Abel Tasman Coastal Track
New Zealand Great Walk
Sunday 22 January 2016
The plan was to run the 60km Abel Tasman Coastal Track, one of New Zealand's Great Walks. Easy track, doable in a day, and the parents had offered to drop me at one end and then pick me up at the other end. Logistics dreams are made of. On Saturday my father asked me if I had looked at the weather for the next day. I hadn't. He had. He thought the run possibly wasn't a good idea. As I am now Scottish; a bit of rain was not going to put me off. Wind? Well, I don't understand the speeds when they are in wind form. What does gale force even mean? Who's this Gale and how strong is she really? And when describing wind to others why do I always lean to the left? So many questions; none of which will be answered on a solo 60km run.
We drove from Nelson, dodging fallen trees, and arrived in Marahau for a 7am start. A fallen tree is better than a tree still contemplating a fall. It was pishing with rain. The adults asked if I was sure I wanted to do the run today. Yes, doesn't everyone want to run for hours by themselves in the rain?
Marahau - start of the Abel Tasman trail
Marahau to Bark Bay ~ 15km
A few weeks back I took the Wesley family to the Abel Tasman for a day trip. Boat in, small walk, lay on beach, boat out. A beautiful summer day and absolutely rammed with tourists. Too many people. Sadly, on those sorts of days, the Abel Tasman is a national park ruined. Fortunately, today the day tours were cancelled due to the WEATHER BOMB. With my rain jacket hood pulled tight I plodded through tracks that had turned to streams and admired the roaring waterfalls. Sometimes I was showered in the waterfalls as they crashed over the bridges and boardwalks. I was drenched within minutes. Within the first two hours I did not see a single person, and saw only two before the third hour was over. I'd put my money on them both being German.
At the Anchorage Bay Hut turnoff I continued on to Torrent Bay via the high tide track. The monsoon put me off stopping for a drink. The photos display how beautiful the day was.
At around 10am I reached Bark Bay; flushing toilet and a hut where I could write in my trip intentions. I sit outside to eat crisps. The hikers indoors are probably not ready to have my three hour run shoved in their faces just yet. When I do venture inside, to drip all over the log book and describe the weather as shite, I find them all hunched around a fire discussing their possible departure at 11am.
After texting the adults to let them know I would be departing the hut at 10:15, I do a rough calculation of time and distance. I knew I was taking it easy but I seem to be very slow. Low tide is at 11:45 and I need to be at Awaroa Hut for the estuary crossing as close to this time as possible in order to cross safely. At my current pace, I am not going to come close to that.
Bark Bay to Awaroa Hut ~ 13km
10:15 - 12:00
1 hour 45 minutes
Keen on making up time, I put my feet back into my soaking shoes and tear off towards the beach. Low tide track. Hmm, but it is not low tide and no one mentioned I would have this crossing. Another jog around the hut. Back out the track I came in on. A fallen tree was partially covering the sign pointing me in the right direction over the high tide route. My hopes of making up time are further dashed when I realise that there are a number of inclines over the next 13km.
I run past an extended family who comment to their children that my speed is the sort of pace that they are after. 'Totes, if you want to get across the crossing today!' the nitwit in me calls. They are surprised I am crossing today, I am surprised that they are only doing a 13km walk. Calculating walking distances as a runner is confusing.
Swishing my rainjacket arms, I do as best as I can to make up time. Trying to run at pace means that every incline is a cruel mountain. I am also not particularly fit so my incline running ability is not flash. There are infrequent signs informing me of distance, to which I give the deathly stare. Surely when I get within a few kilometres of the crossing there will be walkers coming towards me who have managed to cross at the lowest tidal point? No walkers. Still no more walkers. Finally two walkers; neither who look wet like they should after a tidal crossing. Going down, down. Campsite. No time to fill my drink bottle; I am about twenty minutes after the lowest tide and I need to get across.
Awaroa Hut to Totaranui
12:00 - 13:30
1 hour 30 minutes
|The crossing doesn't look too bad|
Scores of walkers are sitting on the hut's porch. What on Abel Tasman earth are they doing? None have crossed and the water is only going to get higher. A quad bike appears from somewhere collecting oversized tramping packs. I rip off my running shoes, wrap them in a plastic bag and squish them into my bag. With my reef shoes shoved on, I flap my feet rapidly towards the water. I have my reef shoes on because of the beautiful sharp shells and crabs I am going to see through the crystal clear water.... Or so my sister said. There has been so much rain that the water is as murky as murky water. Totes murky.
Olivia also used her hands to motion that the water would be a bit above knee height when asked about the crossing depth. As a vertically challenged member of society, I am expecting the water to be around my mid-thigh. It is currently around my waist. I lift my backpack up at the sides and back. Everything is in plastic snap lock bags but they won't handle full water immersion. And my cell phone is in my side pocket, the device I need to use to let the parentals know where I am.
