The Spectacular South Island

We spent a three days in Abel Tasman National Park, one of the top spots globally for sea kayaking. In addition to kayaking, this area is terrific for tramping (New Zealand-ese for “hiking”) and exploring by motorboat or helicopter. That kept us plenty busy during our time here.

Abel Tasman 418 Our highlight was coming back one afternoon late from a day of kayaking and hiking. We got a lift back to our lodge on a motorboat and decided to head home with a more offshore route. Our hunch that this route would be interesting paid off, as we came across a pod of bottle-nosed dolphins, about one hundred of them! We spent about a half an hour cruising at a medium speed (8 knots or so), and the dolphins followed our wake the whole time. Some cameAbel Tasman 417 way out of the water with their jumps, and others just tucked in behind us and drafted on the boat. At times we’d see two, three, four, and even five dolphins jump out of the water at the same time. It was unreal! The best pictures of the day were taken by Gibson (I tried!), including the ones above and to the right. I have about 100 pictures of the ocean with a big bubbly area right where the dolphin just re-entered the water :-( .

Abel Tasman 196 We also did our share of sea kayaking in Abel Tasman, in all sorts of ways. The kids took some light kayaks out in a cove one afternoon, and loved it! On a different day, we went out further in two-person kayaks, which was a tad less successful until we put the adults in one kayak and the kids in the other. Somehow, that made it a whole lot more fun for everyone! Kayaking, as we found out, is a lot of work, but we got some very close-up views of New Zealand Fur Seals and the Little Blue Penguin, so that was exciting. And the scenery in Abel Tasman is just beyond words — it’s so beautiful.

Abel Tasman 194 We took a helicopter to and from our lodge, which gave us great views of the Tasman coast. Our pilot explained that much of the land along the coast was farmland two decades ago, but has now been developed into some sizable beach houses. There are even private homes in Abel Tasman National Park, although no one seems to mind. Anyway, this area of New Zealand has clearly been “discovered,” and the tourism services business here is pretty mature.

Abel Tasman 256 No time at the beach would be complete for our kids without building a structure of some kind. If Elizabeth and I ever want to go away for a few months and make sure our kids stay out of trouble, we’ll just leave them at a beach that has lots of driftwood. We spent hours down at the beach by our lodge, and there was lots of raw material to work with, with a tee-pee and a not-terribly-seaworthy raft being built during our stay.

Abel Tasman 307 After our stay in Abel Tasman, we flew on a crystal clear day south along the “Southern Alps” to Queenstown. The views of the mountains were just incredible, especially Mount Cook, the highest peak in New Zealand (see below). We could see snow-capped peaks, glaciers, glacial lakes, and rivers from our plane, which was quite a sight! Abel Tasman 315 The South Island of New Zealand is formed largely by the collision of tectonic plates, and the Southern Alps are the result. It’s quite a contrast from the North Island, which was formed almost entiirely by volcanic activity. The islands are quite close together, but geologically are worlds apart. It’s been great to see both of them in such a short time frame.

After landing smoothly in Queenstown, we spent the better part of the day exploring Queenstown and the surrounding areas. I had been to Queenstown in 1989, and it has changed considerably since then. Now, Queenstown seems more like a Vail or Aspen (see below) than the tiny little town I visited years back. I wouldn’t say the change has been for the better, though, and we’re moving right along on to the Milford Track. We did Abel Tasman 379 take time to see a bungy jump from the place where bungy jumping originated. Be sure to check out the video, and ask yourself if you’d be willing to do it (I wouldn’t!). Anyway, we’re now square in the middle of extreme sports territory, with lots of tourists, and all sorts of wild activities. But within twenty-four hours, we’ll be on the peaceful and isolated Milford Track.

I have to admit to an interesting alignment between technology and nature tonight. Our Queenstown hotel, the Azur (a great spot), has wireless internet access, but the signal is weak in the room (tin roof). The only place I could get a decent signal is out on the deck, which overlooks Lake Wakatipu and the mountains surrounding Queenstown. So I’ve been writing this blog on the deck well after dark on a late Spring, cloudless Southern Hemisphere night. The stars tonight are impossible to describe, so numerous and bright. And the only sounds I can hear are a light breeze blowing through the trees and occasional ripples on the lake. Everyone else in my family is asleep, and I’m outside, in my bathrobe, writing a blog, and gazing at the Orion’s Belt. It’s just been that kind of a trip.

Feel free to check out our Abel Tasman and Queenstown photos.

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