Abel Tasman National Park is on the northwest end of the south island of New Zealand. It’s a NZ “Greatwalk,” one of the classic hikes that showcases their splendid terrain and is quite popular with international travelers. There are also excellent rustic accommodations along the way, for those who don’t want to carry a tent (that’s us, these days! We have quite enough to carry hauling Milo around). Here’s the route we walked, from south to north.
Here we are two days before Christmas starting our hike on the Abel Tasman coastal track, north end of the south island of New Zealand. We were in a rush to catch our bus to the track start so we didn’t sort our food as carefully as we could have, and we’re carrying a bit too much weight. Later while we’re walking we’ll admire others’ smaller packs and list the items we could have done without! Extra sausage, all our warm clothing, extra shoes for Milo, three-season sleeping bags…
The track follows the coast line through steep semi-tropical hillsides and golden-sanded coves. The track itself is hardly ever steep, since DOC has done an amazing job of cutting gentle switchbacks up the slopes. There’s plenty of time to stop for lunch and a swim at any of the many beaches we pass. Milo sure appreciated that!
Anchorage Bay hut was our first night’s stop. The name makes me think of frigid Alaska but this shallow warm bay is a popular mooring spot for sailboats. Our bouncy DOC hut warden, Phil, amused us with tails of inebriated skinny dippers hailing the warden’s help at 2:00 a.m. Happy for them that they were women, he said, or he’d have left them to fend for themselves despite the rapidly rising tide!
I wondered if it was wise to pack the rubber duckies on this trip, being extra weight and all….but they were well worth their weight in Milo Amusement! Here Daddy found a shady cave in which to bury Duckie, and Milo unearthed the treasure, to his great satisfaction.
It’s the day before Christmas and here we are applying sunscreen and paddling around in the waves, while our northern hemisphere friends and family shovel snow. Really though, so many of our Christmas traditions involve winter weather that it doesn’t seem like the same holiday without the chill. When it doesn’t get dark until 9:30 pm, Christmas lights seem like a wasted effort! If the holiday was still a celebration of the strange story of Jesus’ birth, then the time of year wouldn’t matter much, but it’s even more apparent here how far from the religious context we’ve come.
Cool, eh? Erosion at work again, in mysterious ways. Who knows why the stone of the archway was just a tad bit harder than the surrounding granite, but somehow it survived while the neighboring rocks succumbed to the pummeling waves. This Abel Tasman granite is not like the hard Adirondack granite I’m used to–it’s brittle, so brittle that the archway is filled with hikers’ graffiti etched into the stone.
The hillsides waved with what looked like palm trees, but which are really giant ferns as tall as trees. For much of the day we got glimpses down to the blue ocean through the waving fronds.
We showed a couple of our hiking pictures to a friend who is the director of NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) in NZ, and his first comment was on my bad form to have all that paraphernalia hanging off my pack. I caught my snide retort (“well, you just try hiking with a 2-year-old!”), and asked him about NOLS view on the subject. Apparently stuff attached to the outside tends to get whisked away by snatchy branches while bush whacking, which we happily avoided during our hike.
Milo never enjoyed a traditional afternoon nap during our whole vacation, so he snatched a few winks in his backpack from time to time. Good sport!
Several sections of the trail crossed tidal bays and could only be navigated a couple hours before or after low tide, but we still usually took our boots off to keep them dry. We often came upon beached yachts in these bays, the owners just enjoying the sun and waiting for the next high tide (or one a few days later) to put to sail. Seems like a boring sort of vacation, but it takes all kinds…
Guess what Milo finished off his lunch with? Timtams! That’s a chocolate-coated chocolate cookie, if you can’t tell by his face, one of his favorites.
These wiggly bridges would be fun to load up with people and jiggle about, like we used to do as kids at the playground, but we tended to obey the “One person limit” signs, since the consequences of overtaxing the engineering could be dire.
How can you explain to your two-year-old that he can chase the mallard ducks at the park, but he can’t chase the stupid shell ducks that don’t have the sense to run away. New Zealand birds still haven’t seemed to learn a fear of humans, and their trusting nature isn’t helping them off the endangered list! This pair of ducks with one remaining duckling hung around Bark Bay hut, picking up crumbs and admiring their reflections in the hut windows.
