Monday, May 16, 2016

Abel Tasman Coast Track

Date: ANZAC weekend 2016
Category: Great Walk
Weather: Showers evening/night #1, rest of the weekend, clear skies highs of 20, lows around 10
Location: Nelson, Tasman
Distance: Official distance: 60 km, Distance with my GPS watch (only sending a signal every 60 seconds), including 2 short side tracks: 55.6
Website: www.doc.govt.nz

We did the Abel Tasman Coast Walk, one of New Zealand's 9 Great Walks, over 3 days at the end of April. ANZAC day (April 25th for those outside NZ and Australia), generally signifies the end of the official DOC season. Many huts and campgrounds maintained by DOC are not serviced or serviced less frequently after the last weekend in April and before October, so be sure to bring your own tp, cooking equipment, and emergency communication device (i.e. PLB, Spot Tracker, etc.). These are items I always take, but it is even more important for anyone tramping in the off-season. As Abel Tasman is not terribly technical or hilly, it is easier to put in more kilometers per day than most of the other Great Walks. We hiked 21 km the first day, 23.5 the second day, and 11 the third day.

The first thing you should do when planning to hike Abel Tasman is check the tidal charts. DOC has links to these on their website above. The Awaroa inlet can only be crossed 1.5 hours before to 2 hours after high tide. Go outside of these times and, at best, you'll be carrying your pack on your head and fighting strong currents, or, at worst, swept out to sea. Plan your trip from this point, calculating how much further after the crossing you would like to walk, or have daylight to walk. All other tidal crossings along the track have high tide bypass tracks.
As it was a holiday weekend, huts were already booked up by the time we made the decision to do this walk. As such, we brought our MSR Hubba Hubba tent, our awesome, lightweight 2-person tent, along with sleeping pads. Other than that, we brought the usual tramping gear.
To get to our starting point at Marahau, we took a shuttle run by Trek Express, that also goes by Heaphy Bus. I recommend finding any other way to get to the track than using this company. They were very misleading on price and did not discount our fare when another person was added last minute. The customer service was appalling and were told that not only would we pay (the higher than should be price was told to us when we were being picked up on the day we were scheduled to start walking, so had no other choice at that moment), we would also have to pay a fee for them to charge our credit card or stop for cash, as we did not have enough cash to pay the high price. When the owner picked us up at the end, he continually made snide remarks to attempt a reaction out of me on the way back to our hotel. The return trip took 4 hours, not the 2.25 hours listed on their website. To avoid the hassle of having to deal with the less than pleasant people at Trek Express, I recommend taking a taxi to Marahau or driving yourself, then taking a water taxi to or from there.
The entrance to the Coast Track is just beyond the cafe at the Marahau parking lot. You follow a short section of boardwalk before continuing up and down the rolling hills of the coastline. All along the track, there are wonderful sea views and many great sandy beaches. Campgrounds are found every few kilometers on the first section, so facilities are easy to find. However, if you are taking the high-tide track after Akersten Bay, you will not be close to any of the campgrounds until Torrent Bay. We took a quick side trip to Cleopatra's Pool, which I think is worth the short 20 minute detour. The waterfall has a natural rock water slide, that both K and I thought would be great fun to slide down, but too dangerous to attempt. Torrent Bay has several private homes and the track takes you along the village roads for a short time. Be sure to stick to the track, as I'm sure owners of the private homes don't appreciate a lot of through traffic on their property. The first night we camped at Bark Bay, a large campsite with capacity for 40 tents. It had nice shelters, fire pits, and clean flushing toilets. It was quite a luxury. Rain cut our evening short after dinner, so we didn't get to spend much time outside at Bark Bay. The early night allowed us to get an early start the next morning.

Hiking from Bark Bay to Awaroa is relatively easy, with no areas of very technical trail. Just before Awaroa, there is a section of the trail that you walk along the beach. You may have to wait until closer to low tide if you arrive at high tide, as much of the track is underwater during high tide. There is a cafe at this point on the track, along with a few private homes. Again, stick to the track rather than walking through private property. Awaroa is a great place to lunch and wait for the tide to go down until you cross the inlet. The inlet is covered with small shells, so if your feet are sensitive, it is a good idea to bring some strap-on sandals with you, but most do the crossing barefoot. At the earlier times available to cross (1:30 before low tide) or the later crossing times (2:00 after low tide), the water will be knee-deep, or slightly deeper. It's best to wear shorts or quick-drying pants unless it's a really hot day and the cool water will be appreciated for the rest of your day. There is a flushing toilet just across the inlet from Awaroa. Just before Totaranui, there is a newly cut detour track, that is quite steep both on the way up and on the way down. It can be a bit of a trial if this is the end of your day, so save a bit of energy for this hill. Totaranui is a large campground that can be driven to as well as hiked to.
However, Coastal Track walkers have a designated camping area just for them. The facilities here looked plentiful. For a better camping experience, I recommend staying at Anapai campsite, which is just 4 km down the track from Totaranui. It only accommodates 6 tents, but is right on the beach and absolutely beautiful. You will need to fill up with filtered water at Totaranui or filter/boil your own water at Anapai. We were the only ones staying at Anapai, aside from a very curious weka, who wanted to know what was in our packs and tents. The wekas can be really fun to watch, but don't feed them and try to secure your food so you don't inadvertently feed them. Wekas are very curious and will go in your tent if you turn your back.
The final day of our journey was spent hiking around the peninsula to Wainui Bay. Mutton Cove is the furthest point DOC recommends for kayakers, as the currents and weather to the North and around the peninsula can be strong and unpredictable. From Mutton Cove, you can choose to go to Separation Point, or take a more direct inland track to Whariwharangi. We took the inland track, as the track to Separation Point is only about 1 km longer, but can add an hour to your time because of the hills. Many of the water taxis pick up from Whariwharangi rather than Wainui. The track from Whariwharangi to Wainui has some great ocean views from atop the hills/cliffs, but can be fairly exposed in the final few kilometers. Take care if there are strong wind gusts and wear sunscreen if it's sunny.
Overall Abel Tasman is a lovely track with few challenging hills, wide paths, and fantastic views. Many of the beaches start to look the same after awhile, but all are beautiful. One downside of the track is its popularity with day-walkers and tourists on boats. The boats can be loud as they announce on their PAs what they are looking at are the elusive multi-day hikers. The track can be crowded because of its accessibility, though we saw very few people in most areas North of Awaroa.

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