on May 26, 2010
I know the exact moment when my first day of hiking at Abel Tasman National Park became an only-in-New-Zealand adventure: when my Wilsons guide, Whitey, made us try to catch a weka. If you’ve never seen a weka, it’s a flightless bird with about the same build as a turkey; when we came across one with a broken leg, Whitey became determined to bring it to the Department of Conservation for medical attention. And so began the great weka flap.We didn’t catch the poor, injured bird, but I did learn a lot about wekas—and about the park’s other fascinating plants and wildlife. Two days of hiking and kayaking Abel Tasman’s stunning coast with Whitey was also two days of a thoroughly enjoyable outdoor education. I can now spot a spoonbill or fantail from a trail, find a ray from a kayak, and point to a rata tree from a mile away.I also learned that if ever you find yourself on the north end of New Zealand’s South Island, there’s just one thing to do: call Wilsons Abel Tasman and arrange a visit to the country’s second-smallest national park. Whether you have a few hours or five days, Wilsons will make sure you see the best of Abel Tasman’s seaside wonderland. The Wilson family first settled on the park’s land eight generations ago, and this history is proudly woven into each of their trips; the effect is a very personal encounter with the outdoors that I’ve not experienced anywhere else.But back to the trail adventure for my own personal favorite moment: after the weka got away, we hiked on toward our accommodation at Wilsons Meadowbank Homestead, which included a 30-minute crossing of the estuary on which the lodge sits. I’ve never seen so many seashells in my life; I had a horrible, klepto instinct to pocket as many as I could, in fact, but I restrained myself and just enjoyed the sensation of standing in the middle of a giant bowl of shells, surrounded by the hills of Abel Tasman and the dipping sun. The great outdoors doesn’t get much better than that.Onward we went on this crunchy carpet of shells, toward the shore of the now-filling estuary and the welcoming glow of Meadowbank Homestead. There was a cozy room and a delicious meal waiting, and the playground of Abel Tasman to continue exploring the next day.Wilsons runs fantastically organized and environmentally sustainable operations throughout the park, and while they can show you around for a few hours, I’d recommend taking several days to explore their seaside slice of nirvana and to take in the best kind of family secrets there are.
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