novelty for me and I couldn't help but feel that my legs were laughing at my arms as they coasted along doing very little.

Paddle power

Paddling over to Adele Island we saw some of the local seal population there. Then it was time to test out a sail, something I'd never heard of being done before with kayaks. Mitchell produced a sail, got us all to hold onto the kayak next to us and then rigged the sail up on both mine and Fred's paddle. Hoisting the paddles with the girls in the front holding the other end of the sail we were now a boat sailing in the wind (what little of it there was!). Not really moving far or fast it was at least a nice break from paddling as we cruised and took in the scenery around us.

We are sailing, we are sailing...

Back to arm power we rounded the next bay to Split Apple Rock. A large granite boulder in the shape of an apple, it is split very neatly in half due to water seeping into the cracks and then expanding when frozen causing the break. Mitchell our guide told us the more interesting story from the Maori that involved a fight between the god of the water and the god of the land. They both believed the rock belonged to them as one found it when the tide was high and the other found it when the tide was low and the boulder was sat on the land and in their fight for ownership of it the rock was struck and split in two, at which point neither of them wanted it anymore.

Split Apple Rock

Our final stretch of paddling allowed us to explore a couple of little caves in the shallows around the bay.

Arriving back at Kaiteriteri beach after a day on the water it seemed strange to get up and use my legs. A great day in the kayak with a very knowledgeable guide - it made me think about getting back into kayaking when I get home as I think I'd rather enjoy guiding on the water as well as on land.

Returning to the campsite I felt exhausted, these 'rest' days are pretty hardcore, haha! I didn't relish the thought of being back on the bike again the following day and so I made the decision to spend another day in Kaiteriteri and booked another night at the holiday park. After all, I am the queen of my own destiny on this trip!

As another day dawned I lay in my little cocoon of warmth and revelled in the knowledge that I wouldn't be going far today. Rather annoyingly my bladder hadn't gotten the memo on a lie in and so forced me up to trudge to the loo. Making my porride and tea I took it back to my pit and enjoyed my breakfast in bed. To top off the morning I rang my brother and spoke to him and my two nieces which brought a big smile to my face.

I'd decided to ride ten miles to visit the local Ngarua Caves in the Takaka Hills. Riding off on a very lightweight Betty felt odd but nice and I was rather glad of it an hour and a half and ten miles of uphill later. I'm really not very good at resting on my days off, haha!

There were only two of us on the tour at noon as Dave our cave guide opened the locked door to the entrance and made us don a hard hat. Leading us down the steps into the cave he explained that the caves were around three hundred and fifty million years old. They'd been pushed six hundred metres above sea level in that time and this cave system was two hundred and eighty metres long. The cave was twenty metres high and you could see the roots from some of the trees above dangling in the air above.

Tree roots dangle from the cave roof

Venturing further into the caves the formations were pretty impressive. Stalagmites forming from the ground up and stalagtites growing down from the ceiling were connecting in places and forming pillars.

We were then shown the bones of the extinct Moa bird which was found in the cave. They didn't live below ground and so would have fallen through an opening above into the cave and been unable to get out. I'd seen a replica of the Moa in the Te Papa museum back in Wellington and it was a very large bird. It was a flightless bird and once man arrived in New Zealand they hunted it to extinction within two hundred years.

Small and giant Moa bones

Entering a part of the cave known as the Cathedral it was hard not to gasp in awe at the formations.

The Cathedral

Emerging from the cave via a ladder out into the lush green fields was a cool way to finish the tour. The stones around the fields are all marble and the landscape is very different to what I'd seen so far on the South Island. Dave reliably informed me that they'd filmed part of the Hobbit movie here as well.

Daylight again

It was twelve miles back to the campsite and ten of those were downhill, but first I stopped off at Hawkes lookout to take in the view of the coastline and the Kahurnagi National Park.

I flew the rest of the way down the hill on smooth tarmac roads. The wind in my hair, I enjoyed the curving roads on an unladen bike and the adrenaline was still pumping as I continued to the flat road below. Stopping at a local farm stall I was thrilled to find that it wasn't all bulk-buy and I grabbed a giant courgette, a freshly picked corn on the cob and a couple of ripe and juicy tomatoes all for the grand total of $2.50 (£1.25), bargain central. Riding to the shop to grab some pasta, I enjoyed a wonderful fresh dinner that made a refreshing change from Uncle Ben's rice. I haven't seen many vegetables at all in the last six weeks and I felt revitalised and energised just looking at some colour in a meal instead of the usual bland beige.


By evening time I was getting itchy feet and looking forward to continuing my journey south. I'd spent three nights here which is my longest stint in one place so far in the last six weeks but it was time to get back on the road and head south to rejoin the TA route in Tapawera.