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Abel Tasman Coast Track: Walk, swim, repeat

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September 2020 Issue

There’s no walk quite like the Abel Tasman Coast Track and despite its popularity, there are plenty of quiet spots to discover, writes Kathy Ombler

“Aqua (water colour). Bellbird. Canuka?” My daughter and I grinned, but had to concede kānuka starts with a K.

We were playing ‘the alphabet game’, you know, find something starting with A, B, C, etc, as we walked from Onetahuti to Bark Bay. She was 10 at the time. Dad and big sister had gone ahead to set up camp and the game was a distraction as we hauled ourselves in the heat up a gentle forested hill that seemed more of a mountain to little legs.

There won’t be so many internationals around this year but my bet is this track will still be busy. There is so much going for it, no matter your age or fitness. You can walk long or short days, stop for a swim, send your packs, or yourself, ahead in a water taxi, camp, stay in a hut or a swanky lodge, kayak instead of walk, or as well. I’ve done a bit of all of that over the years, and every visit has been a treat.

The season doesn’t matter. In summer the swimming is great. Did I mention those golden sand beaches? Winter is quieter, with calm, clear days and fewer sandflies, though just as many incorrigible weka since Project Janszoon’s pest control has enabled the re-introduction of these and other species to the park. Guard your scroggin!

Let’s revisit that family walk. We boated from Marahau to Totaranui and over a leisurely three nights walked back. Used to rougher tramping tracks this was a revelation; gentle pathway through regenerating kānuka forest, walk along a golden beach, swim, and repeat. Crossing Awaroa Estuary at low tide was an adventure; splish-splashing through squishy mud. “Watch out for crabs!” Shrieks and giggles got us to our first campsite.

Day two continued in a similar vein. Forest walk, beach walk, swim (one simply cannot walk past Onetahuti Beach without a swim) and another, smaller, estuary to squelch across to reach Bark Bay with its big hut and sheltered clearings for camping and its pretty sandspit. Bark Bay campers these days are entertained by raucous kākā, I’ve been reliably informed. Crossing the track’s tidal estuaries did require forward planning but waiting on a beach with a picnic and swimming to be done while the tide went out, as we did at Torrent Bay, was hardly an issue. (Another option is to venture inland via the track to Cleopatra’s Pool, enjoy a freshwater swim and mossy rockslide, before continuing around the bay to Anchorage.)
There was a sense of ‘civilisation’ around Anchorage, with its sheltered mooring for yachts and the Torrent Bay cribs across the bay. The orca didn’t mind. They cruised in hunting and their stingray quarry fled close to the beach. More shrieks.

For a final day treat, we sent the kids’ packs out by water taxi. They couldn’t stop grinning. Unfettered, they bounced up that hot, dry hill from Anchorage, admired the views, explored the beaches, and celebrated the end of their adventure with Marahau burgers, still legendary today.

Tips from other trips: Kayaking offers a whole different perspective of this coast. I’ve stopped at cute little campsites like Akersten and others inaccessible to walkers, my favourite being Mosquito Bay. I’ve paddled with seals and dolphins. And carried so much stuff!

Don’t miss the top end. Most people explore just from Marahau to Totaranui. North from Totaranui are more golden beaches, coves, headlands, birdlife, delightful campsites – and Separation Point. The hook-shaped headland (its Māori name is Matau, meaning hook) is a stunning spot where, on a later visit, my daughter and I sat watching dolphins playing in the currents.

Last year, I discovered Whariwharangi, the track’s northernmost hut and quite possibly one of the nicest huts anywhere. The two-story, former farm homestead has been carefully restored. A campsite sits in sheltered, landscaped surrounds. The beach is one of the biggest and best in the park, and that’s saying something. Stay here and there’s a good chance you’ll be woken early by korimako/bellbirds. Nothing’s perfect.

Kura Barrett enjoys Christmas in the park. Photo: Kathy Ombler

Meet the warden

Kura Barrett loves Onetahuti Beach.

Kura Barrett has discovered a special spot to celebrate Christmas. Two years ago she volunteered to be a DOC camp host at Onetahuti Beach, one of 18 campsites along the Abel Tasman Coast Track. It was so good she’s going back this Christmas for her third year.

