Tent Camp at Marahau

Tent Camp at Marahau

This week’s Photo Challenge (Sea) and my recent trip to New Zealand spurred me to dig up some old photos of a trip I took more than a decade ago. In 2000 I hiked, or tramped as the Kiwis say, the Abel Tasman Coast Trail on the north tip of the South Island.

The hike was four nights along a remote stretch of coastline and, although there were huts I could have stayed in, I chose to solo backpack with my tiny tent. Hiking solo had its benefits and drawbacks. Being New Zealand, there were no predators to worry about like bears or snakes (or bad people). Yay! But hiking solo meant I would have to carry everything myself — tent, sleeping bag, stove and gas, water purifier, camera, rain gear, clothing, shoes and enough food for five days. My backpack was a beautiful monstrosity.

One last but very important piece of equipment I took with me: a tide table! There are a couple tricky places along the trail that can only be passed during the two hours before and after low tide.

With my pack filled and my spirits high, I hopped an afternoon bus from Nelson to the trail head at Marahau where I set up camp for the night. It was mid-November — the beginning of the “high season” in New Zealand, yet there were only two other campers at the campground. Bliss.

I started the hike the next morning, following the built track across the estuary into the hills. The intensely scenic coast was revealed — clear, blue-green water against sand the color of apple cider, with wispy blue skies overhead. I hiked for hours without seeing anyone and arrived at the Anchorage campground in the afternoon. Again I was among few other campers, and most had arrived by kayak.

The following morning I was welcomed back on the trail by a desolate beach begging for companionship. I decided to stop for an hour and take a dip. How I wished I had a snorkel and mask! The calm, shallow water was a nice alternative to the sand flies on the beach — the only annoyance of the hike.

Dried off with hiking boots re-attached, I continued on the trail. A swing bridge crossed the Falls River below and the trail continued through a lush forest of ferns. From the hilltop I caught a sneak peek of the next beach ahead at Bark Bay — the stuff postcards are made of. A wide, perfect arc of sand extended to the right interrupted only by two kayakers who had clearly found paradise.

Knowing I still had half of the day’s hike ahead of me with a tidal deadline to beat, I strolled past the most perfect beach ever and continued toward Awaroa. It was late afternoon when I crested the final hill near the campground and realized the tide was moving in quickly. I picked up the pace in lieu of hiking through water and arrived at camp with about five minutes to spare. As I set up camp a park ranger who had hiked in from the other direction checked in with me and told me I’d be the only person camping there that night. Buh-bye! The sun set and I cooked my dinner, alone on the edge of New Zealand.

Until the final leg of my hike I had enjoyed perfect weather, but I awoke in Awaroa to cloudy skies. I packed up and headed to Awaroa Inlet where a low tide crossing was imperative if I hoped to get anywhere that day. Awaroa Inlet is big and it was difficult to know exactly where I was supposed to cross the sand and pick up the trail on the other side. But the tide was creeping in, inch by inch, covering my Tevas so I knew I needed to get moving. I picked a point on the horizon and started walking. A few minutes into the crossing I spotted an orange disc (a signpost that marks the trail) and trudged on. Luckily, I made it across as the water reached mid-thigh, and continued on to Totaranui.

The skies turned dark and the rain came shooting down at the final stretch of rocky coastline. I pushed on and arrived at the enormous grassy campground (football field?) at Totaranui. Once again I was almost the only camper in sight, and definitely the only camper with a tent. The last bus of the day had come and gone so I was forced to set up camp.

I ventured into the trees and brush surrounding the campground, found a tiny clearing, put the rain tarp over me and erected the tent underneath it. It was about 3:00 p.m. and the bus wasn’t coming until the next day so I sheltered in the tent for 18 long hours as it rained relentlessly, watching the rain tarp slowly saturate and droop lower and lower under the weight of the collected water.

Sometime in the early morning the rain stopped. I emerged from the soaking mass of blue and yellow fabric over my head and was greeted by blue skies and sunshine. I packed up. The bus came. The driver stopped along the way back to Nelson so I could take photos of the scenery.

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