Extending for just over 54 kilometres is the Abel Tasman Coast Track on New Zealand’s South Island. I embarked on a three day journey with Wally Bruce from Abel Tasman Guides.
Hiking, or tramping as we kiwis like to call it, can be a gamble weather-wise throughout New Zealand and the morning I’m scheduled to embark from Nelson on my three day journey on the Abel Tasman Coast Track looks very dicey indeed. I’m collected at 6am by minibus to transfer me to the start of the track at Marahau. As we are running a little ahead of schedule we take a slight detour to Kaiteriteri for a walk along its beautiful golden sands beside the clear blue-green water. Even though the skies are a dull grey, the waters of Kaiteriteri Beach look smooth and inviting. There’s time for a quick briefing and refreshing peppermint tea at The Park Cafe before heading off.
I can’t proceed without stopping for a photograph with the statue of the Moa at the start of the track. The Moa was a flightless bird hunted to extinction by the Maori people, but will always hold a special place in my heart. When I was a child in New Zealand, my father would tell me that he had a Moa in his office that ate all the wastepaper. Inevitably, whenever my mother used to take my brother and I to visit, my father’s secretary was always out walking the Moa!
As we head over the boardwalk towards Tinline Bay we pass names spelled out with rocks on the beach. Like the love locks beginning to appear at tourist spots around the globe, the rocks are becoming something of a tradition for hikers to photograph before they start out on the Abel Tasman. Inevitably the tide washes them away – ready for a new group of hikers the next day.
Wally runs both guided and self guided walks of the Abel Tasman and has an impressive resume including guiding both in New Zealand, North America and Europe. He’s pretty much done it all and has this guiding business down to a fine art. Whether his bag produces a fully stocked lunch bag with sandwiches made from the produce from his garden, homemade biscuits or spare zip lock bags to store your paperwork or camera, Wally is a veritable Mary Poppins! Not only will he keep your stomach full and your belongings dry, he has a wealth of information to share about the track, the vegetation, and the history of the track.
The first day on the Abel Tasman is just under 12.5 kilometres from Marahau to Anchorage. Depending on the weather, you can spend some time swimming on the golden sandy beaches, but sadly for me it is not beach weather. That’s not to say the magnificent views from the crests of the hills along the way, looking out over the beaches below with their pristine aquamarine waters and the lush, green forest are any less enjoyable.
We arrive in Anchorage for my first night’s accommodation aboard the Aquapackers boat anchored in the cove. As it starts to rain I thank God for Wally as he produces an umbrella from his backpack. It’s hard to ignore the envious glares being thrown my way by the dozens of saturated hikers we pass on the beach. A dinghy collects me from the beach and it’s a quick ride to the boat. I don’t have too many complaints as I spend a very enjoyable evening sitting in front of the heater filling up on the delicious barbecue dinner cooked by the skipper and a glass or two of red wine.
I awaken to glorious blue skies and the gentle lap of water outside my window. After a short walk along the beach I pass into Torrent Bay where I find myself marooned while I wait for the tide to subside. Then it’s over to the iconic Falls River swing bridge and onwards to Bark Bay. From here the track heads up the steepest climb of the track before finishing up back at sea level at Medlands and Onatahuti Bays. This is New Zealand coastal scenery at its very best. After following crescent shaped Onatahuti Beach and tackling the last saddle, I am pleased to see Awaroa Lodge come into sight.
Awaroa’s main lodge is a treat. Featuring spacious rooms with balconies overlooking the woods or pond and huge modern bathrooms. If utter peace and tranquility are what you are craving you could follow my lead and enjoy a welcome drink on your balcony after a long luxurious soak in the bath. Alternatively, join your fellow hikers at the bar or lounge where you’ll find it stocked with games to share, books to read and deep, comfortable chairs to sink into and rest your weary body.
After enjoying a welcome lie in, enormous continental breakfast and a late checkout it’s time to set off on the final two hour stretch of my journey. The last leg takes me across two golden sand beaches – Waiharakeke Bay and Goat Bay, and through virgin podcarp and beech forest before reaching Totoranui to rendezvous with the Aqua Taxi. It’s then an hours trip back to where it all began in Marahau, stopping along the way to see if we are able to spot any fur seals sunbaking on the rocks – but they prove to be a touch elusive. On our return to Marahau the boat is driven straight up onto a trailer sitting behind one of a line of tractors on the sandbar. We don’t even have to disembark until we are back at the information centre where the shuttle bus is waiting to deliver us back to Nelson.
The Abel Tasman Track is a beautiful walk and entirely accessible for both young and old with a reasonable level of fitness. If you are only ever going to attempt one of the great walks in New Zealand, then this is the track for you.