Daily Archives: February 9, 2012

Hiking the Abel Tasman – Days 5 and 6


Day 5: Whariwharangi

Finally a rest day. And of course, since I wasn’t planning on doing anything that required an early start, I was up and moving before eight o’clock even struck. This just gave me more time to enjoy the warmth of the morning sun though, since by noon I was forced into the shade to hide myself from the searing intensity of the New Zealand sun. One thing to be said about the ravaging intensity of the sun though, is that it kept the bugs hidden throughout the day, and for the first time since setting foot in the campground I didn’t have to bathe myself in repellant before stepping out of my tent.

I spent the day mostly reading, though I did take the occasion to do a bit of exploring that I hadn’t gotten to do the day before. Swimming off the rocks that I had nearly been trapped on the evening before took up a few hours of the day, and I did end up doing a few hours of very relaxed walking that took me up to Separation Point – a neat little spot with an automated “lighthouse” thing set up. I’m still not actually sure what it was, since it didn’t have any real light that I could see. I assume that it was just a radio relay station, used to signal ships when they approach too close to shore.

I cooked my usual spaghetti dinner, spicing it up a bit with a can of tuna, instead of my usual chicken. Yes, I am a crazy man, I know this. But sometimes, life has to be spiced up. And so I ate a rather nice meal, chatting with the DOC ranger a bit more, about topics varying from me working as a “hut warden”, to how much I love my Kindle. Seriously… I’m starting to think that Amazon should be paying me for the amount of publicity that I’m giving them with this dang thing. If I got commission, I believe I’d be a millionaire already.


Day 6: Whariwharangi to Wainui to Takaka

My last day in the Abel Tasman started early… ish. I had intended on walking from Whari to the big carpark at the Northern end of the trail, at a small bay called Wainui (pronounced exactly as it sounds, “Why-noo-ee”). However I got a bit distracted talking with the DOC ranger again, and instead of leaving camp by 9:00, I didn’t leave until closer to 9:45. It was ok though, and I made quite good time on the trail leaving Whari behind… even though it was one of the steeper portions of the track.

Helping me out in no uncertain terms was a new walking stick that I had found the day before at Separation Point – I had found one large stick that I debated breaking into a smaller stick but I had decided against breaking it, feeling that it was too perfect of a landscape feature to be broken simply so I could have a better walking stick. In reward of this, or so it seemed, I nearly immediately found a perfect walking stick wedged between two nearby rocks; it was just the right height to be held as a cane-style walking stick, and all of the bark had been stripped away by the saltwater.

With this perfect walking stick firmly in hand I tramped up and down the hills and mountains between myself and the end of my trek, though I’ll admit that I felt a bit sad to actually be leaving the wilderness behind me. The last week had been hard on my legs, to be sure, but it’s still a quite nice thing to be in the woods alone. I think the DOC ranger put it best when he said that its a return to our roots, and that our senses are heightened while we spend time in the woods, thanks to an instinctual knowledge that we are not in our safe little homes anymore.

My plan was to catch a bus from Wainui to the small town of Takaka, a town that Mike and I had stayed in for a bit over a week while Rock Climbing at Paynes Ford. The bus was scheduled to arrive at 11:20, and since I arrived at the carpark before 10:45 even hit, I wasn’t worried about it. I sat and chatted with a couple from Eastern Europe (Poland and Slovakia, specifically) with the two best names I’ve heard in a long time – Raphiel and Vladimira. They were catching the bus too, but we all started to get a bit worried when 11:25, and then 11:30 rolled around with no sign of the bus to be had. By 11:45 I was convinced that the ranger’s information was wrong, and that the bus wasn’t coming on its own… and my worries were confirmed when I called into the bus office only to hear the dreaded words, “What? No, the bus only comes if you made reservations. No, it won’t come again today, no matter what.”