The huts slept 20-30 people in bunks, and one of the trip highlights was chatting with our fellow hikers in the evenings. It’s like staying at the UN–we had a Dutch family, a guy from Finland, Canadians, Irishmen, Argentines and Chileans, plus a few Kiwis. One Kiwi family had a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old, and the 3-year-old was WALKING the track. Get ready Milo, next year you’re on your own two feet!
It’s funny what Christmas traditions you decide to bring on the trail. One group had a whole Christmas ham that they gnawed off for days, but most folks hardly acknowledged the day. We made cinnamon roles, and Milo had a very hard time waiting for them to cook.
Aw, family portrait.
The two little Dutch girls, Emma (10) and Iris (8) LOVED Milo. They could only speak a little English, but Milo speaks even less, and they never seemed to tire of holding his hand, picking him up, and following him around. It was great for us parents, I tell you!
Milo fell in the puddle and got his pants wet, and he’s “winching” about it (a term my English friend uses, which seems particularly appropriate). He was probably lacking a nap and feeling delicate at the time.
You have to watch these greedy seagulls, or they’re apt to make off with your lunch, or at least your Cookie, as Milo can tell you!
Milo helped Daddy build this dam by splashing rocks into the puddle…..a civil engineer in the making.
“Smile for the picture, Milo!, And don’t fall!”
It was actually really hot (high 80s) in the Abel Tasman while we were there, so the shady stretches of track were lovely and comfortable while the sunny spots were just endured.
When we reached Awaroa hut I took Milo by myself across the dry tidal flat in search of some swimming water. The hot sand was strewn with cockle shells, and we walked a long way to find water. It was eery, sitting there in the merciless sun, staring at the beached boats through the heat waves, watching the tide come in at a surprisingly fast pace….the black cockle-eating birds could have been vultures waiting for us to croak. Milo was totally oblivious to our frailty, but before long I decided it was time to quit that place and tromp back to our hut before the rising tide cut us off.
The duckies were a hit all around, and Milo was very good about sharing them with the other kids.
“Ug, Mom, what are you doing to me?” We had a big tidal bay crossing just leaving Awaroa hut, and low tide was at 2:45 a.m. and p.m. (roughly). Either we hauled ourselves up at 5:00 to cross in the early morning or we would have to wait until after noon, when the tide was again low enough to walk across the bay. We opted for morning, and after the first few muttered complaints, Milo was a good sport about it.
Crossing a tidal lagoon in the dark is decidedly creepy. In the faint glare from the headlamp you can see the water swirl as some watery creature moves, hopefully moving away from us, but you can’t see the critter and you know that by the time you see the water movement, that thing has slithered off to somewhere else. But no pinched toes or bitten heels this time!
The sky was just getting light as we finished our crossing, in time to illuminate unbrushed hair and a clearing sky. Half way across the bay we could hear a riot of frogs (or so I’m guessing) cheeping and peeping in the trees. I wonder what makes frogs pick a grove of trees to call home…we didn’t hear them on the hut side of the bay.
“No Milo! That’s hot. No Milo! Don’t dump my tea! No Milo! Don’t hit me with the stick! No Milo! Don’t touch that!”
Poor little guy, he’s just being an almost-two-year-old. But cooking in the sand is hard enough without his energetic help. After our early morning bay crossing we breakfasted at a lovely little beach. Amazingly, the pancakes had very little sand in them.
We passed streams emptying onto beaches where they sculpted new channels after each high tide. I’ve been wanting to see a fast-forwarded aerial view of how the eroding Southern Alps fill the plains with gravel (time scale is millions of years), and I think if I had stayed to watch this stream moving tiny bits of sand over 4-5 hours I would have had a close approximation. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that kind of patience this trip, maybe next time.
