Kayaking with Seals in the Abel Tasman National Park

November 30, 2017

Our first destination on New Zealand’s South Island was the Abel Tasman National Park, located along the coast in the north-west of the island. As opposed to Tongariro, the weather gods seemed to be on our side this time, because for the 2 days we spent here, it was mostly sunny and warm, which allowed us to go kayaking on one day, and for a short hike the other day. The more popular way to go hiking here (or actually “tramping”, which I had never heard of before) is to go on a 4-day track along the coast, but for us that didn’t come into question, given how little time we have. Plus, we heard that you need to book the huts along the way a lot in advance, as they sell out very quickly, so probably we couldn’t have done that anyway.


There are various kayak tours on offer in Abel Tasman, one more expensive than the next. But luckily, they also offer the option to go on your own, without a guide, for a slightly lower price. Of course, this option also gives you more flexibility, so we rented a kayak for a day and took ourselves out to 2 of the small islands close to the coast, and then for a paddle along the coast of the main island.

Although I couldn’t use my arms for about 2 days after this kayak tour (hmmmm… I definitely need to train my upper body more…), what we saw was absolutely beautiful: lonely beaches, the open sea, birds, and – most exciting for me – seals! On the second lonely beach we stopped at, we didn’t notice the 2 seals lying in the sun and sharing the beach with us, until one of them moved and the other one made a sound. They look so much like stones, it’s almost impossible to notice them until they somehow draw your attention! After that, we kept noticing seals on other beaches too, and even swimming very close to our kayak! It was fantastic to see them like this in the wild and to be able to get so close to them.


On the next day, any kind of physical activity involving using my arms was out of the question for me, but hiking matched the constraints. So we went for a walk in the forest along the coast. Again, the views were amazing. I was stopping every few meters to take a photo, so it took a lot of patience on Daniel’s side to always wait for me.

Interestingly, along the shoreline of Abel Tasman, the difference in the sea level at low and hide tide is 5-6 meters, and since the beaches are rather flat, you get very big differences in the aspect of the coast at low and hide tide. You can see some of that in the first photo below, which shows the water level somewhere in between high and low tide.

Highs and Lows


  • The seals! I don’t think I had ever seen wild seals before, let alone have them swimming in the water a few meters from me. They are so playful and peaceful, it’s just a pleasure to watch them. And of course, the surprise of discovering 2 seals on a lonely beach, just a few meters from us, was an absolute high.
  • Although it was super tiring, seeing that I was able to paddle about 15 km in about half a day. Not a world record by any measure, but at least a small personal record for me. And the potential for improvement is always there :)
  • On our small hike along the coast, we stopped for lunch in a beautiful spot overlooking the ocean. It was a simple picnic lunch, but it tasted like the world’s best gourmet food – at least what I imagine the world’s best gourmet food to taste like :)


  • At the beginning of our kayak tour, the weather was cloudy and cold. I was even colder due to getting wet in the kayak. We also didn’t see much in the beginning, so I started wondering why Daniel had insisted that we do that tour. Then we saw the seals, the weather got much better, and I forgot about all the inconveniences. It turned out, like many times before, that Daniel was right to insist that we go. And this is my way of saying that I’m sorry I was such a pain in the *** in the beginning of our kayak tour :)

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