Backpacking the Abel Tasman Great Walk – Days 1 and 2


This entry is one part of several that log my hiking of the Abel Tasman great walk in New Zealand. See the other entries for the rest of the story, or the “Index” at the end for my “trail notes”, appended as an abbreviated version of the trip.


Day 1 – Marahau to Te Pukatea campground


Why, exactly, do I have this much STUFF?” I found myself asking, barely 20min into the trail. I had packed as light as I thought I could get away with – yes there were a good bit of “extra” things, but that was only because I wasn’t planning on going back to Christchurch before the Capoeira meetup in Montueka the following weekend. However, I still found myself carting a pack around on my back that weighed in at nearly 40kg (roughly 80lbs).

My first day on the trail was thus a rather hellish one, though the struggle in itself wasn’t actually half bad. To be honest, I missed the test of willpower that backpacking can turn into. Trying to convince yourself to walk just a little farther before you take that break. Making deals with yourself, “the next actually good rest spot I find, I’ll stop at. Not that one, its not good enough.” and so on. And so, I walked. On and on.

The Abel Tasman Great Walk is one of the official “New Zealand Great Walks”, a series of scenic trails that encompass the majesty of New Zealand itself. The Abel Tasman was named after the dutch explorer named, aptly, Abel Tasman, and it runs from the small town of Marahau to a wee little carpark at the northern end of the peninsula called Wainui. My plan was to walk the “Coastal Track”, the official Great Walk of the trail, and then head inland onto the (again aptly named) “Inland Track. The total distance was measured to be about 95km, or a bit less than 45miles – should be easy, especially since the Coastal Walk is extremely well maintained and quite level. While it has some steep parts, it never reaches above 400meters high (about 700 feet). The Inland Track is a completely different beast though – ranging nearly untended through the mountain ranges, rising upwards of 1200 meters into the New Zealand sky.

My plan was to start on the Coastal Track, since I’d have a pack full of food on my back, and then move Southbound onto the Inland Track after crossing over the Northern-most portion of the trail. That way I’d be rolling down the easy portion of the trail with the heavy pack, and the hardest portion of the track when my pack was getting lighter on my back, thanks to eating up all the food, and burning up all of the fuel for my stove.

I had woken up a bit too late to catch the bus from Nelson to Marahau (Pronounced something like “Maar-a-how”) that I wanted, but fortunately I had another bus that would take me into the same spot only two hours later. So armed with my backpack and a subway Meatball sub I jumped onto the bus… after helping the driver lift my pack, since he couldn’t do it on his own. That… should have been a warning to me. That, and the fact that I had been barely able to close the pack over all of the food that I was carrying. See… I don’t pack light, and when I pack food I make sure that there will definitely be enough… so I had enough food for the maximum stay that I was thinking of – 8 days, instead of the intended 6.

I think I either overestimated the strength of my back, or underestimated the weight of food however, and once I got off the bus and onto the trail the going was slow, even though the trail itself was quite well packed down. I had found a walking stick on my way that helped out a bit, but I still found the going nearly as difficult as I had on Mount Hutt… and that’s saying something, since Mt Hutt was an extremely steep grade.

But I did make it through to my planned campsite, Te Pukatea (pronounced “Tey Pook-ah-tee-ah”). It’s situated at the spit end of a spur of rock jutting into the Pacific Ocean – right off the beach but in a slight lee so that its sheltered from the wind. I wasn’t exploring the campsite alone though – to get to Te Pukatea I had walked through another campground and Hut called Anchorage Hut, where I had met a pair of Kiwi girls named Dani and Angela, who were originally going to camp at Te Pukatea with me, but had decided to stay at Anchorage thanks to an injury to Angela’s knee. I had met them thanks, of all things, to my hiking boots. It seems that not many people feel the need for sturdy hiking shoes on the Abel Tasman, and thus the girls couldn’t find anyone to help them hammer the stakes for their tent into the hard-packed ground. I had helped out with my water bottle instead of boots, thank you Nalgene for being unbreakable, and so we had all decided to hang out for a bit before cooking dinner and turning in for the night.

After the girls had left my campsite for their own dinner, I pulled together my fishing gear and started weaving my way into a good fishing spot. That’s right – this adventurer had bought himself a collapsible fishing pole, some hooks and bait, and now envisioned himself a real wild-man. Unfortunately for me, the truth is that I am not quite a true wild-man, and thus didn’t know the dangers and tricks of fishing off the coast. Instead of catching fish, I caught rocks. And by “caught rocks” I mean that I got the hooks stuck somewhere under the surf, and had to cut the line after a single cast. Not once, but three times in a row.

Thus, I was quite unhappy when I finally headed back to my tent; wet and empty handed. Instead of coming back with fish (and hopefully extra to bring up to Dani and Angela) I came back missing three of my five hooks, with not even a bite on the reel to show for it.

And even worse, the night did not go any better from there. I was, understandably, in a fairly foul mood thanks to the loss of my gear, and when I tried to make smalltalk with the people set up near me I was brushed aside rather coldly. I assumed it was because their English wasn’t very good, since everyone nearby was speaking French to each other. However, as soon as I lit my stove I learned just how good their English was, because they came over and started asking if I knew what I was doing, if I knew that fires weren’t allowed, and that I should probably get my stuff under control.

