I know Rainbow Valley sounds like a Mario Kart track, but this is an actual, and very lovely place.

Nothing quite beats cooking dinner with ingredients that have been freshly picked or caught that day. For dinner last night we had the most delicious mussels I’ve ever eaten, gathered earlier that day on our first trip out in the new kayak.

After we bought the kayak, we left Nelson and headed north, up the coast towards The Abel Tasman National Park. Abel Tasman is one of the most picturesque places I have ever been, where long, gently curving golden beaches meet deep turquoise seas, surrounded by lush, subtropical forests. As it is a national park, there are a number of campsites run by the Department of Conservation (D.O.C.), which are usually nice grassy spaces, with clean toilets and stone built fireplaces. Sometimes if you’re extra lucky there’s even a (cold) shower.

We stayed at Totaranui, the northernmost D.O.C. campsite, which gives some of the best access to the incredible beaches and a number of coastal and forest walks. We used the campsite as a base for a two-day hike up the coastal path to the north, taking our tents, sleeping bags and food with us. It was one of the best hikes I’ve done in New Zealand so far, with the first day snaking north along the ruggedly beautiful coastline, stopping at several isolated, gorgeous sun-soaked bays along the way. It took a while longer than it should have to reach the campsite purely because of the number of times we stopped to take pictures or to have a swim, or even just to take in the view.

Abel Tasman

We camped for the night at another, smaller DOC campsite up at the top of Abel Tasman only accessible by foot or by boat. It was a great little campsite, and we managed to muscle in on a roaringly good campfire built by a group of guys from Spain and South America. The best nights when camping are always the ones where you have a campfire.

We hiked inland the next morning, into the forest and over a hill to get back down to the Totaranui campsite, and it was a much shorter and quicker hike than the previous day, so we made it back just after midday and decided that it was time for the Kayaks first outing. Especially as there were lots of rocky outcrops just off the beach that looked like they were covered in mussels. Pick your own dinner! The paddle along the coast was a lovely way to spend an afternoon, stopping to swim and sunbathe in little coves and bays along the way, and we managed to fill almost an entire supermarket carrier bag with mussels between us. After a long, lazy afternoon in the water, we took our time to load up the kayak, and found another campsite fairly close by, a beautiful little place called Rainbow Valley. Rainbow Valley Community Campground, to give it it’s full name, is run by a lovely older lady who owns an entire valley just to the west of Abel Tasman National Park, and there are little houses and huts scattered along the valley, with the camping spots being situated in an apple and pear orchard just next to the river. We were instructed to help ourselves to as many apples and pears from the orchard as we liked, an offering we definitely made the most of. I think we were still eating pears about a week later, and they were delicious, completely organic and unsprayed.

Rainbow Valley Community Campground

That brings me back to my opening paragraph, we cooked the mussels we’d gathered that day for dinner in a candlelit riverside cook-off, and ate until we were completely bursting, feasting on some of the biggest and juiciest mussels I’ve ever had the pleasure to devour.