Today began with an early breakfast while the ship was moored in Torrent Bay in Abel Tasman National Park at the top of South Island. Departing on Zodiacs, we joined a local operator to explore the beautiful coastal park.
Abel Tasman is usually known for turquoise water, sandy beaches, and warm sun. We experienced the tail end of a big rainstorm that dropped a summer’s worth of rain in one day on the northern part of New Zealand. As we began our walks through the forest of the park, the rain subsided, giving us an accurate experience of New Zealand’s temperate coastal forests!
Abel Tasman is a recovering ecosystem after deforestation led to most of the ancient kahikatea and tōtara forests to be felled. Our walk took us through a mature kānuka forest with large groves of silver ferns called ponga. Our guides showed us how the forest is recovering with secondary canopy trees like rimu.
Alongside the ponga groves were swathes of kawakawa, an important shrub for the Maori who used it in all sorts of applications because of its medicinal properties. Some bolder members of the group even copied the kererū and ate the kawakawa fruit, which has herby orange flesh. Arriving back at Torrent Bay, we split into groups to wander the stunning beachfront and swim in the warm water.
We were welcomed back aboard with an incredible feast of pizza and other scrumptious, well-earned food after the morning walk. With the anchor pulled, National Geographic Orion set off to reach the town of Napier on the East Coast. Our route took us into the Cook Strait between the North and South Islands, which was astoundingly calm and mirror flat.
As we cut through the still waters, Tua Pittman, the ship’s Cultural Navigator, regaled us with stories of amazing ocean voyages aboard traditional double-hulled wakas. The history of these incredible canoes is full of traditions and designs, and the canoes once sailed across this wild stretch of water in the Cook Strait.
National Geographic Orion
Aotea Great Barrier Island and Hauraki Gulf
The last excursion of this great voyage began with heavy rain. Hopefully this weather is the tail end of an incredible easterly rainstorm that has battered Auckland with the highest rainfall in recorded history. Located in the Hauraki Gulf and the Auckland region, Great Barrier Island was no exception. Our intention at Great Barrier Island, also called Aotea locally, was to visit Glenfern Sanctuary, a predator proof peninsula. Aboard National Geographic Orion, we received a briefing from Steve, the park manager, who explained the incredible history of the peninsula. Ranging from early settlers to World War II bases, the history of the island is rich. Part of this story is the beginning of a guest house in the late 1800s when the park was logged from ancient podocarp forest into grass farmland. More recently, an Auckland sailor had a vision to create a bird sanctuary in this damaged ecosystem. Glenfern began with a predator proof fence to keep out pests like rats, stoats, and cats, followed by a mass native tree planting project. Aboard Zodiacs, we traveled to the peninsula in thoroughly wet conditions…thankfully, smiles were still on our faces! We split into different groups and headed for three main destinations: Sunset Rock for peninsula views; the ancient Kauri for a treetop experience; and the ancient Puriri tree for a look inside the temperate subtropical forest of northern New Zealand. The heavy rain continued, and many of the trails were running with water. The expedition remained unbothered by this as we searched for some of North Island’s unique birdlife and rainforest. Today, we were lucky to see kākās, red-fronted kakariki, fantails/pīwakawakas, New Zealand storm petrels, and tūīs. These were special sightings! One of New Zealand’s most famous tree species is the kauri. It is one of the most striking Northland trees, capable of living for up to 2,000 years. At Glenfern, we had the privilege of clambering into the lofty canopy of a ‘young’ ancient kauri. A final highlight from the 3rd of February was a circumnavigation of Little Barrier Island during dinner.