Giving Thanks from the Southern Hemisphere

BIRD WAGiving Thanks from the Southern HemisphereTCHER'S PARADISE  — The Abel Tasman National Park is renowned for its golden beaches, sculptured granite cliffs and its world-famous coast track. This is a couple of the small islands in the park.  Photo courtesy of Cindy Habets Peterson


Special to the I-O by Cindy Habets Peterson

When The Independent-Observer told me they planned to include my column in their Thanksgiving edition, I couldn’t help but reminisce about our previous Thanksgiving Day activities.

This time last year my husband, Bill, and I had just been through the craziness and happiness of our wedding day after which we promptly quit our jobs and set out on the road.  By Thanksgiving we were a mere two weeks into our planned one year roaming the earth, which began by navigating the narrow, twisting roads of New Zealand in a camper van.

The incredibly varied scenery of New Zealand draws outdoor enthusiasts from every corner of the globe.  Dwarfed by her down-under neighbor to the northwest, New Zealand is seen by the Australians as a sort-of backwater outdoor playground, complete with simple folks and a slowed-down way of life.  As with any big-brother statement, there is some element of truth –  New Zealand is indeed home to a laid-back, friendly people who enjoy their share of fresh air and open spaces.

This small country consisting primarily of the North Island and the South Island is 30 percent smaller than the state of Montana.  Yet this relatively small country boasts an amazing number of different landscapes, from white sand beaches to rainforest, fjords to glacier-capped mountains.

Although the November climate in the Southern hemisphere is nearing summer, the southerly location of New Zealand on the world map keeps travelers on their toes with a surprising swing of temperature and precipitation.  Because of this our New Zealand mantra was “never go anywhere without your raincoat!”  After two weeks of temperamental weather on the North Island, the day before Thanksgiving we set our destination for Abel Tasman National Park and, keeping our fingers crossed, some sunshine!

Sitting in the protected northernmost peninsula, Abel Tasman and nearby Nelson boast the largest number of sunny days in New Zealand. Abel Tasman is the smallest of the New Zealand National Parks, but is proof that big things really do come in small (and sunny) packages.

Hilly native forests tumble down against the white sand beaches and blue-green water.  Seals and a variety of rare New Zealand bird species can be spotted sunning themselves on the small islands off the coast.

A three-to-five day trek (New Zealand for “hike”) along the Abel Tasman coastline is one of the nine Great Walks of New Zealand. As one of the less intense walks, it can be attempted by anyone with a reasonable fitness level.  If you are arranging a trek during the New Zealand summer however, avoid trekking on the weekends when Abel Tasman fills up with local weekend warriors and teen-aged hiking groups.  Either is apt to put a damper on your communing with nature.

Instead of hiking, we decided on a two-day kayak journey along the coast would provide a different perspective on the land and sea around us.

After a couple of weeks of hiking on the North Island we were due for a good upper body workout. Kayaking is a fun alternative way to see the park – and to get up close and personal with the wildlife on the islands near the coastline.

Paddling into hidden lagoons or lush inlets for a lunch stop often made it seem we had the whole park to ourselves. Thanksgiving dinner at our campsite included some fresh fruit and re-hydrated food cooked with tired arm muscles, but we didn’t mind.  Some friendly Canadians shared some of their wine with us, and Canadians and Americans alike were in a festive holiday mood sitting near the ocean soaking up the Thanksgiving Day sun.

Did we miss the cozy family gatherings, the mounds of steaming hot Turkey and a day in front of the TV watching American Football?  Sure.

But rocking gently in a sea kayak watching seals play on hot rocks and sharing wine with our closest North American neighbors while on the other side of the world was definitely something to be thankful for!

If you are planning a trip to New Zealand, it is a badge of honor to choose at least one of the Great Walks to round out your itinerary.  For a trek or kayak trip that includes sun and sandy beaches, Abel Tasman will likely be at the top of your list.  Check out this and other New Zealand Great Walks at:

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Happy Traveling!