We were told in our first week in New Zealand that if a Kiwi tells you something will be ‘busy as’, you should not believe them and go anyway. They live in a country 50 per cent bigger than the UK, with one fifteenth of the population (roughly four million), and most have never been on the London Underground on a Monday morning, so we do not share a point of reference. When we told people that we had booked to do the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, one of the nine New Zealand Great Walks, between the 6th and 9th of January, in the middle of school summer holidays, we were repeatedly warned that it would be ‘busy as’. What that meant, in reality, is that we saw other people. Unpleasant though that was, it did not completely ruin the trip for us. Since one has to stay in Department of Conservation (DOC) campsites or huts, of which there are a finite number with finite places, there is a limit to the number of people on the walk at any one time – and it is a long walk.
Abel Tasman, the Dutch explorer, sighted New Zealand in 1642, the first European to do so, and anchored off the north-western South Island. He never landed (boats he sent ashore we repelled by Maoris, and four of his men killed), but Abel Tasman National Park was named in his honour, as if the Tasman Sea, Mt Tasman, Tasmania and the Tasmanian Devil were not enough for him.
The 60km Abel Tasman Coastal Track follows, predictably, the coast of the Abel Tasman National Park, from one golden bay, over green bush-covered spur, to the next. Looking back over our pictures I have found that they all look more or less the same: clear blue sky, deep green bush, golden sand and tropical island sea. It was a rough few days.
We left Sam at TrekExpress’s depot in Mapua and were dropped at Marahau, the southern end of the track, under clear blue skies. After an hour or so on the track, we realised that if we stopped at every postcard-perfect golden bay, we would never make it round. We stopped for lunch at Cleopatra’s Pool, a small waterfall up in the bush, which was actually busy, then continued to our campsite at Torrent Bay, a large, tidal estuary, where we read our books and burnt our tummies.
The next day we took a couple of low-tide variations to the track, taking our boots off and paddling short distances between bays. The track was slightly busier here with people on day trips by boat from Marahau, but still very pleasant. We camped at Onetahuti Bay, a yard or two from the beach, where we sat, ate, swam and read until the open invitation reached and was accepted by every sandfly in the South Island.
The next morning we were up early because we knew we had to reach the tidal crossing at Arawai Estuary by a certain time, but could not for the life of us remember what it was. We reached it around 10:30 which, it turned out, was the earliest possible crossing time, whipped our socks off and waded in. After that it was more of the same: golden tropical beaches set against deep green native bush under an azure sky (I think – I’m not very good at colours, but am sure either the sea or the sky was azure). That night we were in the small beach-front campsite at Anapai Bay.
The next morning we climbed up to Separation Point, where attempts to encourage gannet colonisation have lead DOC to cover the rocks with fibreglass birds, then to the historic Wharawharangi Hut, once home to sheep musterers, now home to a family of wekas. From there we climbed over a saddle and down to Wainui, where we had our lunch and awaited our ride back to Mapua and Sam.