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Reefton Abel Tasman Coastal Track

2nd February 2012

Through Forest Plantations over Hope Saddle and Down to the Abel Tasman National Park

    I climbed out of Murchison, passing innumerable meadows, all bedecked with sprinklers in an attempt to encourage fresh growth in the grass.
    The road meandered along a valley floor before beginning another string of ascents up to the top of Hope Saddle. For centuries people have passed through this area on their way north and south. This was one of the three main ara or pathways that Maori used travelling to and from Tai Poutini, the West Coast. Inland areas were rich in resources, and travellers replenished their food stocks by catching eels and birds in the lakes, rivers and forests.
    In the 1860s fabulous findings of gold were reported at Lyell, and the pressure was on to create a new route between Nelson and the West Coast. There were a number of searches for an alternative route overland, but the country was harsh, steep in places and covered in dense bush.
Panoramic View from Hope Saddle      (please use scroll bar)

    In 1863 David Clark, who had led a number of exploratory expeditions, found a much shorter route from the junction of the Motueka and Motupiko Rivers. This line led up what is now known as the Clark Valley and over the Hope Saddle to the Buller, the route of the present highway. It was only after a great deal of controversy and another five years that work started on clearing a road along the Motupiko. Road building was an arduous task and there wasn't much money. The following year, settlers petitioned to have a cart-road built and at last, ten years after Clark had found the route, the felling and stumping began.
Pre-Tasman Accord Conifer Plantations
    As I stood on the lookout on Hope Saddle, I observed that large tracts of hillsides had been denuded of forest, and others were covered in conifers not native to this country.
    For centuries both Maori and Europeans exploited the native forest for food and timber. Early settlers converted lowland forest to farmland and plantations. By the 1920s so much native forest had been cut or lost to fire that the government predicted timber shortages. The biodiversity contained in the shrinking native forests was under threat. For years conservation groups had been lobbying for an end to clearing native forests, but it wasn't until the Tasman Accord in 1989 that any significant change was brought about.
    The Tasman Accord was the single most important example of co-operation between government, business and conservation groups. Signed in June 1989, it was drawn up after fifteen months of negotiation between the newly formed Department of Conservation, Tasman Forestry Ltd, Forest and Bird, the Marula Society, and the Federated Mountain Clubs.
Panoramic View of Sandy Bay from Campsite      (please use scroll bar)

    Under the terms of the accord, Tasman Forestry agreed to end logging of native forest on crown land and to formally protect more than 30,000 hectares of native forest in New Zealand. I guess what I was gazing at on the mountains around me were tracts of land turned into plantations before the accord was signed. The regimented row upon row of dark-green marching firs did look ugly compared to the lush bush and rainforest that I had been used to.
    From Hope Saddle I began the long descent down to the coast. When I reached valleys they were now full of orchards and hops, with the occasional vineyard. Soon I was coasting into Motueka, "Island of Wekas", a busy small town with a serious flow of traffic through it. Did this mean everybody was heading into the Abel Tasman National Park?
On the Verge of Abel Tasman National Park
    I drove straight through and made my way up the coast to Marahau, the main gateway to the park. The first campsite I came to told me the price for two people, and being on my own, I would still be charged that price - site rules. That was extortionate, and I told the woman it was discrimination against people on their own. "Site rules," she reaffirmed her stance. I left and made my way another kilometre or so up the road where I found a delightful site at half the price, and had a view across to the sea too. I took that.
    Once sorted, I strolled a short way along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. Looking out across Sandy Bay very much reminded me of the East Anglian coast. Beds of reeds swayed in the breeze, caressed by golden sands where a meandering stream took its last breathes before entering the white-flecked Tasman Bay. Across the bay the horizon propped up the mountainous peaks north of Nelson, and further north still a long string of islands stretched up to the large D'Urville Island, behind which lay the Marlborough Sounds.
    Many features of the area had French names. In January 1827, Dumont D'Urville anchored the corvette Astrolabe in the channel just north of Marahau. He stayed for a week exploring the land, charting the coast and developing a very friendly relationship with the Maori in the area.
    D'Urville was a competent explorer and scientist making his second voyage to New Zealand. His voyage is commemorated in the many French names along the southern part of Abel Tasman coast such as Guilbert Point, Adele Island, Simonet Creek and Jules Point. After his week at Astrolabe Roadstead he sailed across Tasman Bay and made the first European passage of the perilous French Pass.
    In the evening, I went to the small bar/restaurant a short distance away from the campsite; there was nothing much else around this outpost. Tonight was an open music night where folk who had come in from up to 20km radius were getting up to play their chosen instrument either solo or with anybody else who wanted to join in. Some of the musicians were very competent, and towards the latter stages of the evening the floor in front of the small stage was awash with dancers.
    I fell into conversation with a chap with dreadlocks and a black hat straight out of a Dickensian novel, in fact he looked like pictures I had seen as a child of the Artful Dodger. This open night is only on Thursdays, and it would have to stop promptly at midnight. "It's good music, everybody is enjoying themselves, and the tills are filling. Why just one night a week?" I asked. "There are three locals who complain about the noise, so that is the compromise that had to be made," he replied. The chap was a Kiwi who made this laid back area his home. "I was a teacher, but then I left the profession to become a photographer and writer," he said. "What do you write?" was my natural question. "I write a lot of texts for schools, and I also write guide books, which links up with the photography," he answered.
    He laughed as he told me he was currently anti-English and anti-Irish; his English girlfriend had left him and moved to a new lover in Ireland. We chatted about the winter season here, and how the place almost closes down, and at times folk would just move away until summer returned. The forthcoming Waitangi Day was discussed and travel. He was an amusing chap living a hippy lifestyle. Indeed, the area did seem like one large hippy commune with many walking about in bare feet. I did feel relaxed and laid back here, a good place to spend a day or two.

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Reefton Abel Tasman Coastal Track

Uploaded from i-Site, Nelson on 7th February at 10:20

Last updated 6.2.2012