South Sea Sojourn

Exploring New Zealand's Abel Tasman National Park

By Natasha Nowakowski

A thin gray film blanketed the October sky, blotting out the morning sun that shone so brightly a few hours past, and the steel-blue waters of Tasman Bay heaved and spilled onto the foredeck of my neon yellow 16-foot sea kayak. Staring back at me a few short feet away were a pair of big, round, brown eyes, which belonged to a full-grown bull seal perched on the rocky shore of Tonga Island.

Seals, fortunately, are not particularly aggressive creatures, and the ones lolling on the boulders in front of me did not seem too perturbed by the presence of my group in three sea kayaks. As we slowly paddled around Tonga Island, a rock-fringed marine sanctuary that seals have chosen for their colonies, we discovered hundreds of these aquatic marsupials clustered on the granite strand. The younger and more curious seals approached our kayaks and sniffed for our scent. We were delighted, but their mothers grew agitated and sounded bleating warnings in our direction. Hiding in large cracks were endangered Little Blue Penguins, a once populous seabird before stoats, a white-furred weasel, drastically reduced their numbers.