Ahead of me is a couple; the girl in a poncho and the guy with a tramping pack on both hi front and back. The girl is my height and now crying as the water is getting higher as we enter further into the crossing. There is no way that my sister; on her tiny steroid-ruined thighs (yes, she's a weight-lifter who has abused steroids for years) would have got across this water. I realise it is higher because of the rain; but this much higher?
The water isn't pulling me sideways down to the ocean but it is coming towards me. Before I know it; I am crossing the estuary in the torrential rain, tits deep in water. As I am still wearing the rainjacket (the irony is that it is my sister's), the water has streamed down the sleeves. With my backpakc now above my head and strapped around my neck, I use the thunder thighs I was genetically nonblessed with and lurch forward. This is not fun and I do not like it. I contemplate the swim. I could easily swim it. All my kit would be stuffed and I still have 25km of slow slogging at the other side of this water. I would be rather chilly and as hungry as I am when I am really hungry.
You'll all be pleased to know that I survived. After about 20 minutes, I dragged myself ashore. I sat outside an eco-friendly toilet; head in hands; shed a few tears and then repeatedly swore at a Weka that was trying to steal my food. The jet plane sweeties did not make the journey successfully. A wee bit sticky now. After letting the parentals know of my survival (but not worrying them with the trauma) I trudge along, thankful not to have a belly full of salt water.
In comparison, the rest of the journey to Totaranui was unremarkable. There were some beautiful beaches and even the weather was clearing. Totaranui is a mega camp. There are even recycling bins. Families fight over the best camping sites.
Totaranui to Whariwharangi Bay Hut (via Separation Point)
13:30 - 15:30
As I wander out of Totaranui, swigging away at an unhealthy soda beverage, I see an automobile which looks like so many other automobiles. It also looks like my father's. Winner, winner, it is! A fabulous surprise; they can take my rubbish. I let them know that I am feeling fine but that I am a bit slow and therefore will finish an hour behind schedule.
A few kilometres later, the rain jacket can finally come off. The chaffing from my shorts is a true story. Trudge, trudge, beautiful beach after beautiful beach.
On one of these beautiful beaches I meet a lonely German guy who I get speaking to. His English isn't brilliant so somehow he gets confused in the conversation and decides that he will run with me; whilst carrying his tramping pack and wearing jeans. Side note; jeans are not a good hiking decision at any time, and an even worse one when it is wet. HIs original route got changed and now he is heading to a small beach that I don't know. He tears off ahead down a small trail off the beach. For the second time today, I wonder if I might be killed. Fortunately, he doesn't spring out from a bush and kill me. The pen also seems to drop regarding the fact that I am running all the way. He lets me continue unharmed.
I take a track up to see Separation Point. There are no seals today. I then wiggle my way to Whariwharangi Bay Hut; a splendid looking two storey hut with lots of little rooms and a big wooden dining table. Inside I speak to a couple of Americans who are claiming to be Kiwis ( dual nationals, pfffft). Their plans today changed from their original booking due to boat cancellations. They are confused as to how I have come from Marahau. The distance is not the first reason for their confusion. It turns out; the WATER CROSSING WAS CLOSED! As the weather bomb raised the water levels and there was a risk of flash flooding, the park rangers had closed the crossing. That was why there were so many people sitting outside Awaroa Hut. I am sure the closure was well advertised inside the huts; they just weren't expecting someone to jog the route today.
View from Separation Point
Dual citizen couple are also confused as to how I am dry. That crossing was hours ago darlings and I have been running like the wind ever since. Well, I have been running. And it is now hot. And it was hours ago. And clothing dries. Educating others across the globe.
Whariwharangi Bay Hut to Wainui Bay
15:45 - 16:30
Last leg. An uphill then a downhill. Fabulous. My legs are a bit tired. It has been a great solo adventure. As an unknown bird watcher, I have thoroughly enjoyed the cheeky natives about. I have less than a certain number of kilometres to go. I can't remember what that certain number is but it must be getting smalller. I meet day trippers and families heading up to the hut for a sleepover. I run down switchback after switchback. Legs are giving it the thud, thud. Wish there was a flat part. I get closer and closer to the bay. Come on flat, be round a corner somewhere. A flat section came, at the bottom of the hill where one can expect flat ground to occur, and naturally if felt like an uphill climb.
And there are my parents, waiting in the carpark for my arrival. Mother holding a tablet in front of her face but forgetting to press the play button on the video, and my father with a phone in front of his face taking several blurry unflattering photos in quick succession. Parents and technology; the best entertainment I have had since that water crossing. We stop for a cracking pizza and snicker slice in Takaka before father and I crack open several beers and the motherlode has to drive us back over the hill back to Nelson.
A solid adventure, thanks to the parents for not stopping me and providing transportation. And thank you to all the walkers I saw that didn't tell me about the crossing closure; turning back would have been a longer run and I would have had to return another day to complete the track.