And so, we walked. Raphiel and Vladimira went first, with me following about 15min behind, hoping to hitch a ride out of the park when we hit the main road. It was a long and very dusty road that we walked down, mostly old floodplains that had recently dried out and turned to soft drifting clouds that choked the lungs and coated my pants in a fine layer of silt. I met back up with the two when the side road met the main road, and we learned the depths of our predicament – the main road was closed off in one direction, and the only people coming by would be people going to or from Wainui… people not likely to have room in their car for hitchhikers with full backpacks on.

Thankfully I had written down the phone number of a shuttle company that ran out of Takaka earlier, since they had a flier at the Wainui carpark. Unfortunately I didn’t get any signal at the road junction, and so I climbed up a nearby hill to try and get some signal. After learning, the hard way, that the hill wasn’t actually made of rock and dirt, but of pure brambles (Ed Note: this is clear exaggeration – most hills in New Zealand are only 80% brambles… the rest is prickers) fenced in with an electric fence. I was able to navigate it though, only to discover a complete lack of cell phone signal at the top. However, I saw two things that could lead to our salvation – a roadwork site a bit farther down the main road, and a car coming up the road from Wainui.

The car turned out to be our ticket out – they stopped as soon as they saw our thumbs sticking out, and even reorganized their SUV so that we could fit all of our packs in the back and ride comfortably in the back seats. We all chatted and talked for the ride to Takaka, and learned all about each other; the drivers were a German couple currently living in Shanghai, and they’d actually lived nearly everywhere around Europe and Asia, including the hometown of Vladimira in Slovakia. They didn’t know much of the Slovakian language though, and neither Vladimira nor Raphiel knew German, so thankfully all of the conversation was in a version of English that I could follow… even with the accents.

After us hitchhikers were dropped off in town I made my way to Hangdog, the campground that Mike and I had stayed at the last time we were in town. I remembered it being both cheap, and a bit of a ways outside of town. Well… at least the “cheap” part I had remembered correctly, as I learned after 30min of walking on the main road outside of town. Thankfully it took a little less than an hour of walking before I got to the campground, and learned that their prices were still the same as they had always been.

After arriving and setting up camp I took it easy for a while, reading and writing a bit before I got a bit too restless to sit still anymore. Thankfully Hangdog has a whole shed of old bikes that campers can borrow, and so I saddled up, strapped a helmet onto my head, and headed out to town for a bit of excitement to contrast with my relaxation and solitude of the Abel Tasman track.

Backpacking the Abel Tasman Great Walk – Day 4


Day 4: Totaranui to Whariwharangi


Day broke in the “Ben world” late; the earliest time that I could leave Totaranui was quarter after noon, if my tidal charts were correct, and so I slept in. (Note: The Abel Tasman, if it hasn’t been mentioned yet, is a coastal track. Thus, many of the most direct routes are submerged around high tide, and some portions of the track are completely impassable except for a few hours around high tide) After talking with some of the DOC people about reservations, I learned that I could in fact head out whenever I wanted – the tidal crossing here was not an impassable section, and in fact the tidal crossing itself only shaved about 30min off my total walk… and added a bit of steep elevation gain in that time. Thusly informed I packed up and set out straightaway; after eating a sandwich of course.

While my pack had felt light and comfortable the day before, todays walk to Whariwharangi (pronounced, for some reason, “Vari-var-ang-ee”) was quite uncomfortable and unpleasant. I guess it was a “high gravity day”, as they say at Hangdog; but either way my pack straps were digging into my shoulders in a most unpleasant way as I started out of the campground. I soon got over the discomfort though, thanks to my proven strategy of “walk, walk, stop, rest, read, eat, walk some more”, which quickly turned the “4 hour hike” into more of a “6 hour hike”… but what do I care? I’m not rushing, and the thought of getting there early really didn’t do anything for me; better to take it slow, read a bit more about Frodo (and a few Space Marines thrown in there… can’t all be slow dry reading, can it?), and take in the air and scenery. And take in a few candy bars too, incidentally.

