New Experiences, New Zealand, Travel
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Nelson, NZ: Divorce Kayaks and the Abel Tasman Coastal Trek

(Click here to see more of our pictures from Nelson)



STOP!!!! You’re paddling BACKWARDS!”

I yelled instructions at Shru while furiously trying to steer our kayak in the Tasman Sea. At this point, we were sideways and between two very large, jagged boulders with waves smashing against us. We had been fighting hard to keep our kayak straight against 3ft swells and 20-30 mph head winds for the last 30 minutes.   Our arms felt like jelly and we thought that any moment a wave was going to flip over our kayak.

Calm before the storm: The Happy Couple

Abel Tasman Track: We kayaked from Marahau to Anchorage through the Mad Mile

Just a couple of hours ago, it was a picture perfect day – blue skies and a sea of glass. We set off on our 3 day trek (1 day kayak and 2 days hike) from the town of Marahau located at the entrance of Abel Tasman National Park.  Our kayaking leg would start at the bottom of the Abel Tasman coast line and run for about 12-13kms AGAINST the current (we also decided to go around Adele and Fisherman islands in the hopes of seeing seals and other wildlife).  The trip should take approximately 4 hours in good conditions according to the guide at the base.  Most of the kayak trips depart from the top of the coastline returning to Marahau so that novices get the aid of the wind.  Unfortunately, to set up the “easier – going with the current” option  you have to book a couple of days in advance so they can arrange a water taxi which could transport you and the kayak to the top of the coastline.

beautiful morning and unsuspecting Troups

During the morning safety briefing session, our kayak instructor did remind us that although it was a nice day, the fact that it was sunny and warm might induce sea breezes later in the day as the colder ocean air races in to fill the voids left by the rising warm air on the land.   We sort of wrote this off as a CYA disclaimer considering how calm the conditions were.

packing all our luggage in the kayak

But then, only a few hours later, Shru found herself the front seat passenger in a water roller coaster ride with waves smashing her face and the salt water peppering her eyes and me in the safety of the back of the kayak, barking orders like I actually know what I’m doing.  Great!  How were we going to get out of this one?

”Right..Left..Faster…Harder on the Left, I mean the Right,” I yelled through the gusty wind.

“Can’t we just turn around and go back? We are going to flip over soon!  My hands are numb and I can barely hold the paddles at this point,” Shru yelled back.

I’m thinking to myself, “Go back?! Give up?!  These are not acceptable outcomes for Gupta-Troups”.  This is surely just a test of our will-power and we will not just fail.  We can get through this together.

first signs of sea breeze.  We had to put our camera away after a while..

During the compulsory 1hr lesson on proper safety and paddling technique, or ‘pedaling’ as the Kiwi’s call it, our instructor told Shru and I that he likes to call them ‘Divorce Kayaks’ because of how quickly things can go downhill when couples start losing their patience and stop communicating. Yep… that about captured it.

Taking a break in a sheltered cove before heading into the Mad Mile around the big rocks

We were along a stretch of coastline called the ‘Mad Mile’ by the local kayak tour guides, not because they, as experienced paddlers, have a problem navigating it as much as they probably end up having to tow the tourists through it when the wind picks up like it did on us this particular day.  Since, we were going solo and unguided, there would be no such luxury for us.  In fact, the guide might have even mentioned that tourists were given crash helmets in the past before taking on the Mad Mile…Hmmmm, now it is all coming together.

Pumped up on adrenaline, our survival mode kicked in and before our kayak could get swept away in the sea or crash into the rocks, we got it right-sided. Shru started to paddle harder than ever and we got into a Gupta-Troup groove.  Shru helped navigate through the rocks and we slowly started to inch forward. However, even then, if we took a 5 second break from paddling we’d find ourselves moving backward or turning sideways, so this was still feeling about as fruitless as walking up an escalator going down.

I started thinking about the fact that we had only seen two other kayak tandems during the day.  One was a German duo who were so synchronized that we assumed they were part of a rowing squad and second was a monstrous Australian couple who were grunting and flexing as they flew past us 20 mins before through the same waves.  And here we were –  me 150lbs soaking wet with only a little kayaking experience and Shru 90lbs with very little experience with water sports and sort of afraid of water. “Nice job getting us into this one genius,” I thought.

To the safety of Anchorage Bay finally!

Eventually we made it around the exposed shoreline to the safety of Anchorage Bay.  We were both exhausted but so happy that we had just overcome a tremendous obstacle together. Dry land never felt sweeter even though it was full of sand flies (as we would find out 20 mins after we arrived at the beach). Now for the easy part – 2 days of hiking along the coast (total of 17 miles).

Divorce Kayaks 0  ; Gupta-Troup 1

Day 2-3 Hiking in Abel Tasman

The 2-day hiking leg of the Abel Tasman trek took us through more of a jungle landscape than the fairy-land forests we found during the Milford Trek.  We were traversing ridges of mountains running along the coastline, so naturally in NZ we ran into numerous beautiful beaches run amuck with sandflies.  When the winds were up though, the sandflies were beat down and we were left with miles of deserted, tranquil beach coves ripe for exploration.

desolate beaches

estuaries during low tide..

One oddity that confounded us at time was the low-tide estuary crossings that were dotted throughout the length of the trek.  At high-tide the water from the Tasman Sea would rush in through river channels and bring water levels up considerably.  Crossings that were 5ft wide and 3-4inches deep at low-tide might become 100-200m wide and neck high at high tide, so there was planning required to make sure we left the huts at the right times and trekked fast enough to reach crossings up the coast before they were impassable.  While sometimes annoying when we wished to break out early in the morning, having to contend with tide tables brought an interesting twist to the adventure.

Bored to tears: Shru sweeping the DC hut while waiting for the low tide

Shru crossing the river during the low tide

Shells left behind during low tide

Overall, while probably not as mind-blowing as the Milford trek, the Abel Tasman trek brought a host of new challenges that we didn’t expect and a very unique landscape and ample photo-ops.  Note to others that follow in our footsteps:  sandflies are everywhere in the estuary crossings, so if you start stripping down to your undies make sure to spray on some insect repellent or they will find those sensitive places behind your legs and between your shoulder blades quite succulent….take Vitamin B pills a few days prior and apply Tea Tree oil for effective, natural  results or use 80% Deet if you have no other choice.

 views on Abel Tasman hike

sandfly bites and blisters (first great use for duct tape) during the hike

When we got back to the town of Nelson, we decided to take a few chill days.  Chill day 1 become a trek day real quick when we found out that the ‘Center of New Zealand’ landmark was actually at the top of a large mountain peak in the center of town…never assume in NZ at and ‘easy day trek’ is easy.  New Zealanders are wired differently. 

Top of Nelson: Center of New Zealand

That said, Nelson is a very cool place to chill and we highly recommend spending a few days walking around the town and hitting up the local spots….avoiding the cheesy bars and clubs intended for tourists during peak season ofcourse.  Those will be obvious because they will have posters of scantily clad girls somewhere on the outside of the establishment, with some great deal if you buy 6 beers and 10 shots in the first hour.    When we were there, most of these were closed because it wasn’t peak season, which was probably a blessing.

Dan: The Bird Whisperer


  1. laurie says

    What an adventure! How sore were you after Kayaking? I bet you are glad you didn’t have to do any rock climbing or tree climbing during your next trek. When you visit Florida, the kayaking will be a breeze.

    • My shoulder and my back was sore but I was just glad that I survived!
      I was literally trying to remember every step the instructor had gone over incase the kayak flipped over. 🙂

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