Hiking Zew Zealand’s Abel Tasman Coast Track

28 02 2013

IMG_3449Abel Tasman National Park, at the northwest tip of New Zealand’s South Island, is a warm weather lover’s paradise! It belongs on your Kiwi bucket list. Endowed with lush peninsulas and private bays with golden beaches and turquoise seas, it irresistibly attracts outdoorsy types. The Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, allows hikers to experience the park’s wonder, passing along beaches, through Jurassic Park-like forest, before climbing to jaw-dropping views. It is also renowned for sea kayaking and kayak camping. Abel Tasman National Park is a sure bet to deliver soul-cleansing pleasure. Open your ears, breathe deeply and let your eyes feast on the views. Then grab a paddle and immerse yourself kayaking in the sea!

There are many ways to enjoy the park. Backpacking (or “tramping” in Kiwi) its 54 km coastal track, hiking, swimming, kayaking and kayak camping are but a few. We chose to spend two days there, and experience the park by foot one day and by kayak the next.IMG_0166

One of Abel Tasman National Park’s to-die-for experiences is sea kayaking. So we called ahead to Marahau Sea Kayaks to reserve kayaks for the second day. This outfitter in Marahau was amenable to my request for a single kayak – most rentals in New Zealand are tandems. I’d lead Elwin and Angelique, who’d be in a tandem. I’m a kayak instructor – so I’d give them some first-timer lessons!

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3 Kayaks down there! Click and zoom to see them…

But today’s adventure called for hiking. There are many choices. We wanted to do a thorough hike on the coastal track. There are no roundabout trails – it’s only out and back. However, you can take a water taxi to a trailhead and hike back to your vehicle – so we picked that idea. We set off from the Nikau Apartments in Nelson, and arrived in Marahau at 8:00 a.m. It would be an all-day adventure!

And what a day it was! We met our water taxi at Marahau, and it would drop us off on the beach at Bark Bay. From there, it’d be a five to six- hour hike back to Marahau.

Bark Bay is a pretty golden sand beach with a tent campground set behind the trees. Behind lay a peaceful lagoon. Here our day long hike begins!

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Here the coastal track follows the bays tucked in the many peninsulas along the headlands. At first, I’m hiking close to the water’s edge but in the forest. It is about 80 degrees. There are no mosquitoes nor biting flies. Just cicadas buzzing. I hear Bell Birds and the occasional Fan Tail alights nearby to check me out. It is dry-very little wind. This perfection is totally intoxicating and I become lost in the moment…the low level forest is full of giant black tree ferns…maybe I am in Jurassic Park!

This is truly incredible since it’s early January – my winter but summer in the southern hemisphere!

If you are an avid American hiker or backpacker – or kayak camper living in the American West, you might expect a solitary/private experience in Abel Tasman. If that is what you want, you’ll be disappointed. This track is very popular. So much so that you won’t be able to just set up a tent in the woods. Rather, due to volumes of visitors, there are huts, or designated tent campgrounds. You’ll also meet sailboat cruisers and some powerboaters who’ve anchored offshore. At least you’ll meet fellow outdoor lovers from all over Planet Earth. The two girls from Finland I met came the furthest.

I stop to take some pictures, and lose track of Elwin and Angelique. After 45 minutes trying to catch them in vain, I just set my own pace, enjoying every step of the way. There are a good number of backpackers – I hear French and German spoken.

I walk across a couple of suspension bridges, on either side ferns, with a clear pool underneath. Then I begin to climb away from the shore, up to the bluffs above. There, the forest becomes less jungle-like and more dry.

In many places it opens for periods of walking with views of islands, kayakers, and across the Cook Strait toward the North Island.

IMG_0173There are so many cool bays and inlets. There are lots of possibilities for tomorrow’s kayaking!

All along the Abel Tasman Coast Track there are opportunities to take side trails to secluded beaches, peninsula lookouts and lagoons.

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A sweet picnic beach

I keep track of the time and my progress. At Anchorage one of the stops, I begin to realize if I spend too much time on a side adventure it’d be after 5:00 when I return! So, with that in mind, I limit myself. But there are so many opportunities to pause, and drink in the view. I take one of these and sit down, watch the kayakers below, and eat my lunch.

Somewhere along the way I entertain myself by turbocharging my pace. I hear hikers coming from behind, some kids amongst them, and I imagine they’re Lord of the Rings Orcs hunting for me. No matter how hard I go they keep dogging me! But at some point I pass another side trail leading to a beach and after that I don’t hear from them anymore. From a high bluff I look out and realize it is freaking January! How can this be?

Finally, I descend to the end stretch, a flat section eventually terminating at Marahau. I hear “Rod!” from behind. It’s Elwin, with Angelique behind. Somehow I managed to lead them this whole time. Or, maybe they took a long side adventure. Either way we will wind up at the end together. My feet and Angelique’s legs are both hurting! I’m glad it’s not any further.

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Back in Marahau I check in at Marahau Sea Kayaks and they have dozens of boats ready for departure. A group shall be going out! But they’ve allowed us to go out privately since I’m a BCU certified coach. Looking forward to sea kayaking tomorrow!

We head back to Nelson, to catch the movie The Hobbit…