Abel Tasman Trail
At 22,530 hectares the Abel Tasman is the smallest national park in New Zealand. Famous for its golden sandy beaches and sculptured granite cliff lines the park is also the countries busiest, the coast draws hikers and kayakers from across the globe. Winding across the coastal shores the 51km long Abel Tasman trail is one of the finest ways to escape some of the crowd and explore the park.
Distance: 51km Recommended time: 3-5 days When Best to go: October - April
Arriving onto the South Island I was back under the weight of a heavy backpack. Unlike my previous attempt at camp food I had chosen to go faster and lighter with heavy cooked pasta replaced with ramen noodles. Unfortunately for every gram saved I had replaced with chocolate.
For the first time I was embarking on a great walk alone. Unlike my failed attempt at solo hiking in Rotorua where I had lost all my food and quickly come into trouble I was re-assured with a safety net of fellow hikers on the Abel Tasman trail. Ahead and behind there was almost always someone visible on my first days tramping through coastal woods and sandy bay. Before long I was walking in company once again.
Joined by a dutchman who was travelling fast and light we shared our time and chocolate bars as we detoured from the wide route to explore hidden sandy bays, gurgling moss coated ravines and dense sun-parched woodland. Unlike the Waikaremoana trail the sun was blazing and my biggest concern was not hypothermia but heat exhaustion; thankfully regular plunges into the turquoise water helped to cool us down.
Crossing a creaking wire bridge to the bounce of my heavy footsteps I set off with a spring in my step. It was early in the morning and once again I was alone. A late night sharing stories under a spectacular orange sunset has left little chance to rest from the day before, to my delight the distance to cover was short and gentle.
Winding over low hills and printing fresh steps in long sandy bays I was ahead of the morning rush. The perks of rising to the sun meant few others were yet to join the popular trail. I walked in search of a tidal estuary, there I would set tent and enjoy the afternoon as the tide slowly rose and fell.
Arriving early in the afternoon I was delighted to pitch my tent beside another. Inside two beautiful Australian girls were having a long wishful discussion on their lack of chocolate. I can fix that I thought with a delighted smile. Tess and Ella were on their own gap year adventures, just like I they had found themselves walking trails in New Zealand by happy accident. Splitting out the chocolate bars we laid out in their tent watching the blinking southern stars drift to and fro from wispy cloud.
We decided to hike the last two days of our journey together, the chance to linger in each others company was welcomed by all sides. Hauling heavy packs back onto our weary shoulders we three set off together barefoot with trousers rolled high. Crunching with numerous giggling fits as each of us stepped with a wince we stumbled over the shallow estuary which was littered with sharp cockle-shells. Although only half a kilometre the uncomfortable crossing took surprisingly long.
Relieved to make the far shore we pulled our boots on and set off along the sandy coast with a gentle meander. The welcome luxury of the Abel Tasman in comparison to those other trails I had seen was there was never a sense of being remote. There was always an escape not too far from the next bend, even water taxis or hidden restaurants occasionally appeared through the ferny woodland.
Detouring to wander to the tip of a granite headland Tess, Ella and I paused on the rocks to watch a low swell explode over the craggy shore. Far below us we watched sea lions playfully exploit the surf for their own amusement.
Our final day we awoke to find the inviting blue waters and golden sands shrouded in a thick grey mist. Pulling packs on and putting heads down we trudged up the final hill to reach the bus-route back to town. Our journey was almost over. The smell of gorse flowers and the woodland floor rose in the damp air, we marvelled at the glistening dew on draping ferns and found excitement in following the chorus of morning birdsong toward the end.
As the bus arrived I waved goodbye to my newfound friends on the road. We would meet again somewhere in the world and promised to stay in contact. As I left Tess and Ella with a slight pang of loneliness I turned my focus onto the road ahead for where the Abel Tasman trail ends the Heaphy trail began.