It's 4:50am and the alarm goes off; it's time. It's the moment I will be ticking off the first Great Walk off my list, this one being, The Abel Tasman Coastal Track.
Currently residing in Golden Bay as it is, the Abel Tasman national park borders the Golden Bay area and so it's not too far away at all; may as well tick the closest one off first!
Well what can I say about it, if the beaches found in the Abel Tasman weren't so secluded, they would be packed with tourists, without a shadow of a doubt. Here these beaches represent some of the best i've ever seen, teamed up with crystal clear blue waters that just make you want to grab a mask and snorkel and jump in. You'll face challenges along the way in the form of tidal crossings and steep inclines much after. You'll find beaches, some of them being the best you've ever laid your eyes upon yet, you'll be the only person there. You'll be walking along the trail, encompassed by the infamous New Zealand bush, the renowned silver fern brushing passed you as you walk further on. Every so often a break in the bush reveals a view beyond your wildest imagination, bays upon bays of beautiful coastline sprawled out beneath you. Certainly a time and a place to sit back and enjoy.
I guess what i'm trying to say is if you're ever in New Zealand, this is a must do walk. I guess with any of the great walks the logistics of it can be troublesome but that isn't the issue with the Abel Tasman with water taxi's readily on hand. It's important to work out your start+finish points so you can arrange transport. Not only that but also arranging + booking your huts to stay in and book them else you will be fined!
Here's how I did it....
The track length is 55km and you have the choice of starting at whichever end is best for you, either from Marahau or from Wainui. You can get away with walking 52km if you manage to time the tidal crossings right (make sure you time them right!) as i've had a few dramas with in the past! These crossings you'll find at Awaroa, Onatahuiti, Bark Bay and Torrent Bay.
I started the track at the Marahau side, getting there for 6:30 after the drive over from golden bay. I had a big first day ahead and unfortunately for me, time wasn't on my side. As much as I would have liked to stay in several of the huts over a period of a few more nights, I had to cram the whole walk into a weekend and so my first day would be from Marahau to Awaroa which covered a distance of 33km via the low tide crossings.
Eager to get on with the walk, I started off swiftly, only to be consistently distracted by the amazing sunrise I saw developing before my own eyes; the weather was to be on my side for this weekend. I took a few stops to take photos before pressing on. The track is pretty consistently flat apart from a few notable climbs which i'll mention later on, consisting of winding meanders and bends around bluffs immersed in New Zealand forest. I came to my first 'turn-off' at 7km, these being a track down to a certain bay or beach which you can detour and get a closer look at, this one being called "Stillwell Bay." It was still reasonably early and so I had the bay to myself which is always refreshing, and that's what I love so much about New Zealand, you can be on these stunning beaches, yet be the only one on them!
Pressing on, i was soon to be at my first tidal crossing at Torrent Bay. Many people choose to reside the night near here at anchorage hut, a renowned bay where you'll always find a yacht or 10 moored up enjoying the spot. I managed to get torrent bay just before low tide and so the crossing was as smooth as it could be! It's always an important thing to time your tidal crossings as it's very tempting to think you get across no worries on an incoming tide and as a result, several near misses and accidents. The reason I was particularly glad on this one to make the tide crossing as it saves going round the high tide route which is 2.2km longer, winning!
Once the tidal crossing is done and i'd wiped the last of the sand off my feet and my boots securely on my feet once more, I walked through the Torrent Bay village where many batches and rental houses are located for those seeking a bit of time away in somewhere exotic (can't blame them really!) You'll walk through to the bay front where I awfully tempted to take a lie down and enjoy this spot. Seeing this bay is where It really sunk in how amazing this stretch of coast really is.
This is where the first notable climb on the track starts, getting out over the top of torrent bay moving on to Bark Bay which is another 8km onwards. After a few switchbacks and meanders the birds eye view of Torrent Bay presents itself which is a spectacular sight which is often crowded by day trippers queuing for "the money shot".
After trooping through dense forest for several km's, I came to the falls river swing bridge crossing, and if your not quite keen on heights then maybe don't look down?
With just over a 1/3 of my first days walk done, i was eager to get to get onto the next part of the walk and visit a place I hadn't seen in 4 years. Before reaching Bark Bay there is another turn off for a bay many don't visit as it's a 600m detour there and back, but it's one I had gone to before when I walked part of this track many years ago and was excited to see it in it's fully glory on this amazing day of weather. 'Sandfly bay', appropriately named due to it's swarms of sandflies that occupy the area. Those of you not versed in what sandflies are, well, what can I say, some people would prefer mosquitos to these bludgers, if that's any hint to how they operate.
It was better than I remembered. I came out of the turn off track onto the boulder I remembered, looking out over the bay which, not much temptation was needed for me to stop here for a break here.
The track has some amazing spots...
After a short break at Sandfly bay, I was feeling refreshed and ready to get back on with the walk with Bark Bay hut being my next destination. With a full campground and Department of Conservation hut placed here, going alongside a fantastic beach, it makes Bark Bay a very popular spot to stay for the night. Many of the water taxi companies will stop here for those day trippers wanting to come for the day as well as many of the other major bays south of Totaranui.
With my time limited and the tide slowly beginning to work it's way in, I knew if i could get a shimmy on I could make the tidal crossing at both Bark bay and Onatahuiti. The Bark Bay crossing is easy to underestimate with a deep ditch right at the end but as the sand bar was still very much exposed, it wasn't enough to prevent me crossing and saving walking another half a kilometre via the high tide route, winning!
