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.

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