When my boyfriend, Yohann, and I were traveling around New Zealand, a lot of our planning was done on the fly. There were times where that totally blew up in our faces, but there were also times when it completely worked out. This was one of those times.
We’d developed a rough plan to drive to Abel Tasman National Park, located on the northwest side of New Zealand’s South Island. From our home base in Dunedin, Abel Tasman was an 11 hour drive away. We planned the route we’d take, the sights we might want to visit along the way, and inexpensive lodging to break up the trip. As we pulled up to Motueka, the nearest major town to Abel Tasman, something dawned on me. While we had adequately planned the journey to Abel Tasman, we had failed to plan the visit to Abel Tasman itself.
So here we were, sitting in the car, frantically searching for accommodation. I scoured Airbnb and Yohann sifted through the many red “You just missed it” listings on Booking.com. Finally I found an Airbnb with Instant Booking, available that night and within our budget.
The Airbnb was located in the even smaller town of Kaiterteri, 25 minutes northwest of Motueka and even closer to Abel Tasman. I took a sign of relief.
Yohann navigated the winding two lane side road that connects Motueka and Kaiterteri, and I thought about the last time we’d driven somewhere at unfamiliar at night (spoiler alert, it had us sleeping broke down car). Tonight would not be like that night. However, we did have serious struggles finding the place. And even once we found the house, we couldn’t find the door. When we finally found the door, a friend of the host answered (the host himself was not home) and the friend had not been expecting us at all.
(Despite our struggles finding the place in the dark, this place is actually in the top two Airbnbs I’ve ever stayed at – here’s a link to the place if you’re interested).
However, when the host came home things made a sharp turn for the better. A charming man of Maori decent, our host was an expert on Abel Tasman National Park and had previously owned some guiding companies in the area. He had one recommendation for how to spend a day in Abel Tasman National Park.
He told us we had to go on a full day kayak tour. He even specified the company we had to go with, Kaiteriteri Kayaks, because they had the best trip. We hadn’t been planning on doing a kayak tour (you know, as we hadn’t planned anything at all), but our host was so adamant about it that I booked a tour at 10 pm for the following morning.
On the Kayak Tour
We arrived at the launch not really knowing what to expect – we hadn’t done any research on the trip, so everything we knew was from our Airbnb host.
The trip began on a boat cruise. The thing about Abel Tasman National Park is that isn’t accessible by car. You either have to hike in or you can take a boat (kayak or cruise). The benefit of taking the boat cruise first is that you are able to go deeper into the park, and then transfer to the kayaks for more exploring.
Kayaking along the coast of New Zealand is great, but that on its own wouldn’t be considered a bucket list activity. You can access the coast from the boat cruise, so it’s nice but not particularly special. Had this been the whole experience, I don’t think our host would have been so strong in his recommendation.
Another stroke of luck
After some time paddling along the coast, however, our guide directed us into a small opening in the trees. The pathway would have been nearly invisible from the cruise, but from a kayak we could see the opening grew into a secret harbour. Our guide told us that the habour is only accessible at certain times, depending on what the tides are doing. Without realizing it, Yohann and I had booked the best tour at the exact right time.
We paddled through another narrow opening and then made some twists and turns. When the pathway opened up again, we were greeted with the most magical scene.
Dozens and dozens of baby seals were playing in the water
Our guide explained that the baby seals hangout here while their mothers are out in the open ocean. And boy, did they play. Sometimes they were sitting perched on rocks. Sometimes they swam, jumping in and out of the water, chasing one another. One jumped over the bow of my kayak. Another jumped onto the stern of our guide’s kayak.
I don’t know how long we stayed there just floating in amazement, but I honestly could have done it forever. The seals were so entertaining to watch and so, so cute. Some of them swam right up to us with curiosity while others watch us suspiciously from a far.
Back to the kayak tour
After leaving the baby seal harbour, we paddled to Big Tonga Marine Reserve to watch some birds and find the momma seals. At one point we stopped on a beach and our guide prepared a delicious lunch. When the day was coming to and end, we got back on the boat cruise and were taken back into town.
While Kaiteriteri Kayaks offers a number of kayak trips, their Kayak Awaroa trip is the one that has the option to see the baby seals. The seals are only there at certain times of the year and the little harbour where they hangout is only accessible during certain tides. My recommendation is to phone Kaiteriteri Kayaks before making your reservation and ask them what day the tides are predicted to be in your favour.
How to kayak with seals in Abel Tasman yourself
If you’re going to be in the South Island of New Zealand, I’ve created two road trip itineraries to help with your planning. The first is a 2-week itinerary that takes you to Kaikoura (for swimming with dolphins), Abel Tasman and then classics like Milford Sound, Mount Cook and Wanaka. The 3-week itinerary includes everything from the 2-week, but also time in the Catlins, the underrated city of Dunedin (where I was living) and the coastal town of Akaroa. If you need advice for planning your New Zealand road trip, please leave a comment or send me a message. I’d be happy to help!
Note: I am in no way connected to or sponsored by Kaiteriteri Kayaks. I have received no compensation for writing about them; I just think it’s a great trip that you’ll love too.