Birthday Celebration!

Birthday Girl!

Birthday Girl!

It was Mandy’s birthday, so the day needed to be special.  We woke up early and drove thirty minutes to Abel Tasman National Park, where we rented a sea kayak and paddled out into a beautiful morning at Tasman Bay.  As the sun rose over the ocean, it warmed the lush forest, sandy white beaches, and pure blue waters surrounding us.

We paddled steadily toward our destination: a small seal colony located on an island about a half mile offshore.  The exposed ocean off the coast is known for rough currents, heavy waves, and strong headwinds, so we planned to follow the coastline for as long as possible and shoot across the open water at the narrowest point.

The day grew hotter, causing the wind to pick up and the sea to turn choppy.  We’ve sea kayaked a few times, but we’re not much more than beginners.  Soon, our arms were burning from the exertion.  Thankfully there were countless beautiful beaches along the way.  They were accessible only by sea and we had them almost entirely to ourselves.

After ninety minutes we pulled onto a small white sand beach directly opposite the seal colony.  We explored and relaxed in the sun, all while giving our arms a needed rest.  Refreshed, we loaded everything back into the kayak, checked out a nearby sea cave, and then headed out into open water.

taking a break on a secluded beach

taking a break on a secluded beach

break's over - packing back up

Break’s over, packing up…

heading back out!

…and heading back out.

The paddle was harder than we’d expected.  Gusting winds and ocean swells converged in the channel where they competed for dominance in a disorderly free-for-all.  Waves pounded the kayak from all sides making it tough to keep a steady line.

We dug deep into our energy reserves to complete the crossing.  At first we couldn’t spot any seals and it seemed that all of our hard work was for nothing.  But eventually, one pup hopped up onto a boulder to sunbathe.  Once the spell was broken, seal sightings became constant.  Adults lazed in the sun, while most of the pups played along the rocky shore.

Mandy paddling through choppy water near the seal island.

Mandy paddling through choppy seas near the seal island.

seal sighting!

seal sighting!

We made our way back leisurely, because that was as fast as we could paddle.  The hot afternoon sun was taking its toll as well, and another hidden beach beckoned to us.  It was the perfect lunch spot and we enjoyed doing nothing for an hour, except taking in the stunning views.

By the time we completed our last leg of the journey, we’d been gone almost eight hours.  We were exhausted, half paddling, half hoping the waves would carry us in.  It had been high tide when we’d left in the morning.  Now, the tide was almost all the way out and we were stuck 500 yards from the original shoreline.  Fortunately, there were tractors on the beach hauling kayaks up to the trailers stationed on the road.  We loaded the kayak onto the tractor, our bare feet sinking into the soft sand as we walked slowly behind it..  The tractor soon passed us headed in the opposite direction to resume its position at the water’s edge, awaiting the remaining kayakers as they wearily straggled in.

It was a sweatier and saltier birthday present than Mandy, or I, had imagined.  Luckily, Gerdie (our new RV) had a built-in shower and we both showered right there in the parking lot before hitting the road.  It was a decent shower,, but under the circumstances, with exhausted bodies and aching muscles, plus skin desiccated by the combination of intense sun and a heavy coating of salt and sand, it ranks as one of the best showers I’ve ever had.   Unfortunately, I’d parked us on an incline, causing most of the water to flow out of the shower rather than down into the drain.  Lesson learned.

Birthday dinner: (green-lipped) mussels and frites!

Birthday dinner in Havelock: (green-lipped) mussels and frites!

Clean(er), half-dry, and famished, we made our way to the town of Havelock.  The area is famous for their green-lipped mussels and we stopped for Mandy’s birthday dinner at the Mussel Pot.  Then we continued a bit further to the town of Blenheim, where we checked into our campground and fell immediately into the deepest state of total sleep.  Happy Birthday!  Snore!

The next morning, we rented bikes and headed into town.  After a few attempts to find a place where Mandy could watch the Oscars (no dice), we headed off to the region’s famous wineries for Mandy’s birthday bonus.  The first place we visited, Cloudy Bay, is what all wineries should be like.  They have a beautiful tasting area with a well-informed staff, but still maintain a laid-back vibe.

vineyards near Blenheim, NZ

vineyards near Blenheim, NZ

Let the wine tasting begin!

Let the wine tasting begin! 

Of course, it always helps if the wines are amazing — these were.  Following the tasting, we bought a bottle of Riesling and headed for the swings that hung from towering trees on the edge of the vineyard.  We decided that any place which took so much care in cultivating their wines and maintaining the grounds must have good food, too.  Soon, we had an amazing arugula and prosciutto pizza to accompany our alcohol as two hours passed lazily by.

Mandy + Riesling at Cloudy Bay Winery

Mandy + Riesling at Cloudy Bay Winery

grapes underneath netting to protect them from the birds

Grapes underneath netting to protect them from birds (and humans?).  I had heard grapes for making wine don’t taste that great fresh off the vine.  If I had tried one, I’d tell you that wasn’t true at all.

Can't imagine a better place for a bottle of wine and a handmade pizza.

Can’t imagine a better place for a bottle of wine and a handmade pizza.

Over the next days we went on a few more coastal hikes as we casually made our way back to Christchurch.  Although we were wrapping up our South Island motorhome tour, our NZ adventure was far from over.  Physically and mentally we were making preparations…soon we’d be heading south to Fjordlands National Park for one of the most legendary hikes in the world, a four-day backcountry trek, the Milford Track.

Seal pup at Ohau Point

Seal pup at Ohau Point

More seals at Ohau Point

More seals at Ohau Point

Ohau Waterfall

Ohau Waterfall

Nin's Bin (near Ohau Point)

Nin’s Bin (near Ohau Point)

someone's excited for lunch!

someone’s excited for lunch!

Our final stop was Hanmer Springs, a quaint mountain town with natural thermal pools.  Mandy and I sat in the warm waters, relaxing our muscles and minds.  We left the hot springs refreshed and refocused.  As we walked back to the campground, the warm evening turned invigoratingly cool.  We feasted on the last of our home cooking and finished off our collection of New Zealand cider, enjoying (with a tinge of sadness) the last night in our cozy motorhome.

relaxing in Hanmer Springs

relaxing in Hanmer Springs

a quick dip - the "lazy" river was actually moving pretty quick

followed by a quick dip in the “lazy” river (which was actually moving pretty quick)

quick game of tag in the lazy river

a game of lazy river tag

Back to the campground via the park

Late night walk back to the campground through the park 

Full Gallery, click to enlarge pictures:

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