Now… if you don’t know how Whisperlite stoves work, it goes like this: you put a wee bit of White Gas fuel into a small catch-pan, and light it on fire. That flame heats up the fuel line, which then causes all further fuel to vaporize, and make the small blue flame that you use to cook on. The larger orange flame dies out after half a minute or so, since its only needed to “preheat” the main element.

It seemed that the Franc’s didn’t know this though, as they continued standing around and “checking up” on me until I shut down the stove and went into my tent to eat my dinner in peace and quiet.

And on top of it all? Someone had stolen my walking stick while I was fishing. Damnit.

Obviously, my first day had not gone nearly as well as one could hope.


Day 2: Te Pukatea to Onetahuti

“Well now, this is more like it” I thought to myself, as I relaxed by a small bend in a stream that’s called “Cleopatra’s pool”. To get here, I had taken a shortcut straight across the river that Cleopatra’s Pool runs into, skipping over rocks and wading ankle-deep into the river to get across. Of course, there was a bridge not 100meters down the trail, but I was feeling good, and wanted to make a bit more of an adventure out of the walk today.

The reason for this happiness and excitement was two-fold. One – I had woken up quite refreshed from the previous nights annoyances, and found myself packing up and leaving before any of my “friendly neighbors” had even woken up. Secondly, I didn’t have my full pack with me – instead I had taken the small sleeve used to hold my camelback out of my pack and was using it as an impromptu daypack; carrying with me the bare minimum for a day hike – my first aid kid, water, snacks, maps, my Kindle, and my notebook.

My pack itself was already at my next destination, thanks to a unique facet of the Abel Tasman that Dani and Angela had told me about – the water taxis. The combination of the Abel Tasman being fully coastal and the fact that so many tourists come here means that many “tourist service” industries have sprung up. Namely, in this case, a series of boats that can take people, packs, or food from one campsite to another for a nominal fee. I had gladly spent the $15 to have my heavy pack find its way to my nights camp on its own, thus freeing me up to take the long way around and visit a few side stations like Cleopatra’s Pool.

Since I didn’t have my insanely heavy pack, I made good time that day… even though I made an effort to take every side trip and most of the “long way” tracks. Thanks to these sidetrips I found myself meeting a whole host of people – stopping to talk to a retired couple from Auckland who were sailing around New Zealand on their own special “self-sufficient” solar boat; helping a group of girls and their quite-over-her-head mother set up a series of pictures; and even stopping to chat with a man who actually lived on track itself in a small town called Torrent Bay. I had a great time taking it easy and chatting with most people I met along the track, and even stopped for nearly an hour at lunch to read a bit from my book.

Once I did arrive at the campsite of Onetahuti (pronounced Ohh-Net-Ahh-Who-Ee) I found my backpack waiting for me at the main campsign, propped up as if to say “Hey man, I’ve been here all day. Where’ve you been?” After setting up camp and having a quick Peanut butter and cheese sandwich I relaxed and read a bit more on the beach, listening to the waves. For a moment I thought I was going to have another horrible night, since I saw the French group from the night before sitting at the sight next to me, but thankfully they were just being creepy and randomly hanging out at someone else’s campsite – it turned out that the site was inhabited by a couple from New Hampshire who were spending their retirement traveling around random countries. When I asked, they had no idea who the French group was, or why they had been sitting around the tent. Double-creepy.

Either way, I had a good time relaxing, cooking dinner, and talking with the NH people next to my camp that night. I had brought a good bit of canned chicken and pasta with me for meals, and so that night I cooked up some Linguini, smothered it in cheese-shavings, and tossed in nearly four servings of chicken – two can’s of “chicken in may”, and two cans of “smoked BBQ chicken”… to put it plainly, the combination was stellar, and I wolfed the whole thing down in less than 15min; not bad for eating down a dinner for four, am I right?


A quick side-story from my walk, about how not to act if you’re an American tourist:

While I was relaxing at one of the many bays on the track (this one was called “Bark Bay”, thanks to the tree-bark that the Maori had used to make their boats, or “Waka”) I noticed a confrontation of sorts getting rather heated down the beach. I walked over to make sure everything was alright, since the peoples voices were getting rather loud, and I heard the following conversation:

Obviously stressed-out American woman: “What do you mean you’re not going South? I need to go South! To the next campground!”

Kiwi Boat driver: “Ma’am, I know. You’ve told me this. But the Boat you’re looking for already left”

American: “But they didn’t stop! I was sitting right there waiting, and they didn’t stop!”

Kiwi: “Right, but you have to wave them down. You didn’t make a reservation, so they didn’t know that anyone was waiting for them. The next boat will be here in two hours, you’ll just have to wait”

“But I’m meeting people! They’ll be worried! You have to fix this NOW!”

“I can’t. I need to leave now, just wait and make sure to wave down the next boat”

“But… They didn’t pick me up! You have to fix this! Why can’t you just take me there yourself?”

“Ma’am, we’ve been discussing this for 20minutes. You just need to suck it up and wait. Yes, next person please”


2 responses »

  1. Sounds like an amazing two days, Ben! Beautiful pictures. Very cool that they have the service that carries your pack to the next stop. Being American, I expected they’d have it locked somewhere until you arrived. Love that it was just sitting there on the ground waiting for you — now that really exemplifies the different cultures! (and puts the US in a rather bad light…)

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