Out of New Zealand’s nine ‘great walks’, Dave and I were about to complete our second – after the awe-inspiring Tongariro Northern Circuit – the Abel Tasman Coast Track.
A long scenic drive through the dry rugged mountainous area of central Otago, a wine and fruit growing region, led us back to the east coast to drop off the campervan to George. After which we caught a bus north to Christchurch, to be cheerfully welcomed by my relatives Margaret and John.
A lovely night was spent catching up in Christchurch, then we set off on another lengthy journey north-west to the city of Nelson via the Lewis Pass, through yet more aesthetic scenery. Don and Anne (more of my relatives) were there to greet us in Nelson with warm smiles and a tasty meal.
The Abel Tasman National Park is a short drive from Nelson. We parked up in Marahau and got on our way…
Day 1 – Marahau to Anchorage – 7.7 miles
When we booked the campsites in advance for this tramp, we decided to take our time about it and spread the walk over 5 days. We were so pleased we did.
I decided to wear my sandals (“jandals” here in NZ) rather than walking shoes on this tramp. Dave was wearing his trekking sandals, and I thought I’d be okay doing the same. I didn’t want to experience ‘sandal envy’ when he could wade through water without having to faff around with taking shoes off etc. This turned out to be a silly mistake. My sandals, although being proper Merrell walking sandals, aren’t built for multi-day walks on sometimes uneven and undulating terrain, especially as my feet like a little arch support. I was in pain during the first day and realised I needed to do something tomorrow.
Day 2 – Anchorage to Bark Bay – 5.2 miles
We set off fairly early from the leafy campsite in Anchorage and managed to cross Torrent Bay at low-tide which saved us a bit of time. We were the first campers to arrive at pretty Bark Bay, after a lovely hike through lush coastal forest and over a 47 metre long suspension bridge.
I was pondering over what to do about my footwear situation during the walk and came up with a possible solution – asking the water-taxi company (whom we’d booked our return journey back to the car with) ever-so-nicely to fetch my walking shoes out of the car and bring them to me. It worked. A very helpful skipper said she would – thank you kind lady from Abel Tasman Aquataxi’s!
Bark Bay campsite was idyllic. Right on the beachfront with gorgeous views and less mosquitoes and sandflies than Anchorage.
Day 3 – Bark Bay to Awaroa – 8.7 miles
Today we came to the conclusion we didn’t really have enough food… we don’t know how some people manage to carry so much – our bags were full to bursting point. When we heard from the Bark Bay ranger there was a lodge which served pizza, coffee and cake slightly off our path today, excitement is an understatement. We nearly ran all the way down the track to the Akaroa lodge. Cor, we did not expect that sort of yummy surprise on our tramp!
After pure indulgence we had missed low-tide, so the high-tide route it was – up lots of tiring switchbacks in the bright sunshine and then the descent to Akaroa camp. The view of Akaroa beach was tantalising; we virtually sprinted to the camp, dropped our bags and jogged to the water in our togs (swimwear to those at home). Ahhh heaven…
…. well, it was heaven, for a while. Until it dawned on us how stupid we’d been. In our haste to cool down in the crystal-clear water, we’d taken no notice of the current. It started taking us out to sea. We can’t remember how many times we’ve been told about currents and rip-tides etc. Yet we still made the mistake of trying to swim against it. We were losing energy rapidly, and I have to admit, we were scared. I had little to no strength remaining in my muscles, so I shouted for help. The nearby fisherman and holidaymakers shouted to carry on swimming to where they were on the spit, which is where we’d realised we needed to head for, plus the current was pretty much taking us there.
I was elated when we made it to shore. No matter how many times you hear about these things, you never fully understand until you experience it yourself. We were made to feel slightly better when we were told by the fisherman that they’d all made the same mistake and we would have only been swept to the nearby spit a bit further along. Plus, we’d attempted that swim at THE worst possible time of the day!
That was enough adventure for one day. We slowly strolled back to the campsite, set up our tent, had a refreshing cold outdoor shower (a welcome extra which isn’t at most of the sites), ate our freeze-dried meal and slept, lots.
When the camp ranger came round to do his usual checks in the evening he was the bearer of bad news. We were in for a spot of wind and rain tomorrow, but he didn’t stress just how much!
Day 4 – Awaroa to Wharawharangi Bay – 10.5 miles
5.45 am was our wake-up time in order to cross Akaroa inlet during low-tide, which is the only option. We walked for 5.5 hours today, with quite a few ascents and descents, but with great views of the sea and through some cool coastal bush. We arrived at Wharawharangi Bay hut and campsite in time for a bit of lunch, which a kind Kiwi guy supplemented with some bread, hummus and tomato (all we had was chorizo and cheese). We are blown away by the generosity of the New Zealander’s. He even said we were doing him a favour by eating it, as he wouldn’t have to carry it!
Unfortunately our luck with kind locals didn’t continue for long as we were told to leave the comfort of the historic hut by the ranger, who told us we’d paid for the camping experience not the hut. When I tried to tell him that all the other rangers, including on the Tongariro Northern Circuit, had offered the use of the hut to us, he retorted with “I have been doing this for 10 years, I should know the rules”. We returned to our tent feeling sorry for ourselves, just as the driving rain and wind commenced.
To be fair to the ranger, he was probably quite stressed, he’d been encouraging campers for the last few days to leave the national park, since he’d heard of the imminent arrival of a “weather-bomb”. Apparently we were about to experience a “cyclonic event”. Great! Just what we wanted whilst sleeping in a tent.
Before the ranger evicted us to our tent that afternoon, Dave had asked if there was any room in the hut. The answer he received was no, but if any space became available then we would be the first to know. This didn’t occur. A couple of English girls camping right next to us ended up being offered the solace of the hut. We didn’t have the heart to argue.
Thankfully, due to the shelter of the thick bush we were camped aside we escaped the “cyclonic event” relatively unharmed. The heavy rain and strong gusts of wind did keep us up a fair during the night but we were quite pleased with the outcome.
Day 5 – Wharawharangi Bay – Wainui Bay – Totaranui – 6.8 miles
Wainui Bay marked the end of the great walk today. The only devastation we spotted from the weather en route was a fallen tree over the track. That wasn’t the finish line for us though as we needed to return to the car in Marahau. Up and over Gibbs Hill Track we went; along the lovely wide grassy track through forest, looking out at the gorgeous bays. We made it back to Totaranui campsite with plenty of time to spare before our water-taxi so we soaked up the rays and read our books before we boarded.
The same kind girl who’d collected my shoes for me was the boat’s skipper. She seems to really enjoy her job, it’s lovely to see. The highlight of the ride back was when two bottlenose dolphins rode the waves right next to the boat. Amazing. There is something magical about seeing ocean life in its natural habitat. It reminded me of previous trips to NZ; I have been fortunate enough to see sperm whales, bottlenose dolphins, hector’s dolphins (one of the smallest and rarest in the world) and yellow-eyed penguins (also one of the worlds smallest species) in the wild. A spectacular sight.
End of part 3.