The Abel Tasman track — named after an explorer for the Dutch East India Company in the 1640s who thought he had reached South America — is one of the nine Great Walks that hugs the northern coastline of New Zealand’s South Island. We logged 60 km in three days.
Day 1: 20.8 km to Bark Bay
Nick and I coined Abel Tasman the Goldilocks Walk because it was just right. It wasn’t too hot or too cold, and it wasn’t too hard or too easy. When everything seemed a little too perfect, it started to rain…and that was also just right.
The beginning of the track guided us along the sea whose low tide had beached sailboats and cargo ships alike. Eventually we turned away from the shore, a tunnel of vines inviting us deep into the forest. We wound our way up and back to granite cliffs that jutted out over the breaking surf below.
When dusk descended, we rounded the corner to Bark Bay where turquoise waters crashed gently onto white sand. Through a few trees, you could make out our hut.
By the time we settled in and made tea, night was upon us. Never in my life have I seen such an impressive blanket of stars over the ocean. The constellations, unfamiliar in the southern sky, were that much more awing. With the soft waves lapping at our feet as we gazed upward in opposite directions, Nick and I stood speechless in a fraternal-sororal embrace, a bond understood only by those who together endure long days of pain to appreciate beauty more deeply.
Day 2: 24.4 km to Whariwharangi
My cup has been christened Tiny Tee, named after a stuffed bear I carried around with me everywhere as a child. Strange, the attachments you form on the road, even to inanimate objects.
Awaroa Bay can only be crossed at low tide so you have to time your trek accordingly. DOC warns you that following heavy rains the estuary may be impassable. Because we were doubling our daily mileage, we were cutting it close as the tide began to rise rapidly. The moment I took off my shoes and sank my toes into the ocean floor, the skies opened to welcome us with a deluge. With the hard rain from above and the high tide on our heels, we were booking it as fast as we could, knowing that it would take at least 30 minutes to cross.
But we weren’t moving fast enough. We had to navigate our way through land mines of crabs peering out from their homes with daring eyes. And with each step, shards of seashells cut into the blisters lining my toes and rough sand ground into the blister on my left heel. As I winced, an angel suddenly appeared from behind me. He rode up on a four wheeler, with Nick already on board. With a big smile, the plumber lent me a hand and hoisted me up. He was on his way to do some pipe fitting for some of the cabins in the area and saw us struggling. He shaved a good 20 minutes from our walk before dropping us off where the water had risen too high for him to continue. With deep gratitude, we leapt into the knee-deep water, wading another five minutes to the estuary’s tree-lined banks.
We began another steep ascent up from the ocean floor to the cliffs above. Doctor Seus trees lined our path into the mountains, providing a screen to the world of Jurassic Park below, the prehistoric slopes rolling out to sea.
The laughter hasn’t stopped, and I can no longer blame sleeplessness. During the more strenuous moments forging uphill with water logged shoes and rain streaming down our backs, Nick and I competed to see who could do the more obnoxious grunts. At one point, having reached the top of a particularly steep stretch, a bug found its way into my pants (yep, all the way up there), and I did a bootie dance that had Nick in tears.
Having worked as a tree planter in New Zealand for several months, Nick shared fun facts about the landscape along the way. He pointed out New Zealand’s renowned silver fern — the symbol of their All Blacks rugby team — and distinguished which berries were edible on various flowering bushes.
The downpour was truly torrential, but it was worth it to see the fog rocking slowly amidst the towering tree tops. It was a long day that required the motivation of coffee at lunch and music in the afternoon. Nick gave me his ipod, content with singing to himself.
As we began our descent to sea level again and the mist receded to reveal the hut we were staying in, our jaws dropped. We had no idea we were staying in a farmhouse built in 1896.
Yes, that’s a chess set! And the mess we spread out, making the place look like a tornado hit. The rains must have discouraged other trekkers because we had the entire place to ourselves. The moment we arrived, Nick set to work on the fire, spending the next four hours stubbornly coaxing the wet wood. Nick’s patient relentlessness is a quality I appreciate deeply about him. The only tangible result of our efforts unfortunately was an array of splinters that slipped into our fingers.
We kept ourselves up debating the Keystone Pipeline as the storm raged around us. A topic for the next post, Nick and I make for an odd traveling duo, he an engineer who worked on the Pipeline, and I, a lawyer who worked for a human rights organization opposed to its construction.
In part because of our wildly different backgrounds, and yet similar value systems, we covered a range of topics on the Abel Tasman. In addition to the politics of the Pipeline, we discussed the Security and Prosperity Partnership and corporate responsibility, particularly within the context of the agricultural industry. At another point, struggling through a mucked up stretch of the trail, we touched on religion and the positive impact of having grown up with the church.
Day 3: approximately 15 km up through Separation Point looping back to Totaranui
Breakfast of champs.
You may have gathered based on the photos, but this track has been utterly desolate. In fact, with hardly anyone around, most of New Zealand has felt like my own personal playground. Although the weather has had its challenges, there is certainly value to traveling in the off season. It’s also a piece of cake to plan things completely last minute. On Abel, we saw a total of maybe five people. Shocking, given that it’s one of New Zealand’s most popular tracks.
It was truly special, having paradise all to ourselves.
The lighthouse at Separation Point.
We caught the ferry at Totaranui back to the start of the track. The sun was shining in full glory, capturing the sparkle of the raindrops that hung from the various layers of the rainforest. What a sense of accomplishment we felt, gazing at the kilometers of coastline we trekked in such a short period of time.
Along the way, we spotted a mama fur seal protecting her pup as well as New Zealand’s korora, or little blue penguin — the world’s smallest. After we disembarked, we swung by the visitor center to see if anyone had picked up Nick’s camera that went missing somewhere along the way. No cigar, but we’re still crossing our fingers!
When we reached the car, we collapsed on the grass, spending some moments in quiet reflection.
We stayed in a cabin at a Holiday Park (a cultural experience), feasting on fish and chips at a pub just down the road on the coast. Win.