On this section of the track I met far fewer people that I’d previously been running into – primarily, I’m convinced, because this section wasn’t covered by water taxi. Of the people I did meet, all two groups, all of them were quite interesting… first up was proof that Europeans are amazing. As I was walking along the beach I heard a whole slew of what I think was Swedish, or possible dutch, coming from behind a pair of rocks; a group of girls, from the sounds of it, all giggling. I kept walking, but as I passed to a spot of the beach where I could see past the rocks, I saw exactly what every male explorer wants to see – a group of hot European girls skinny dipping. Yes, that is correct; a group of four well-tanned girls quickly putting their clothes back on, giggling all the while. Seeing as I couldn’t really walk up and be all “Hi, I saw you being naked, and that means I should talk to you” without acting the complete pervert (that and by this point I’m sure I smelled quite bad) I didn’t actually go and talk to them… instead I just smiled to myself and kept walking; though I did promise myself then and there that I would let nothing stop me from spending a few months in Europe before I turn 30.

After the girls, I ran into another, significantly more clothed, lady wandering the tracks of Abel Tasman. She was quite friendly and talkative; slightly a strange thing from what I’ve become used to, where most interaction on the trail consists of people saying “hi” or “good day”, Sara from the previous day being a notable exception. “Seattle”, as I know her since I never actually learned her name, was from <gasp> Seattle! Another American! We stopped on the side of the trail to take in some scenery and food as we chatted, since she was going South-bound instead of my North-bound trail. I learned a good bit about Seattle school, primarily from a Biology perspective, and told her a fact or two about Boston’s system and Engineering school across the US. I learned that she was traveling via WOOFing, or Working On Organic Farms… a rather hippyish way of earning your travel, but I’d heard good things about it. However, what I learned from Seattle made me quite happy that I hadn’t chosen that path – its quite time-constricting, and she was thus traveling on an extremely tight schedule… she actually only had a single day to explore Abel Tasman, and thus couldn’t even do half of the main trail.

Aside from the girls and “Seattle”, the only other people that I met on the trail were an old Irish couple who called out to me while I was sitting on the beach reading, saying,

“Hey boyo, I think you need our help with directions, you look lost!”

“Ahh, no sir, I’m quite good, thanks though…”

“You miss-understand me… come here and I’ll explain”

-He walked in a bit closer, out of earshot of his wife-

“You see… I’m lost. Come look at this map, and I’ll pretend I’m helping you. Please, I don’t want the missus to know that I don’t know where exactly we are”

“Ohh… uhh.. yeah, I am lost! I’m sure glad you came along!”

And so I helped him out; turns out he did have a good idea where they were, but they had just missed one of the trail signs leading up from the beach. And as far as I know, his wife never knew that they had ever been lost… though I have a feeling she knew more than she was letting on, since I distinctly heard a snigger or two coming from her direction.

After finally arriving at Whari itself, I sat my pack down and took a bit of a breather from the trail, cooking myself up a good pot of oatmeal with cheese. Note the trend here… lots of cheese. Afterwards I went to find the DOC staff on site, to check into the possibility of staying at extra night at the campground, since the days walk had completely burned me out, even though it had been quite short. After I found him and we chatted for a bit I headed out onto the rocks, following some of his advice… “there are fish to be found, off yonder rocks! Go, and find yourself some dinner, lad!” (ok, so he didn’t actually say it like that. But I wish he had)

After quite a few less lost hooks, I actually ended up catching a fish for dinner! It fought me like it was possessed, which I decided that it probably was, after seeing the sharp rows of teeth hiding in its mouth. The bugger had eaten two pieces of bait straight off my hook already, but on the third one I had finally hooked him and reeled it in. As I did, I composed a quick poem for the occasion;

Fishes for dinner

Fishes for me

Fishes for dinner

straight from the sea!

Yes, Yes, I know. I am a genius at poetry.