Most of the Abel Tasman track goes up and down along the coast no more than a couple hundred meters, but there was an inland route we decided to check out from Totaranui Bay to Whariwharangi Hut, up over Gibbs Hill. Unfortunately we chose the hottest afternoon to tackle that shadeless route, but we did get nice views down into big tidal Wainui Bay. Look at all those tan scars in the forest–they’re slips where the steep unstable soil slid off during some rain storm. It’ll take a long time. but eventually the whole coast as we know it will slip and slide into the ocean.
Lunch time, and time to cool off. I’m not sure why eating lunch involved emptying the contents of the pack on the ground, but this time there’s an impressive amount of detritus scattered about.
Looking up into this tree’s branches we could see two types of leaves, but only one trunk. Another tree must have wheedled its way up into the old beech, using its generous limbs for support. Ferns and other epiphytes decorate the nooks and crannies.
Milo likes to get down and walk from time to time, but making forward progress is a slow business when he’s on his own two feet. There are so many distractions to examine along the way! A walking stick helped keep his feet moving forward, at least in this case.
“Ach, Mama, that worm is coming closer to me!” For some reason this harmless green inchworm really creeped Milo out and he wasn’t happy again until we took the offender away.
Milo crashed hard right after dinner at the Whariwarangi Hut. Getting him to settle down and sleep in the hut was one of the bigger challenges on our trip, but this time he seemed relieved to be given the chance to sleep.
Whariwharangi Hut, quite a mouthful for a quaint old house-turned-DOC-hut. “Wh” is usually pronounced like an “F” when reading Maori names….usually, but not always. I guess I shouldn’t complain. Compared to English, the pronunciation rules are usually straight forward and abided by. European settlers built this place in the early 1900’s, but it’s still called by the Maori name.
Aw, another congenial family photo. A front came in and cooled the park down for our last day, much to our relief.
I stared at this delicate green sea urchin shell for a long time, trying to figure out how it grows from a tiny urchin to this size, but I haven’t figured it out. Clams and snails are easy, they just keep adding to the outer rim of their shells, but how does a sea urchin keep expanding in girth? Maybe those seam-looking bits are loose when the critter is alive, letting it add shell in 5 different stripes? That dusky green color is enchanting, as is the perfect pattern.
Some hillsides are covered with these white-flowering manuka trees. The honey is much prized and given various unverifiable health claims, but it’s also expensive so I haven’t tried it yet.
These manuka bushes grow like rhododendrons do in Maryland–not as tall as a tree, but more than a bush. DOC has done an amazing job building and maintaining the Abel Tasman track, from well-planned switchbacks to make the grades more enjoyable to carefully maintained water diversions to slow down erosion. This wide smooth section of the trail is representative of the entire length.
I stopped to snap a photo of a “fiddlehead,” (more like a “Violahead” in size), and I heard Jeremiah giving Milo a little piece of advice. “Just wait,” he said, “Mommy is taking pictures. It makes her happy.” After 7 years of marriage, Jeremiah is quite a gentleman about the waiting, setting himself down with good humor while Molly indulges her interest.
The track was beautifully graded, and to keep the grade on the steep eroded hillsides the trail kept weaving from the dry outer hillsides inland to the mossy cool streams that punctuated the coast, supporting supported shady trees and creepers with their water. This luxurious moss was growing in one of the shady bits.
We booked a water taxi to get back from the north end of the park (or nearly, we had to double back to Totaranui bay for the pick up) to our car. It was 45 minutes late because of engine problems, but at least it’s not as scary as airplane engine problems. Here we are waiting.
I can’t remember exactly what Milo was cross about this afternoon. Probably 5 days without a nap….but I think perhaps the flare-up issue was wanting M&M’s and Mama saying he had to have some fruit first. He kept up the tantrum for a long time, but other parents tell me that’s to be expected at his age.
In a little under 2 hours the boat took us back to where we started 5 days earlier. Many people just go in by water taxi for the day, but I’m glad we walked the track.
The ocean was rough and we were worried that Milo would be seasick (he’s often car sick), so we sat toward the edge and discussed plans of directing the upchuck over the boat edge if it came to that. Thankfully it did not!
Our water taxi landed us in Kaiteriteri. Several water taxi companies ply the coast and they have their system down slick–catamaran boats nose into the shallow bays and long planks bridge the passengers to dry sand.