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Abel Tasman National Park Abel Tasman Coastal Track

3rd February 2012

A Day Tramping Down Part of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track

Split Apple Rock
    I chewed on my ever so chewy muesli and watched a gaggle of pukeko birds strutting about. They were pretty little birds, all black apart from an ultramarine chest, a crimson beak, and a white flush on the tail. A couple occasionally had a dust up; establishing pecking order I guess.
    Today I was going to tackle a section of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. Many people came to the park to hike the track, classed as one of New Zealand's "Great Walks". The 51km tramp would take anything from 3 to 5 days, and the numerous huts and campsites along the way were often booked up a year in advance. For a different view of the park, there were inland tracks that lead up to dramatic karst landscapes and ridges. The 37km Inland Track allowed exploration of bizarre landscapes of limestone, marble and granite. The vast honeycomb of caves included Harwood's Hole at Canaan, which was the deepest cave in the Southern Hemisphere.
Panoramic View of Torrent Bay      (please use scroll bar)

Cleopatra's Pool
    The Abel Tasman National Park is New Zealand's smallest. It is also well protected, being closed to vehicles, with access being either on foot or by boat. The interior of the park comprises rolling hills cloaked in native bush. Much of the natural vegetation had been destroyed by the area's early inhabitants, but left alone, the park was slowly renewing itself, especially in damp gullies where a rich variety of plants can be found. All four species of beech trees can be found within the park, an unusual find. The unforgettable scenic highlight of this area is the exquisite coastline, which had a look and feel of a tropical paradise, enjoying a record 2500 sunshine hours each year. Here, golden sandy beaches, fascinating granite, limestone and marble rocky outcrops fringing the headlands, unmodified estuaries, and offshore islands, all lay in perfect harmony with lapping crystal clear water that varies in colour from azure blue to turquoise.
    For those like myself, who didn't want a multiday hike, it was possible to tackle sections of the Coast Walk. Abundant water taxis would take hikers to and from drop-off points along the route. In the bright morning sunshine, I waited patiently with a gathering of like-minded souls for the 10:30 water taxi from Marahau to Torrents Bay. We piled into the taxi with bonhomie, and made ourselves as comfortable as we could for the one hour journey.
Pied Shag
Abel Tasman National Park Bush
    The start to the journey was memorable, there we were in a water taxi, being towed on a trailer behind a tractor. We reached the seafront at Marahau, then we sailed over a sea of sand. The tide was far out, so it was an appreciable towing distance to reach the sea. Apparently the Tasman Bay area has, at 5m, one of the highest tides in the Southern Hemisphere. Once by the sea, our tractor reversed us into the sea and we gently floated off and began our journey.
    The sea air was gentle on the lungs, and the breeze refreshing. This was a totally different experience to the epic sailing trip I had been on across the cold, grey North Sea and Baltic Sea eight months earlier. We all gawped and marvelled at the Split Apple Rock which we motored past. This huge ball of porous granite had been carried from Separation Point, which lay at the extreme north of the park, in some bygone ice age, and deposited here. For some unknown reason, it had split in two over the ages.
A Secret Cove
    A couple of folk alighted at Watering Cove for a spot of kayaking. The others were all alighting at Anchorage. As the boat bounced along, I managed to get chatting with a couple. "Are you travelling or do you live here?" they asked, a common question asked of someone with a British accent in this country. I couldn't quite make out their accents, at times it was pure Kiwi, but I could also trace a hint of British. "Just travelling," I replied. "And yourselves?" I asked, hoping to satisfy my curiosity. They laughed at this, and followed it up with, "We came from Britain, and moved to Wellington for some years. Then, when our children came along, we moved back to Britain for their education. We all have dual-nationalities now, and our son lives out here." Sadly, they got off the boat before I could find out their gripe with the New Zealand education system, but I did learn that the woman greww up in Seascale, just down the road from where I gew up. What a small world we live in.
    I myself disembarked at Torrent Bay, a tricky landing place due to the shallow waters. Skippers tend to approach the beach close to a rocky promontory, where the step down into the water from the back of the boat is quite a drop. I cringed as icy cold water lapped around my crotch. I thanked the skipper and waded ashore, up a long beach and plonked myself at a picnic table to dry my feet.
    For a while I just sat to take in the enthralling view around the bay, and tucked into the provisions I had brought with me. Torrent Bay was an isolated place, with civilisation represented by a few holiday baches on sandy thoroughfares, reachable only by sea. To walk back to Anchorage, when it is low tide, it is possible to follow markers and walk across the bay. The other alternative is to walk around the bay. I opted for this longer route since it would afford me the chance to explore a series of beautiful coves. It also allowed me to make a slight detour to Cleopatra's Pool, a delightful freshwater swimming hole and picnic spot.
Stillwell Bay
    The track around the bay was 4km, weaving in and out of coves and creeks all the way, perhaps 20m or so up above sea level. The track south meandered its way inland through tree ferns, beech and kanuka. The vegetation cover varied and reflected a history of fires and land clearance, but the forests were regenerating well, especially in damp gullies. Crystal clear streams tumbled down mossy valleys to join the ocean.
    The route generally kept to high ground in the bush, 150m maximum, and just followed the contours of the land. In doing so it followed a tortuous, convoluted path that covered quite a distance but almost no distance at all as far as the crow flies.
    The bush was alive with cicadas, at times the sound deafening with a sound ranging from a million crickets competing for the loudest say, to the crackling sizzle of static electricity.
Apple Tree Bay
    Occasionaly an offshoot would allow me to visit a lookout point, or a beach or cove way down below. I dropped down to visit Stillwell and Apple Tree Bays. Yellow Lookout afforded me splendid views of Adele Island. It and Fisherman Island were predator free sanctuaries. I also spotted a Pied Shag up in a tree. Such birds are the only sea birds that nest in trees. Sadly, their droppings eventually poison the trees.
    Just sitting on a log on these idyllic golden beaches, kissed by the gentle blue waves from the Tasman Bay, brought back childhood memories of watching Robinson Crusoe on a black-and-white TV. I could have sat for hours, but I knew I had a fair distance to cover still.
    There were quite a few people out on the track, but almost all were passed with the courteous "Hi," or "How's it going?" etc. I only had a brief chat with a couple who were about my age. They too were retired, lived on Guernsey, but originated from the North Yorkshire Moors. Having just spent three weeks in Australia, they were now whizzing through New Zealand in five weeks. Good for them I thought.
    Hours after I left Torrent Bay, I walked across the Sandy Bay footbridges, and back to camp. I had thoroughly enjoyed my hike, and within minutes I had arranged a water taxi for my hike over the next stage up the track; Tonga to Bark Bay, and then on to Torrent Bay.
    Once that was sorted, it was an ecstatic shower followed by more liberal coatings of sandfly repellent; those pests swarm all over this coast.

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Abel Tasman National Park Abel Tasman Coastal Track

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Last updated 6.2.2012