Repost of the Day: Solo Hike on the Abel Tasman Coast Trail
August 12th, 2020
After yesterday’s arid and mountainous landscapes, today I’m reposting a story about my five-day hike along the lush coastline of Abel Tasman National Park in New Zealand. This park is at the north end of the South Island, accessible from Nelson, which I had reached by bus after ferrying from Wellington to Picton. Before that, I journeyed by train across the North Island from Auckland to Wellington. The ease of land travel within New Zealand, and the breathtaking scenery that accompanies every mile, makes the country an exceptionally fun place to explore.
I did this trip solo and it remains a favorite life memory of what’s possible when you believe in yourself and your ability to go far and dive deep into all that life has to offer.
Sorry for the low-res photos! Back then, 600 by 400 pixels seemed adequate for digital needs. How little we knew! I’ve added a few additional photos to the galleries despite their low quality.
Enjoy the trail! More from New Zealand tomorrow.
Repost of the Day: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together. This series features travel photos from my archives, shared with you while staying close to home.
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 five days/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). 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. 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 I 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 of 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 stay for the night.
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. I watched 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 tent and tarp fabric over my head and was greeted by blue skies and sunshine. I packed up and took a quick walk to the beach where a beautiful stretch of golden sand disappeared into the turquoise water.
I returned to my campsite and picked up my backpack before walking to the bus stop. The bus came and the driver, who noticed me shooting photos out the window, stopped along the way so I could take photos on the ride back to Nelson. Only in New Zealand.