Sunday, January 12, 2014

6 January 2014: camping and sea kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park

Our adventure into Abel Tasman National Park began with training from Mary at the Sea Kayak Company on how to use our sea kayaks and ended with an evening of our version of S’mores, New  Zealand-style.  Mary taught us the ins and outs of our sea kayaks and gave us some recommendations on where to look for Little Blue (or ‘fairy’) Penguins and southern fur seals during our paddle to the Anchorage campground in Abel Tasman National Park.  The students and faculty split into two groups and Dr. Moran and I led our respective groups to the campgrounds: Dr. Moran by land and myself by sea. 

My students and I faced a steady headwind enroute to Adele Island, but our efforts were rewarded with sightings of a few adult seals and a seal pup, who was spiraling around in the water near the island’s rocky coast.  After a short break along the island’s coast, we finished our paddle past the submerged ‘Mad Mile’, a rocky area along the coast along the route to Anchorage.  As we entered Torrent Bay, the site of the Anchorage Campground, a few of our students spotted a Little Blue Penguin swimming in the water!  In the run-up to the beach, we spotted Dr. Moran and his crew waiting on the beach for us to arrive (and get the lunch food!). 

After unloading the kayaks, our crew made its way to the area Dr. Moran’s group had selected for our four tents to be pitched.  It was a great site: all of our tents fit comfortably in a large clearing in the native bush and we had a fire pit/ grill in the center of the clearing, to boot!  The fire pit was surrounded by picnic benches and a table/ wood storage bin for fire wood.  We were set for grilling on a wood fire and using the gas-powered cook stoves.  Excellent!

Following the expedient erection of all four tents (these students are GOOD!), the students learned how to start the gas stoves and lunch was on!  We had hotdogs for our first lunch and everyone ate heartily, particularly because the hike and kayak trips were pretty tiring.  Lunch gave way to exploring our nearby beach and the fairly large beach (due to the low tide).  Sean Harrison (Business, 2016) quickly figured out the location of the caves lining the north end of our beach and he and several other students spent time exploring.  These caves would be the source of some fun later that evening…

After the backpacking-students had a break, they suited-up for a trip into Torrent Bay with the kayaks.  It sounded like all went well, although they quickly learned that paddling a kayak is a bit of work!  The weather was fantastic for a paddle: high 70sF, clear sky, and little wind.

All around us in the campground native and introduced birds filled the air with song.  Bellbirds gave their loud screeches from obscure perches in the low-growing trees, while introduced House Sparrows hopped on the ground in search of crumbs.  Several Mallard (introduced) females, one with a single ducking, begged for food (and Kristen Maddock was happy to oblige!), while native Fantails in the bushes flashed their tails while foraging to draw-out insects from their hiding places.  As an ornithologist, I wasn’t very excited to see the birds we have in North America, but the Bellbirds and Fantails were certainly a treat.  In North America, we don’t have an equivalent bird in the Bellbird, but for the Fantail, we have the American Redstart, which uses a similar foraging strategy as the Fantail.  Nevertheless, it was neat seeing these native birds of New Zealand.  Maybe I’ll study one of these species in the future…we’ll see!

Dinner tonight was prepared by Kate O’Driscoll (Biology/ pre-med, 2016) and Lara Guindi (Biology/ pre-med, 2016): pasta and leftover sausages.  After dinner, we followed-up on a tip on the caves on the beach: glowworms, fly larvae with bioluminescent abdomens, apparently were in the caves.  Sure enough, after dark, we made our way to the caves and we found that the deeper parts of the caves (only 10 feet from the entrance) were lined with glowworms!  It was an amazing site; it looked as if there were stars in cave, as the light produced by the larvae was aqua blue in color.  From some of the larvae, the silken thread used to capture prey could be clearly seen.  Our students witnessed a terrific natural phenomena…and I’m glad we didn’t have to stop in Hokitika again to see these little buggers (see the entry on Hokitika (10 January 2012) below).

Torrent Bay, Abel Tasman National Park, the site of our campground.  Not so bad, eh?

Students and Dr. Moran tending to or watching the campfire in the fire pit located at the center of our camground.

Glowworms lighting-up inside a cave in Torrent Bay, Abel Tasman National Park.

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