After stopping in at a small beach near my fishing spot to clean it up and fillet it for cooking, I realized that I had made a tactical error – I had forgotten about the incoming tide. You see… while I was fishing the tide had come in, and seeing as I had scrambled over rocks in order to get to my fishing spot, I was now trapped by the sea. Yes, completely – the beach around me was hemmed in by sheer cliff faces (that I wouldn’t climb even with gear, way too crumbly).

Thankfully I am not one to freak out too easily, and am not only in possession of a keen sense of “how to deal with emergencies”, but am also a quite skilled rock climber. Even though I couldn’t climb the cliffs surrounding me, I could hopefully climb the seawalls separating me from the main beach of Whari. Thus did I strip down to my boxers, shove all my water-sensitive gear into my waterproof boots (phone and passport), and holding said boots way above my head I waded into the cold ocean.

After more than one scrape and wave, broken hand-hold and smacked toe, I found myself back on the main beach leading to my warm and dry campsite. The route I found hadn’t actually been that bad, and I had only been forced to go barely chest-deep into the ocean at the deepest, and only 3 meters (10ft) high at the highest point of bouldering. I realized that this meant that I’d officially been “deep water soloing” now, which made me quite happy to say the least.

(Note: “Deep water soloing” is a form of Rock Climbing practiced at sea-side cliffs. In it, the climber does not use rope or gear, instead relying on the water below to break his or her fall. Thus, extremely high bouldering routes can be completed in relative safety, where on land it would be suicide.)

After getting to the beach I had one last adventure to occupy myself before I went back to cook and eat – one of the little boys staying at the campsite had made a sad discovery; a dead penguin washed up on the beach. Yes, a penguin – Abel Tasman has a rather large population of warm-water penguins inhabiting the area near “Separation point”, a spot I had passed by on my way to the campsite earlier. Since his discovery the DOC ranger had come out to bury the bird, and so the three of us held a small impromptu funeral for it, after which the boy poked a small feather into the sand to mark the “grave” we had dug.

<Insert “Awwww” noises again>

After the adventure of getting back to shore and helping bury a penguin, the rest of my night was nice and relaxingly boring. I cooked dinner, chatted with the DOC ranger for a bit, and dealt with a never ending horde of sandflies and mosquitoes. Seriously… what do they eat when I’m not around? New Zealand doesn’t have large mammals, so… I don’t get it. But either way, I survived and spent the rest of the night alternating between watching a pair of Kiwi Birds wander around camp, and reading ever more of my new copy of Lord of the Rings; finally falling asleep at the horribly late hour of 10:30.

Backpacking the Abel Tasman Great Walk – Day 3


Day 3: Onetahuti to Totaranui


And here I am again, hauling myself down the trail with a heavy pack on my back. My original plan was to toss my pack onto another water taxi and send it up to Totaranui (pronounced “Toe-trah-noo-ee”), the campsite I was planning on staying at Saturday night. However, I ended up missing the first taxi of the day by just enough time that I saw it pulling away from shore, and then when I found another one coming through about 20min afterwards, they said that service to Totaranui was suspended, since the main road into the camp was washed out and so few people were going that far north.

“Well Ben, you’re pack is a full two-days-worth-of-food lighter now, and most of what you’ve eaten has been the fresh fruit that you packed – so thats a good portion of the weight. You’ll be fine”

“But Ben, I am lazy”

“Shut it. You don’t have a choice. Start walking before I sick the dogs on you!”

“Ahh! Ok ok ok! I’m going! Don’t set loose the imaginary dogs of imaginary mind-war!”

And so I walked on… and I was right actually – the pack was significantly lighter. For food I had packed a combination of fruits and dried food, everything from pears to trail mix to porrage, so that I wouldn’t get sick of any specific thing too quickly. I had already eaten most of the pears that this point, which I found out had taken up nearly half of the total food weight, thanks to their juicy nature. Without them weighing me down, I made quite good time along the Coastal Track, even though I did take more than a few rest stops along the way, if only to snap a picture or take a sip of water.

