Finding sunshine in Abel Tasman National Park

“Just living is not enough…one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower” – Hans Christian Andersen

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Wainui Bay at high tide

I fully understand that HCA was speaking on behalf of a butterfly in the quote above, but after two months of relentless gloom and doom in Welly, I was feeling like those words directly applied to me. We found our little pocket of sunshine in Abel Tasman and it filled our hearts with so much joy!

We started our journey in Takaka, a quirky little town known for having Aotearoa New Zealand’s highest concentration of yoga pants, dreadlocks and bare feet.  We chose this location 1) for the sunshine 2) close access to two national parks, Abel Tasman and Kahurangi. We found a great little place tucked up in the hills with an outdoor bathtub, where we spent most of our nights watching the moon and listening to nearby owls.

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Day 1 – Northern Section

My partner and I are training for an ultra marathon in October so our plan for the weekend was to run (with plenty of beach breaks), eat, relax in the tub, repeat.  We had previously hiked about 2/3rds of the Abel Tasman Great Walk (Marahau to Awaroa, spending a night in Bark Bay) a few years ago and were anxious to see the northern 1/3rd starting at Wainui Bay.  We planned to run a loop out to Separation Point Te Matau, hugging the coastal track to Tōtaranui Bay, including the tiny Headlands Track, then up and over Gibbs Hill, returning to Wainui Bay, ~27 km (17 miles).

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The track climbs quickly from the parking area along the edge of some lovely native bush, with glimpses of the bay below.  I love starting runs with a good climb, an instant warm up.  The track levels out near the Gibbs Hill junction and soon we were descending to the Whariwharangi Hut.  The hut was originally a homestead built in 1896 and has since been restored to serve as a tramping hut. It is quite charming compared to most great walk huts.

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Whariwharangi Hut

As we carried on to Separation Point Te Matau, we could hear heaps of birds and we picked up the pace with excitement.  We were a bit disappointed to find a megaphone blasting bird noises with wooden decoy gannets in attempts to establish a colony there. We had a little chuckle and enjoyed the seals instead.

We were pretty exposed to the wind here, so we took off to the cove beaches!  The first, was a string of beaches along Mutton Cove (@9.6 km via separation point). During low tide, this might seem like one long beach, but at high tide you have a to crawl over some interesting rock formations that create several smaller beaches.

The next beach was at Anapai Bay (@11.6 km via separation point) one of my favorite stops of the day.  We stayed here for a bit to simply feel the sun on our faces.  The small rock cove was the perfect lunch stop.

We had trouble getting up and moving after this little rest, but soon enough we were back in the trees looking down on the bay.

The track takes you inland, through mānuka trees for a bit.  I love running through the tree tunnel formed by these trees

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Mānuka Tree Tunnel

We added some distance to our run with a little Headlands Track (distance unknown…I don’t really look at my watch much and I don’t remember it on the sign).  Not only did this loop provide us with another climb overlooking a bay, but the end of the loop leads you to the northern edge of Tōtaranui Bay (our favorite stop).  Although this area is accessible by road, no one was around as we walked along these interesting rock formations along the coast edge.

We were a bit bummed to leave the coast, but we were off to climb Gibbs Hill to complete a loop rather than an out and back revisit. I typically love climbs like this, but with slick rock that followed power lines exposing little views for nearly 2 miles…I was over it! Once we reached a more gentle ridge line with views of Wainui Bay, Gibbs Hill was so worth it.  The picture below sadly doesn’t capture the beauty here.  Plus reaching the top meant it was all downhill (in a good way) back to the car.

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Wainui Bay from Gibbs Hill

We effortlessly ran down the climb we started with and even though we were only 500 meters from the end, we made one more detour to the beautiful white sand beaches Wainui Bay.

After 3.5 hours of running time (not sure how long we had lazy beach time), we were done!

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Wainui Bay Start and Finish

Time for some serious eating at the first place we could find.  I can’t remember the name of the place, but it has this giant blue penguin out front and all of the locals were gathered for a happy hour cocktails. Check out that spread of unhealthiness we chowed on afterwards.  Once I removed the sour cream, I did manage to find some food under there.

That evening had we enjoyed a remarkable purple sunset, with sheep of course.

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Day 2

We were hoping to run part of the Heaphy Track in Kahurangi National Park, but with the rain in the forecast and a 15 km climb to reach the first saddle, we headed to the south end of the Abel Tasman Track in Marahau.  Our tired legs would be much happier on this gentle, non technical track.  Although we had hiked this before, we had skipped some of the little headland detours that we were keen to see today to make it a somewhat new experience.  We were traveling from Marahau to Te Pukatea Bay just past Anchorage Hut and back, ~25 km (16 miles).

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This track starts with several bridges crossing tidal flats filled with words spelled with rocks.  I love this!

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There are several little beaches at the start of this track that we always seem to miss, because we aren’t ready to stop after covering only a mile or two.  We were happy to enjoy views from above for the first 5km before popping through the trees for a peek of Apple Tree Bay and Stillwell Bay.  We saved our longer stop for Akersten Bay (@7.2km/4.5 miles) where we sat in the warm sand. This is one of the many long sandy beaches along the early part of the route. We actually missed this beach during our first trip.  The sign is oddly placed, so if you aren’t anticipating the entrance, you might be moving swiftly enough to miss it all together.

