"I wanna hang a map of the world at my house. Then I wanna stick pins in the locations that I`ve traveled to.
...But first I have to travel to the top two corners of the map so it won`t fall down."
-Mitch Hedberg

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hiking the Abel Tasman National Park

Carolyn and I loved the kayaking portion of the Abel Tasman, and while we would have been happy to just hop on a water taxi back to town, we decided to explore the trail back on foot.

We started Day 3 at Onetahuti where we dropped off our kayaks the night before. The hiking trail actually goes further north past Onetahuti (the entire thing is 52 km), but spending six or seven days in the wilderness seemed a little out of our league. We’re a bit lazy if you hadn’t noticed, and generally unprepared, so we skipped the most northern portion of the park and headed south.

The trail hugs the same golden sand beaches and granite rock formations we had seen from the kayak, but it was fun to see it all from a different perspective. Right off the bat we plunged into rich forest environs filled with birdsong (thanks again to the Birdsong Trust). I whistled my face off to the fantails that filled the tree branches, and within a few minutes we had a pretty good crowd of birds hopping from tree to tree along with us. They are incredibly social birds, and will dance for anyone that seems interested. They also like to swoop right in front of your face. It's a jolting experience.

A lot of the trail is nestled in the trees with frequent scenic lookouts, keeping you fairly cool as you wind your way up and down gradual (and some not so gradual) ascents of the granite cliffs. We took the occasional break for photo-ops and snacks, but for the most part the hike is extremely do-able. I wore hiking boots, but Care did the whole thing in Chacos.

A unique feature of this particular Great Walk is the existence of four tidal crossings at Bark Bay, Torrent Bay, Onetahuti Bay, and Awaroa. The tide depth in the park can fluctuate by as much as 5.2 meters, meaning that at high tide, some of the trails are submerged. Low tide and high tide are generally 6 hours apart, so most of the crossings are only passable during a 4-hour window, 2 hours before and after low tide. Get a tidal chart from the Nelson or Motueka i-site and do some planning ahead of time, or else you’ll have to:
  1. Take the high tide trail (which can add several kms/hours to your trek)
  2. Swim. Not recommended.
  3. Wake up at 5 am because you have 6 hours of hiking ahead of you and the next low tide isn’t until 5 pm.
Of course Care and I didn’t time our tidal crossings well, forcing us to take Option A at Bark Bay, and Option C at Torrent Bay. Don’t stress about the Onetahuti crossing – there’s just slightly less beach to walk on at high tide. In contrast, the Awaroa crossing further north is long. Don’t muck around with it. Time it right, or you’re going for Option B.

As disgruntled as we were about our early start at Torrent Bay on Day 4, the stillness of the morning was pristine. The best part is when the track emerges from the tree line to expose amazing views of the park’s bays and islands. One of the most stunning views is from the peak atop Anchorage Bay, looking north at dawn. New Zealand is called “Aotearoa” in Maori which literally means “land of the long white cloud”, and Care and I have been lucky to see an almost non-stop parade of epic cloudy sunsets. The sun lights row upon row of clouds on fire each evening…probably every morning too but we catch wayyyy fewer of those. It’s always amazing, but the Abel Tasman was exceptional.

We bought a tent just for this trip, and in retrospect, I wish we had bought a small cooker (cookers are not provided in the Abel Tasman DOC huts or campsites). Cereal, PB&J sandwiches, and cold pasta held us over for four days, but the first thing we did after the hike was inhale five pizzas at 623 Bar’s all-you-can-eat pizza night.

Ignoring a few sandfly issues (don’t forget your DEET!), it’s easy to see why the Abel Tasman National Park is the most visited park in New Zealand. Whether it’s by land or sea, everyone can easily and affordably enjoy the pristine beauty of the natural surroundings.

We definitely recommend the kayak/hike combo. It’s a sweet taste of both worlds.

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