Once an Abel Tasman kayak guide, Kura says Onetahuti is a lovely sheltered spot with a view out to Tonga Island. “It has a great swimming beach plus a freshwater pool to rinse off the sea salt,” she says. “We see lots of kererū, fantails, oystercatchers, pied shags, and of course those persistent weka. They will steal anything!

“During my last two visits, the weather was outstanding. The campers have been friendly and very responsible during the Christmas and New Year celebrations. The DOC staff are a great bunch of people, they go out of their way to look after camp hosts and show their appreciation for our volunteer work.”

In the neighbourhood

Alternative track:Away from the beach, the Inland Track traverses mature forest; beech, rimu, cedar, dracophyllum, and a huge clearing crammed with subalpine diversity. And there are no crowds.

Since you’re already here: Walk the 45min track to explore Harwoods Hole from Canaan, off the Takaka Hill Road. Only experienced cavers can explore its secrets, but the limestone formations and views make it a worthwhile short walk.

Just got a weekend? From Totaranui, walk the quieter northern section for a night in Whariwharangi Hut. For a loop, return via Gibbs Hill.

Where to stay: There are several accommodation options available at the track start in Marahau.

Where to stock up: There are small stores in Marahau, but nearby Motueka has a much greater selection of groceries and local produce.

Walking the Abel Tasman Coast Track
When it comes to stunning coastal scenery and a bounty of huts and campsites, the Abel Tasman Coast Track trumps all.

Marahau to Anchorage Hut
12.4km, 4hr
A boardwalk leads across the estuary and weaves in and out of gullies above numerous bays and coves. It’s an easy-going track with the chance to drop down to the many golden sand beaches passed on the way. The track turns inland at Akersten Bay and climbs over the headland to reach 34-bunk Anchorage Hut. There are also eight campsites on this section.

Anchorage Hut to Bark Bay Hut
11.4km, 4hr
The track continues around the coast to Torrent Bay Village and campsite and then onto Bark Bay Hut. On the way, a high and airy swingbridge crosses Falls River. Unusual cascades and swimming holes can be found up Tregida Creek on the Falls River Track (starts at Torrent Bay). Bark Bay is an intimate microcosm of the seascape of Abel Tasman National Park – a perfect beach, sandspit, luxuriant forest, great hut, boat access and stunning views. There are two campsites en route. The hut sleeps 34.

Bark Bay Hut to Awaroa Hut
13.5km, 4.5hr
Continue on to Tonga Quarry, where huge storms in 2018 permanently closed the campsite. But it’s still a memorable spot, with its umbrella of mānuka-kānuka forest, soft sands and ocean views. The track continues along Onetahuti Beach to the sheltered nook of Richardson Inlet where a footbridge and a small climb lead to Awaroa Inlet and 26-bunk Awaroa Hut. There are three campsites on this section.

Awaroa Hut to Whariwharangi Hut
16.9km, 5-6hr
Awaroa Inlet can only be crossed 90-minutes before and 2hr after low tide. It takes 30-40 minutes to cross the sands and mudflats, so judge it well. It’s then on to Totaranui (reached in 2hr) – the finish and/or start for many walkers. The track continues on to Separation Point, passing several idyllic beaches. This northern section is every bit as beautiful as the southern stretches, but more isolated and with fewer people. Whariwharangi Hut (20 bunks) is 1.5km from Separation Point. There are four campsites on this section. From here, walk to Wainui Inlet (5.7km, 2hr) or back to Totaranui (9km, 3hr) where you can get a water taxi back to Marahau.

Total Ascent
3-5 days. To Anchorage Hut, 4hr; To Bark Bay Hut, 4hr; To Awaroa Hut, 4.5hr; To Whariwharangi Hut, 5.5hr; To Wainui, 2hr
Anchorage Hut (34 bunks), Bark Bay Hut (34 bunks), Awaroa Hut (26 bunks), Whariwharangi Hut (20 bunks)
From Marahau at the eastern end or Wainui at the western end
BP25, BN25

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