After a while I started walking along with a girl I met alongside the trail – a German from Bavaria named Sara. It was nice to have a hiking partner for once, since I nearly never backpack with others, and we kept a pretty nice pace going forward. In all honesty it was me working to keep up with her though; even though she looked thin as a rail she seemed to have limitless energy, and thanks to her pushing me on we set a blistering pace towards Totaranui.

Part of what I think helped her set this pace was that she wasn’t carrying that much on her back – instead of doing the usual “bring a stove to cook your food” tactic, she had went for another approach, one that I honestly haven’t really seen before; eat ham & cheese sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Seriously… in the time that we hiked together I saw her eat two of them, and she had another dozen or so stashed away in her pack. Thanks to that, all she had on her was a tiny first-aid kit, a warm-weather sleeping bag, a change of clothes, a yoga mat, and a small tent. Huh… I am not a huge fan of the “bring barely what you need, assuming nothing goes wrong” tactic, but I was jealous of the lightness of her pack.

Either way, we walked and talked, ate and drank, and joked and laughed for a few hours, before I needed to finally take a real break from the pace she had been setting. Sara kept moving on ahead, since she had a water-taxi to catch, and so I spent a bit of time reading and taking a dip in the ocean, since I didn’t really have any reason to be at the campsite at any specific time.

We did meet up again though, when I finally did arrive at the campsite nearly exactly when her boat was about to board. I felt like I was in a romance movie – I had dropped my backpack and headed for the beach to say goodbye and get her contact info, since I had forgotten earlier and definitely wanted to have someone I could visit in the heart of German beer-country. When I got onto the beach I saw her just about to board the boat, so we re-enacted the ending scene from every single romance ever, where the guy yells out “<girls name here>, wait! Don’t go!” and she calls back “Ohh no! But my <mode of transportation> is about to leave!” and then they run to each other and kiss and hug and then have a billion babies. Well… we didn’t kiss, or have the babies (thankfully, I would NOT want to carry that many babies out of the national park, too heavy), but we did hug and exchange email addresses before she shipped off and on to her next adventure.

<everyone say “awwww” here>

After Sara left, I went about setting up camp… and soon learned the danger of Totaranui; the sandflies. They were everywhere, and they bit. And it hurt, and was annoying, and I seriously thought I was going to die. So I headed to the ranger station, since Totaranui had a fully-stocked office since its one of the hubs of the trail, intending on buying myself a big thing of bug spray. But they were closed.

Thankfully the rangers in Kiwi National Parks are amazing, and I saw one and asked if there was any way I could convince her to open the shop for a few seconds so that I could buy some repellant. She obligingly did so, and after $17 I had my very own thing of anti-bug-spray. (Note: I’m not dumb – I did pack a bottle of spray before I left. Unfortunately it sort of… exploded. Literally, the bottle cracked and sprayed goop all over. Thankfully I’m not stupid, see above, and had put it in a plastic bag, so no real harm was done besides me not having a thing of bug spray)

Once the repellant was applied I finished setting up camp, and immediately took a nap. It was excellent, and to make it even better I woke up slightly sweaty, and so I immediately jumped into the ocean for a quick swim / bath before dinner.

Thusly refreshed, I cooked up another amazing meal of spaghetti and cheese and chicken, ate a cookie, and relaxed for the rest of the night. And by “Relaxed”, I mean “wandered around the beach ’till it got too dark to see”. See, it was Friday, and this would be the first Friday that I missed Capoeira class back in Christchurch since I started going, and I felt a bit bad about that. So, to make up for it I spent most of the post-after-dinner-relaxation evening practicing on the beach. Sand is an interesting thing to play capoeira on, I learned, since its a bit harder to keep your footing thanks to the lack of friction, but it makes the spinning moves much easier to perform, again thanks to the lack of friction.

And so I practiced on the beach ’till the sun went down, and it was time to head back to camp and my very warm sleeping bag for some well-earned sleeping.