Extraordinary Experiences in The Abel Tasman
Awakening to that fabled arc of golden sand, washed by the gentle waves of Kaiteriteri Beach is one of life’s great pleasures. Savouring the first crack of daybreak across the wide sweep of Tasman Bay is worth waking up for. Lulled to sleep like a baby by the tidal lullaby in my absolute beachfront perch, Kaiteriteri Reserve Apartments is the unrivalled location from which to bask in the brilliance of this celebrated holiday hotspot.
It is the postcard-perfect beach, glistening turquoise water, thickly-forested headlands, gloriously golden sand and that classic crescent shape. With a sweet little estuary at the entrance to the township and its long sweep of sand, Kaiteriteri doubles not only as a deliriously seductive destination in its own right, but as the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park. Needless to say, the sand and campgrounds are heaving in the sticky heights of summer. It’s a family-favourite because that alluringly curving beach means the water is extremely calm.
Generously catering to holidaying families, the beachfront playground boasts BBQ areas, a flying fox and mini-golf. Alongside the apartments, Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve Camping Ground is a large area with 400 powered sites, cabins and new apartments. Book early for a summer spot! The same applies for the apartments. If you want really want to push the boat out, book a Two Bedroom Superior Apartment, for absolute beachfront views from your balcony. The generously-appointed apartment is studded with a self-contained kitchen, bathroom and shower, laundry facilities, dining area, spacious lounge room, free wifi and SKY TV.
Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve comprises 250ha of Crown land, with 100% of the business profits being reinvested into the township’s amenities. The onsite dining is drool-worthy, whether you want to wrap your lips around some blockbuster buns or fish’n chips from Gone Burgers or dine in style at Kai Restaurant. Open for breakfast, lunch or dinner, menu stand-outs include the Kaiteriteri seafood chowder and the Pumpkin and cashew curry. Divine!
Sprinkled along the beachfront are a series of heritage panels that vividly share Kaiteriteri’s colourful backstory and historic nuggets. A towering figure is Syd Rowling who in 1916 bought 136 acres of thick gorse covered land at Kaiteriteri as an extension to his orchard property in Riwaka. Holidaymakers starting arriving in sizeable numbers, by horse & cart and boat from the 1920s, but it was in 1936 that Kaiteriteri’s stature as a premium holiday destination was confirmed and Syd Rowling was nominated as the first chairman of the new Kaiteriteri Domain Board, which remains the governing body over this slice of paradise today.
Be sure to take the short stroll north from the beach up to Kaka Point. In addition to the serene views, this historic reserve is of cultural importance to tāngata whenua, as some plaques at the top of the trail duly explain. From there, follow the path to the neighbouring hideaway of seclusion, Breaker Bay, which feels like an escapist bolt-hole compared to the summer hordes at Kaiteriteri. The southern end of the beach connects with Little Kaiteriteri, weaving around the headland and down a wooden staircase to the peaceful and tranquil beach on the other side. www.experiencekaiteriteri.co.nz
After taking my fill of the sensory splendour that Kaiteriteri lays on thick, I took a fleeting foray into the heart of The Abel Tasman National Park. Whether you’re up for a day trip or multi-day adventure, The Abel Tasman National Park is an elemental wonder. Accorded national park status in 1942, that winning blend of sun-splashed crystalline waters, verdant forest and sweeping golden sands commands its siren-like allure. Whether you’re seeking to blaze some hiking trails, strike out on a sea kayak or simply bliss out in a beautifully secluded bay, The Abel Tasman delivers in spades. The essential go-to pros to spirit you across the waters are Abel Tasman Sea Shuttles.
This trusty transportation and scenic cruise company has been plying the waters for over 20 years, with Keith and Heather Knapp at the helm. During that time, Keith has built 17 vessels for the business, along with ramps to get passengers on and off the vessels with dry feet and propellers that tilt to allow the vessels to operate in very shallow water without disturbing the sea floor. An abiding family affair, grandson Jackson is now the third generation skipper in the Knapp clan. I was cruising to the legendary Awaroa Lodge for a pampered night in the wilderness. Closed over the cooler months, the lodge reopens on September 30 for the spring and summer season.
Purring out of Kaiteriteri, an early highlight is enjoying an intimate rendezvous with Split Apple Rock. The naturally occurring rock formation is estimated to be around 120 million years old. According to Māori legend, the boulder was split by two feuding gods who were fighting to possess it. To resolve the issue, they used their huge godlike strength to break it in half. As such, the Māori name for the rock is Tokangawhā, which means “burst open rock.” A more scientific theory is that water seeped into a crevice in the rock and then froze during an ice age, expanding and thus splitting the stone apart. Either way, it’s insta-gold. We passed by Adele Island, a flourishing wildlife sanctuary, where the chorus of birdsong rings from the treetops.
Adele Island is home to one of New Zealand’s rarest birds – the South Island saddleback (tīeke). With only 650 left in the world, the work of the Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust to create a predator-free sanctuary and reintroduce endangered species to the park has resulted in a new breeding ground for these vulnerable birds. We called into all of the key points on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, including Apple Tree Bay, Anchorage, Torrent Bay and Medlands Beach, where a multitude of happy hikers alighted and rejoined our vessel. I loved admiring the whimsical shapes and contortions of the sculptured granite cliffs that line the coastline – an indelible calling card of The Abel Tasman.