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Akersten Bay

There is an interesting rock outcropping in Akersten Bay that you can see from above before arriving at the beach. Check out the tidal change from morning to early afternoon.

We weren’t running long, before you took another quick detour to point that I simply can’t remember the name, but I think it had yellow in it.   This was a lovely little rocky peninsula where you can watch the sailboats at Adele Island across the way. We found an adorable little Weka that came out to see if we had any food for him/her.  These birds are serious beggars, because people have been feeding them so often.  The weka wasn’t getting any food from us….too bad buddy.

Back on the trail, we were off to the Anchorage Hut headland.   We didn’t make this 1.6 km (~1mile) detour on our first trip, because we had a 25 km (~16 mile) hike with a full pack and weren’t interested in adding any more distance.  Today we discovered that it would have been worth the detour.  This little headland boasts lovely views, quiet coves, and a small tidal wetland. The short climb to the lookout is dry with little tree cover, before you descend quickly into the the canopy to reach Anchorage Beach.  Below are some pictures of the views before the descent to the beach.

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Looking south to Adel Island
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Looking north across a wetland

We traveled past Anchorage Hut, which I completely forgot to take a picture of, to Te Pukatea Bay.  This hut can get busy in the summer, as it is easily reachable by kayak or on foot (11.8km/7.3 miles).  While there were a few people lingering around the hut, Te Pukatea, only 1km further, was empty. We chose this bay over the Watering Cove that can be accessed about 1km before the hut.   If you prefer rock formations over beaches, the Watering Cove is a better choice (I looked at pictures upon my return). We didn’t know that at the time, besides we wanted to head down to see the hut and we needed the extra distance to Te Pukatea for our training. Besides, you can’t complain about a beautiful beach all to yourself!

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Te Pukatea

After this stop, we had to run back the way we came, but this time everything looked just a bit different as the tide was heading out.

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Sandy Bay

2 years ago

I have included a few pictures from our first trip to fill in the gap we didn’t cover this during this year’s trip.  The following are pictures between the Anchorage Hut headland and Awaroa Bay. I find this section far lovelier than the Day 2 section I covered above.  However, the rock formations of the less traveled northern end of the track we covered during the Day 1 section is what really stole my heart.  There is really no need to choose though.  Just hike the entire track over a weekend and water taxi back where you started…thats how many enjoy it.

Starting at Anchorage Beach…Continuing on to Torrent Bay, about 3km from the Anchorage Hut headland.

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North end of Anchorage Beach, far from the hut across the bay

You will need to pay attention to the tidal schedule to make sure you cross at low tide or you will have to head inland to the high tide crossing detour, which adds a few kilometer or two to your hike. This area is lovely at low tide, so it is worth the small effort to check the tides and plan accordingly.

Sandfly beach, is a lovely little stop before the busier Bark Bay camping and hut area.

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Sandfly Bay

Bark Bay has both hut and camping options.   There are two sleeping areas in the hut, where you sleep side by side with your ‘new best friends’.  There is a large outdoor seating area where you can watch the tides fill the bay, lifting the boats off the sandy bottom.

There are some large inland sections after Bark Bay that are separated by Tonga Bay. The white cliffs against the clear turquoise water is simply stunning, before hiking down to walk along the beach and wetland.   You can see Tonga Island in the distance from the wetland crossing bridge.

It was a short morning walk from Bark Bay to Awaroa Lodge at the southern side of Awaroa Bay (11.5 km/7.15 miles). We enjoyed a quick cuppa here, before water taxing it back to Marahau.  This was a great way to watch our hike fly past us from the water as dolphins played in the boat’s wake.

We returned the next day to do it all over again by kayak of course!

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Both of our trips to Abel Tasman National Park were in the spring, early September 2017 and late October 2015  While you can enjoy warm sunny days the water is quite chilly at time so it depends on your cold water tolerance whether you can swim. Regardless, we absolutely loved visiting during this quiet time before the summer crowds arrive.  We saw five people our first day along the northern section and roughly twenty people the next day along the busier southern section.  You can definitely spend hours wondering the trails and beaches without seeing another person.

We see a lot of articles here about people complaining that tourists stole all of their tramping opportunities (most notably the great walks). It is certainly hard to book a hut along tourist routes during the summer swell, but we find these popular trails nearly vacant in the shoulder spring and autumn seasons.  Abel Tasman hasn’t been stolen from New Zealanders….so get out there and enjoy it!

 

Author: angie campbell

I am an expat from the United States living in Wellington, New Zealand. My love affair with landscape, culture, and learning has led to a life filled with travel and academic institutions. Endowed with endless curiosity, I spend a great deal of time philosophizing about anything and everything, but very often pertaining to environmental issues. I should note that I am not formally trained in environmental philosophy, nor do I have the vocabulary competency to pass for someone who has. My writing is a somewhat tongue and cheek. I am using this blog as a means to work through some of this thinking and to follow my own pathway of inquiry, while providing (hopefully) some meaningful insight of what it is like to live as an American in Aotearoa New Zealand. I am sure at some point there will be some interesting travel photos once I make the leap from iphone to fancy camera. There is a secondary tab to the this blog spot. Reflections of the Watering Hole is an old blog I started during one of my academic stints studying the social and environmental impacts of oil and natural gas development in the Denver Julesburg Basin in the United States. While some of the information is a bit 'dated' (I started it in 2013), many of the conundrums remain relevant today.

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