Tag Archives: Abel Tasman

Backpacking the Abel Tasman Great Walk – Days 1 and 2

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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”

 

Abel Tasman – A few Pre-walk days in Nelson

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Abel Tasman – A few Pre-walk days in Nelson

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Nelson: My start of the Abel Tasman Great Walk


 

I’m sitting in a Starbucks cafe in a city called Nelson – a few hours North of Christchurch and halfway around the world from my home, eating a panini and drinking a mocha. I feel a bit bad about this seeing as there are a ton of other significantly more “Kiwi” coffee shops that I could have gotten breakfast/lunch at… but see, Starbucks has the advantage that they have Wifi. Or at least, they should. Here, they do not, but I only found that out after I had already ordered my food and drink. Why am I here?

 

**Beep Beep Beep! Wake up Ben! I’m your alarm!**

Shove off! Just another seven and a half seconds!

**Beep Beep Beep! No! You have to wake up to catch the bus!**

Damnit, ok.

I packed the few remaining things into my heavy backpacking bag, since I had left my electronics unpacked the night before so that they could charge. I pulled on my pants, secured my hat to my head, and walked out the door with my pack on my back. Its heavy… but not so heavy that I can’t stand it. Instead, its that weight that lets you know that you’re safe. That pretty much whatever comes your way, you’ll have something to deal with it – from sleeping bags to rain jackets, extra batteries to a water filter and portable stove.

I had decided against hitchhiking the night before, instead booking a bus ride up to Nelson set to leave at 7:15 from a shopping mall about 15min drive away. I know that hitchhiking would have made for a better story, but I just had this horrible feeling that saving $50 on a bus ticket would not make up for loosing a kidney or two. And so I got the Orbiter (Christchurch’s version of the T) and made my way to the meeting point outside the mall.

The bus line was called “Atomic Busses”, which I found ironic because New Zealand has a complete ban on any and all nuclear power. Up to and including a ban on US Naval ships entering NZ waters, since the US won’t guarantee that a specific ship doesn’t carry warheads. Either way, I threw my pack into the storage compartment and found a seat – I chose a seat next to a cute German girl, since my favorite seat (aka a window seat that I could sleep in) was already non-existent. We chatted a bit, but my over-riding lethargy took over after a wee bit, and we both passed out for most of the ride.

A quick note about the bus line – Its cool. I mean… its a bus, whatever. The key point here, was the driver. As it always is. In this case, the driver was a run of the mill guy; slightly heavy and neither excellent nor horrible at the wheel. His true skill lay in his voice – it was AMAZING. Seriously, I started looking forward to his announcements, even though they would wake me up from my nap. Think a combination of Morgan Freeman and Hulk Hogan, with the dry humor of Mitch Hedberg. Yes, its possible. And yes, it was epic.

After a quick stop in a town called Blenheim where we traded our awesome touring bus for a smaller, louder, smellier bus and made the next part of the drive to Nelson. It took longer than it should have thanks to the plethora of construction work (Ohh how I DON’T miss Boston’s obsession with roadwork), but after a impossibly large number of stops and torn up roads we finally arrived in the town of Nelson.

Nelson is small… but not epically tiny. The best way to describe it is Bar Harbor in Maine. Its a main town right near a very popular national park, and so the main road is full of tourist / outdoors stores and all the locals are very friendly… since tourism seems to be the main industry here. My first order of business was to find a room to stay in, which I accomplished in short order thanks to a quick google search for hostels the night before. Yeah $20-a-night beds. After the Hostel (or Backpackers, as their called here) I set about figuring out what the heck I was doing over the next few days – my plans for the Abel Tasman were still pretty vague at this point, and I figured that the best place to look would be the Department of Conservation information station.

The DOC people are amazing, it’s as simple as that. As soon as I explained my situation and my goals, the woman I was talking to, who reminded me a great deal of my Grandma Hutt, pulled out a map of the great walk and broke it down for me.

You can go either North or South, but I’d recommend Northbound, its simpler since your bus rides will be shorter. Also, I’d recommend starting on Thursday, instead of tomorrow since there’s a good chance of rain on Wednesday. Now, for the trail itself…

It was excellent, and by the time I left I not only knew where I would be going each day, but I had reservations for campsites and even knew which hut’s I’d be staying outside on the walk back. As a bonus while I was making my reservations I had met a pair of girls from Germany who were doing the great walk too, and had given them a quick bit of help planning their route out – we originally debated going as a team, since they didn’t have any long-term camping gear (Stoves, water filters, etc…), but in the end they decided to Kayak the path instead; a much more expensive route, but one that can be stellarly beautiful from what I’ve heard.

 

And Now i’m writing while sitting on a bridge-pylon, dipping my feet into the river below me. It’s my second day in Nelson – I stayed at the backpackers the night before, and now I’m just exploring the town before buying up all the last-minute supplies I need for the Great Walk. The current plan is to check out a few places in town, then buy groceries and fuel before turning in for an early night. In the morning I’ll either catch one of the coachlines up to the town of Marahau where the Abel Tasman walk starts, or catch a ride with Katrin and her friend – the German girls I met yesterday. My biggest concern right now is whether or not I want to buy a fishing rod for the walk; fishing is allowed on most of the coastline, and I’d love the chance to add some fresh fish to my meals.

A few of the places I visited while in Nelson are:

The Maitai River: Yes, this river has the same name as the amazingly fruity drink. Not sure why, but meh. Its a very nice little scenic walk that I took, just following the winding curves of the river. The water is perfectly clear in most parts, dipping to inky blackness at a few shaded swimming holes that have whole troops of high school aged kids swinging off trees into the depths. (Ed Note: Don’t forget, this is summer vacation in New Zealand – not winter)

The Center of New Zealand: I sort of expected this place to be a “center”… you know, a building with this cool thing in the center that’s all yelling “Dude! The center of New Zealand is totally right here! Instead, I found a nature walk heading up a series of switchbacks all the way up a mountain at the edge of town. After a slightly-sweaty walk up (Turns out New Zealand finally learned what Summer means) I found the “Center”… not actually the geographic center, but the surveyors center of the country – this really cool arrow pointing at a spot on the ground thats the “center” of every surveying map of the country… or at least it was until GPS started gaining prominence.

Page & Blackmores: A very cool little bookstore that was recommended to me by my flatmate Martha. Its your quintessential small-town bookstore that takes the wind out of Barnes & Nobel or Border’s. Not the biggest rock climbing selection, but they do have a very nice comic books section, which I may have lost myself in for an hour or two. Another amazing part? They play Dropkick Murphy’s and Flogging Molly throughout the store. Win.

Miyazu Japanese Gardens: I saw a sign after leaving the “Center” of New Zealand reading “Miyazu Japanese Gardens: 45min” and accepted that challenge with grace and humility. After approximately 25min of wandering paths, thinking about buying a Mustang, I was at the gardens. Yep… Just TRY to tell me how long it’s gonna talk to walk that trail. I dare you. … Anyways, the walk had been rather pretty, but it was nothing compared to the Gardens. It seems that New Zealand cities have a tendency to have a Japanese Sister City somewhere in the Japanese island… Nelson’s sister is Miyazu. And because of that, they have an amazingly intricate garden set up on the way into town. Its different from the Scholars garden that Carla and I saw in Dunedin, but amazing in its way; more spread out and controlled, with clearer pathways throughout.