From Bark bay there is a small climb before descending down to the beach at Tonga quarry where overnight camping is permitted. Opposite the campground you'll get a spectacular view of Tonga island and if your kayaking, is definitely worth checking out.
Marching onto a particularly special spot, Onatahuiti was up next. This large bay offers some awesome snorkelling as well as overnight camping, so I found a lot of walkers laying down their gear here for what could be an overnight stay, I wish I was doing very much the same! With just the sound of water lapping up the beach as I walked, I was recognising perfection and soaking it all up. The Onatahuiti tidal crossing now offers a bridge which detours around the crossing but having not seen this until I looked back whilst waist deep trudging across the tidal crossing, I was far too late to realise this and besides, It was a great way to cool off before embarking on the last section of the first day's mission.
I ensured I took the time to remove the majority of the sand off my feet this time before what I would say is the 2nd largest climb of the walk ascending from Onatahuiti towards Awaroa. Several bends along the bluff gone, I came to a fork in the track one leading to Awaroa Lodge and the other to the DOC huts. Taking the left towards the hut, the climb continues to avoid a small tidal crossing and so the climb continues. They say the worst climbs offer the best views and that certainly applied here with the weather bringing out the best in Awaroa estuary with some amazing turquoise blue colours shining through. I knew the end was in site, but what goes up must come down and the track descends as quick as it ascends and so the knees although battered from the 30km's I had done up to this point, were going to go through one last trudge before the day was through.
With the DOC hut in site, it finally set in that the big push was done and although for the sore knees, I was pretty stoked that I managed it. With the day still young, I was to track down the hut warden Gary for a catch up as I currently work for the Department of Conservation in Golden Bay and it has been 4 years since we last sat down for a good catch up. He knew the pain I was in, and was quick to offer me a beer for my efforts, I could definitely get used to this view, I thought. With the tide in, It would of been a shame to not put the kayak to some good use and so I dotted around the estuary to a few different bays taking the scenery all in. It's quite surreal really, scenes like this you really just can't take for granted and with the thought of maybe not getting to come back here for quite some time in mind; I took my time milling around taking photos. After all, photos are a return ticket to a moment, otherwise lost.
With my first day over and done with I was hoping i'd sleep well and wake up right as rain for my 2nd and that I was! I still had another 18km to go and so was keen to get underway early. With the low tide safely enough drifted out by 8am, I made a break for it crossing all the estuaries remaining streams and shells trudging swiftly on towards Whaiharaokeike Bay and then Totaranui. This Northern end of the track entails a lot more beach walking with the track being the actual beach. With less distance to cover, this was a perfect excuse for me to slow down and watch the waves softly lapping up onto the beach. Whaiharaokeike Bay offers a a campground a short 150m away from the beach and Is an amazing spot to settle for the evening.
I moved on toward the next bay which was goat bay, which brings on the biggest climb of the track. Initially there was a route that was much lower but a slip came down a few years ago resulting in taking the track much higher. A good way to get the heart pumping I thought, and descending wasn't much easier either although the knees feeling much better than the previous day. Arriving into Totaranui the campground was hugely busy as expected at this time of year. Accessible by road, this makes it one of the most visited campgrounds in the national park, with an amazing beach line to go with it.
With not long to go, the Northern end of the track was looking just as fine as the southern end was the previous, with a few special spots along the way. Anapai Bay has an amazing bay but also a little secluded section of beach right at the end which makes for the perfect lunch spot, a special place with an incredible view. With the wind dropped right off, the sun was beating down with the only sound being that of the waves washing in and out, perfection, right?
Then moving on Mutton Cove and it's amazing beachside campsite, many choose to walk in for the day from the Wainui end to visit here for the day and with the weather as good as it was, the day trippers were in good numbers. The track from here gives you constant view out over the ocean and at times is hard to get going again; views you could look at all day!
I came to the seat, overlooking Whariwharangi Beach, which also provides an off track to Separation point which i'd been to several times before and so opted not to go but does provide a lot of good cliff jumping!
Coming into Whariwharangi I had a good catch up with the Hut warden Craig, stopping for a cup off tea whilst enjoying this tranquil spot; i'd highly recommend staying at this hut if you get the chance. The hut is really immersed in the bush here, and the beach is always quiet; a perfect spot for a good book if you ask me!
With one final climb up from Whariwharangi over the top towards Wainui, the trackside bush is cut right down offering some superb views right over Wainui Bay; I honestly don't think the weather could of been any better! I was excited to be ticking off my first great walk of the 'Great 9' Series, adventure planning is always hit and miss but when they start actually happening and being completed, the feeling is momentus and walking through the gate right at the end, a satisfying one.
With the first one down, I can look forward to the next one which will be across the other side of Golden Bay and the neighbouring national park, The Kahurangi National park and The Heaphy Track.
For those interested in walking the Abel Tasman track, I have provided a list of useful sites regarding logistics, booking etc as well as the gear I use for my walks.
Check out my Instagram Page for more adventure pictures! - @austinsadventures_
Take it easy and happy adventuring!
Booking - http://www.doc.govt.nz
Logistics(Water Taxi's) - http://aquataxi.co.nz
Logistics (Shuttles) - http://goldenbaycoachlines.co.nz
Boots - Inov-8 Roclite 325 GTX (Waterproofing helps with those tidal crossings!)
Watch - Garmin Fenix 3 HR
Technical Tees - Regatta outdoors http://www.regatta.com