Every year the best-selling Lonely Planet travel guide raves to overseas visitors about the stunning experiences New Zealand has to offer. In the latest of a series, Jarrod Booker discovers the Abel Tasman National Park.
Lonely Planet describes the golden sand beaches of Abel Tasman National Park as "heaven sent" and "impossibly pretty". And it's hard to argue.
It's like something you would expect to find on a tropical island retreat rather than rugged New Zealand.
And to enjoy this national treasure at the top of the South Island at its best, it's hard to imagine anything better than a gentle kayaking trip along the stunning coastline.
Courtesy of Wilsons Abel Tasman, I joined two American honeymooning couples and a German couple and guide Adam Rossall on a six-hour kayak trip through the stunning bays of the national park.
It begins with a ferry trip from the picturesque seaside resort of Kaiteriteri (about an hour's drive from Nelson) to secluded Torrent Bay, where we gather up the two-seater kayaks and other equipment, and our packed picnic lunches, at the bay lodge.
Then comes a flurry of instructions on fitting lifesaving gear and operating in the kayaks and what to do if we capsize. It's all a bit overwhelming, but everything begins falling into place when we get out on the water.
Getting into the rhythm of paddling takes time for a novice like myself, but it's impossible to get stressed out in such a tranquil setting. The only downside is that placing your concentration so heavily on getting the stroke right can distract you from the stunning scenery.
Adam said it was often a three-day process to master kayaking, the first to figure it out, the second for "feathering in" the technique, and the third being a "pleasure day". The double kayaks are jokingly called "divorce kayaks" because of minor squabbles that can arise between couples.
When you do scan around, everywhere the colours seem far more vivid than you are used to. Whether it is the blue of the sky, the turquoise of the sea, the gold of the sand, or the multitude of greens, browns and greys that make up the forest of rimu, beech, teatree and ferns encasing the bays.
Unfortunately the cat is well and truly out of the bag about this stunning environment, and wherever we go, we find other kayak groups, ferries or water taxis, and any hope of having a bay or cove to ourselves is dashed.
After exploring the beautiful bays, we make for Bark Bay to break for lunch, when we get our first encounter with the local wildlife.
A seal perched on a rock we pass briefly sizes us up before losing interest and plunging into the water. He chooses to keep his distance, but Adam recalled close encounters, such as when a seal leaped onto the back of his kayak.
Bark Bay is a little piece of paradise, allowing us to stretch out on the sand in the sun as we enjoy lunch.
Afterwards, Adam takes us on a short tour into the bush, with an avalanche of information about the flora, fauna and history. While much of it is designed for the predominantly foreign clientele, as a New Zealander I obviously still have plenty to learn.
The return trip to the lodge features an unexpected highlight as Adam instructs us to join our four kayaks together, bound by our arms, and produces a sail stored in one of the boats that is hoisted by those on the sides.
The result is a makeshift sailing ship that gives us a break from paddling, and a pleasant ride back.
But the return to Torrent Bay seems to come too soon. Such is being bitten by the kayaking bug in a place like this.
SEIZE THE DAY
* Wilsons Beaches, Bays & Seals guided day kayak trip.
* Adult $195.
* Child $155 (includes picnic lunch).