It starts out more like a dare than a tramp. A lot of bravado and “what dya reckon?”s. The problem is we’re both a little bored and underwhelmed. We’re in territory so familiar we don’t feel intrepid and we’re not being challenged. The money is just draining away and that’s no ones idea of fun. Thankfully, we’re in the first-rate playground that is the Tasman region so we’re a bit spoilt for choice. The weather is gorgeous so we decide on the Abel Tasman National Park.
There are a lot of ‘tame’ options; boat in, walk a couple of hours, boat out. Or boat in, sit on a beach for a couple of hours, boat out. Boat the whole journey, or boat, walk and kayak. All of these are perfectly nice options. They’re just not for us. We decide on a boat in, walk out combination and the challenge is Bark Bay to Marahau. This is 22.8kms (19.8 if the tide is with us) of hiking through one of New Zealand’s spectacular national parks.
We’re up early to be at Marahau for 8.30am. Marahau is a little village that sits hugging the coast south of Nelson and Motueka. For most people it is the gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park. If you’re tramping and you want to travel under your own steam completely, you can walk in from Marahau, camp along the way and walk back out again. For us though, Abel Tasman Aquataxi provided a one way fare for just $38 per person and we’re on the water just after 9am.
A quick spot of sightseeing means a detours back towards Motueka along the coast to Split Apple Rock where a local in a dug out canoe is wedging a sofa into the split in the rock! There is a short walking track from the road to the beach just in front of Split Apple Rock which makes a great spot for a picnic. As we turn and head back up the coast a pair of blue penguins are pointed out, swimming near a small island.
Our first drop off is a wet landing at Torrent Bay. Just for the reference, if your guide says the landing is going to be wet and advises you take off your shoes, do it! There is no way that even 2 hours in wet hiking boots is going to be fun. Torrent Bay is where we hope to short cut later if the tide is out. As we drop off the first trampers there is an outgoing tide which is making it look like we’ll be in luck.
Bark Bay is another wet landing and we spot an Eagle Ray just as were about to land. Stepping out onto golden sand, looking out across vivid aquamarine water, edged with manuka scrub, this is as good as it gets and I reckon I could hide out here for a month. But what sounds like a herd of school children spoils the peace and we head off up the track.
The tracks are in pretty good condition. You want fitted trainers or hiking boots (well worn in) to attempt our route. We had a 3l camel pack stocked with powerade and 2l of water. Filtered water is available from points on the track. We also had food for two days plus and were prepared to rough it overnight, just in case. There is no mobile phone coverage on the track so being able to bunk down if something went wrong wasn’t being over-prepared.
Heading out of Bark Bay it’s straight into an uphill and there is another particularly breath-taking one after the swing bridge but generally these tracks are rolling. I’m not a big fan of swing bridges and this one is pretty big and high enough up too. There is a crystal clear (yeah, I know, cliché right, but in New Zealand, you better believe it!) river flowing beneath and more of that striking scenery that New Zealand is so good at. From Bark Bay we were walking through podocarp forests, later on stands of manuka crawl across outcrops where the sand is so dark it’s nearly red. As we reach the end of the track the forest is more scrubby with a predator band of traps protecting the national park from rats and possums and other nasty vermin.
We drop down into Torrent Bay with timing that couldn’t have been better. It’s about lunchtime and the tide is out. Shoes come off and we squelch across the mudflats bothering crabs and resting our feet in the chilled rivulets racing to the sea. At the other side of the mudflats there is more forest as we head up the hill to Anchorage. The only real issue with doing the track this way and this fast was missing Sandfly Bay (a pretty spot about 30 minutes from Bark Bay and a great place to stop for lunch) and missing Cleopatra’s Pool (off the High Tide Route between Torrent Bay and Anchorage).
Unfortunately a lot of jellyfish on the beach at Anchorage kept us out of the water, but we stopped for lunch and a waddle with Dave the duck before heading up again. The heat rolling off this uphill track was brutal but the views were amazing.
It’s a steep track down to Stilwell Bay but when you get there its a beautiful haven. We paddled in the very refreshing water, had some afternoon tea and went for a bit of a wander along the shore before rejoining the track and steaming into Marahau.
We got in about 4pm. Mission well and truly accomplished.
Update: It wasn’t until I was back home and well into my working week when I ran into a local white water rafting guide. We got talking and onto the subject of great New Zealand walks. A lot of people come to New Zealand to do these treks and they are through some of the best scenery in the world, but please, don’t treat them like a list that needs to be crossed off. If you love walking wait for a day where the weather is great (blue skies, minimal wind) and take on the trail. Make sure you’ve got a couple of days or even a week in these locations (Nelson/Motueka, Taupo/Tongariro, Queenstown/TeAnau) so that you can do these “must do” trips and go home with the best possible memories. If the weather never really comes right, ask the locals for some advice. I know of lots of great short walks through stunning scenery that no one really takes advantage of during times like this. I bet I’m not the only one!