Just prior to arriving at Awaroa Lodge, my skipper gave our group a great introductory overview of the Tonga Island Marine Reserve, spanning Bark Bay to Awaroa Bay. Taking its name from the island it is based around, a heaving colony of fur seals were lazy on the rocks, within metres of our passing boat. It’s also a fiendishly popular hangout spot for kayakers, given the high chances of encountering little blue penguins and a pod of dolphins in these parts. Operating a year-round schedule of cruises, with a dramatically expanded roster of options in the warmer months, Abel Tasman Sea Shuttles embodies the spirit of this wondrous part of the world. www.abeltasmanseashuttles.co.nz
The Abel Tasman Coast Track is a breathtaking but easily accomplished multi-day walk. I recommend walking it over four days, so you have ample time to swim, get sand between your toes, and accomplish some incredible hiking without being rushed. You get to revel in the thrill of hiking one of New Zealand’s Great Walks with a day to rest and recuperate in the lap of luxury at Awaroa Lodge. If you’re planning a spring or languid summer fling with The Abel Tasman, Awaroa Lodge is a quintessential experience not to be missed.
Push the boat out and book a Superior Suite for escapism in excelsis. These architecturally designed suites were conceived with comfort and style in mind, wrapping you in nature while still being spoilt with all of the home comforts. You’ll be in the cradle of the wild with a private outdoor deck overlooking the native bush or wetland area, while creature comforts include walk-in shower, spacious sofa, wifi, tea/coffee making and daily housekeeping. There is something extra special about enjoying supreme culinary fare at the lodge’s Harakeke Restaurant amid such salubrious surrounds.
Local produce and ingredients are to the fore with many grown on-site in their organic garden, with plentiful herbs and seasonal vegetables. After grazing on the house baked bread and dips I enjoyed steamed green-lipped mussels, Tom Yum coconut sauce and garlic focaccia for my entrée. The pan-fried Snapper is a star selection from the Mains which is accompanied with battered scallops, fennel & ginger slaw, broccoli and eggplant puree.
If the weather is behaving (it typically is), you can dine inside or out from the glass-walled conservatory overlooking the wetlands. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, whether you’re staying in-house or not. Don’t miss the outdoors pizzeria. The sociable lounge with comfy seating areas, log fireplace and library is another eye-catching feature of the lodge. As a teenager, I recall calling into the fledgling Awaroa Lodge on a day cruise. It was in 1990 that a bunch of locals living close to the Abel Tasman National Park decided to build a simple Lodge & Cafe.
The first building to open was a simple shed, an open-air café that sold tea and scones to peckish trampers and sightseers. Handcrafted furniture was built on-site, while timber trunks and recycled windows added authenticity to its design. They were determined to construct a low impact vantage point from which visitors could enjoy the incredible living park, where the environment would be the centrepiece. The lodge was built from natural materials, accentuating simplicity, space, a relaxed ambiance, indoor-outdoor living and low visibility from the waterfront – all elements combining to ‘touch the earth lightly’.
Set in 47 acres of private land, the lodge went through a major expansion and refurbishment in 2003 with the addition of the architecturally designed Superior Suites built in harmony with the regenerating wetlands along with a large dining room and courtyard. One of New Zealand’s leading architects, Ian Athfield, oversaw the lodge expansion, meticulously planning the courtyard, restaurant and gorgeous new suites. Actively involved in conservation projects, Awaroa Lodge helps eradicate pests and invasive plant species to attract native birdlife back into the area.
I encountered a veritable menagerie of feathered friends, from tui, bellbirds and warblers to pukeko, weka and oyster catchers. With their distinctive scarlet-coloured beaks and feet, a couple of oystercatchers were snoozing on the beach as if they were waiting for a shuttle, south. Needless to say, come nightfall, the star-flecked sky turns on quite the celestial spectacle.
There’s a variety of tranquil walks at your disposal from the retreat, zipping you up to the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, in addition to some secondary tracks. Be sure to strike out on the 30 minute Wetland Walk, where you’ll likely spot the recently released pateke ducks (brown teal.) I absolutely adored the Sky Track Walk, which hoists you up the hillside to join the Abel Tasman Coastal Track for the most radiant views across the expanse of Awaroa Bay.
South of the lodge you can also burn off the restaurant indulgence on the Tonga Arches Walk, which leads you down to the old Tonga quarry, where granite was cut, while further along you’ll relish the Tonga Arches – naturally created forms sculpted by the elements. Awaroa Lodge is my kind of elemental heaven in the wild. www.awaroalodge.co.nz
The best local tourism providers in Nelson Tasman have banded together to bring you their most popular activities in one spot, Extraordinary Experiences. Based throughout the Nelson Tasman region there’s something for everyone, from exploring a day in the stunning Abel Tasman with Abel Tasman Sea Shuttles or on a sailing adventure from Abel Tasman Sailing Adventures.
Stay the night at gorgeous Awaroa Lodge or chill out at the beach in Kaiteriteri. All of these operators are 100% locally owned and operated and all bookings you make via Extraordinary Experiences is made with the operator directly. Book direct at https://extraordinaryexperiences.co.nz/