I am sitting at my campsite, a place called the Barn. I’ve just returned from three days on Abel Tasman track. A gorgeous, though gruelling (for me) walk. I think my pack was a “wee bit” too heavy. My poor legs are bumpy and bloody from sandflies, and a large burst blister on my left foot made the last day limpy.
This campsite is right on the edge of a wide and very long flat expanse ending in a long, distant blue mountain range which I believe is the Marlborough Sounds. In front of me is a field with grazing horses and roaming Pukekos, the New Zealand blue bird with a bright orange triangular beak and feet that are comically too big. They walk along, each step pulled upward as if trying to remove gum from their soles. This view is equal to any I saw along the trek. As the sky gets orangey-yellow and a pink strip materializes above the range, the sandflies are out in full force. I might have to escape the picnic bench soon. I rubbed “bug juice” (a homemade mixture of baby oil and detyl) all over my exposed skin, but I’m not sure if it’s deterring them really. I probably have to fully bathe in it to make a difference.
I got here Tuesday night after a few nights in the Nelson area. I didn’t do a whole lot there besides sleep, as I was listless and depressed. Beth’s checklist for depression: 1) insomnia/sleepiness: check. 2) loss of appetite: check 3) loss of any interest or motivation even in doing even the most amazing things, i.e. swimming with dolphins: check. So a few days back I just went back up to the full dose on the meds. I will save trying to come off them when I have time to lay around at home doing nothing.
Monday morning in Nelson I was awoken in my tent at 11am by a snippy man informing me that “you were told checkout was 10am.” So I quickly packed up my tent and got out of there, but not before he could make a few more passive suggestions that I hurry up. Every other place I have camped has been pretty lax about checkout, seeing as how there isn’t much to clean up after the tent and person are packed and gone. But this place has its rules, and we must abide by them. The day before I had met a very sweet woman named Liz who invited me to crash at her place. She said she had been checking out couchsurfing.com, thinking it would be a cool way to meet people. I have had a few people suggest this site to me, and I know its pretty big in New Zealand and Australia. I just never signed up because I was worried I wouldn’t be a very good host in New York City. With my crazy schedule and the fact that I can’t be quite as lax with security in my place in New York, I just didn’t bother to sign up. I might now, just so I can write Liz a glowing review.
One very cool thing in Nelson was the trees in Church Hill. Over a hundred years ago a man planted all these great trees which have since gotten quite large. From the sign in the park:
“A grant of one hundred and fifty pounds was made by the Provincial Government in 1861 to buy trees for Church Hill. A number of trees were also donated by Josef Webb and Alfred Domett, who, along with John Paynter, planted and cared for the young trees. Many are now magnificent specimens noteworthy for their age, size, historic value and rarity in Nelson City.”
I photographed the little schematic of the park and walked around trying to identify them. I stood in awe of a California Redwood. Massive in relation to me, but on the small side in relation to all its cousins. I am getting good at finding the Pohutakawa, or the New Zealand Christmas Tree. Some of the other ones I picked out were the Weeping Redwood, Blackbutt Gum, Turkey Oak and Himalayan Cedar. There was an amazingly twisted and gnarled tree growing out of the blacktop right outside the park that had a tag on it. But I can’t remember what it was.
I texted Liz and let her know I would take her up on the place that evening. She called and met me in her car, and I followed her out to “The Glen”, or Glenduan. Her apartment was small but had a beautiful garden and a deck with a view of the water and mountains beyond. I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned the stars yet here. I have become adept at finding the Southern Cross. The night Roland and I stayed at Wheatley Downs Farmstay in Arrarata, we stood out in the little yard looking up at the stars while I held my little laptop in my arms, running the great program Stellarium. It gives you the night sky from your position and time of year and you can scroll it around so that it is facing the direction you are facing. We found many constellations, including the Pleidades, or seven sisters. You can see the milky way here, very clearly.
Liz fed me a wonderful cous-cous with raisins, homemade pesto and little tomatoes from her garden. As well as thick slices of homemade bread with butter. We talked for a while. She had gone to Alaska to fish, something I had contemplated with my buddy Andy Hall our freshman year at Cornell. Apparently people head out there for the summers and work crazy long hours fishing on boats, and can make good money for the time and suffering. It never happened for us, but Liz did it. She got pulled into the interesting crazy family that was created from the people who made it out there, and stayed for a while. She is now interested in fish stock replenishment but currently has a job in agriculture. One she seems somewhat bored with. Like me she has done the sorts of jobs that require a ton of time and energy for a short period, but then afford free time and travel in between. Her current job is more of a 9-5 kind of gig.
I had a bed and room to myself and she left me in her place during the day while she went to work. Still in a haze, I spent most of the day sleeping on the couch, after sleeping in. Sat on the porch a bit, but it was too hot in the direct sun. Gave Liz a call to say goodbye around 3pm and headed to Marahau for the Abel Tasman track.
Pathway up to her apartment:
Looking off the porch:
In the living room looking towards the porch:
As I pulled into Marahau, I saw a bunch of boats stranded on the low tide flats off the road. I pulled into the carpark to get a closer look and maybe take some pictures. There was a large barge-like boat with tarps all around. I bet my Uncle Tim would appreciate it, so I took a photo.
Turning the corner around the dunes, there were more boats of varying size and in different degrees or repair/disrepair.
Off to the side, I saw some movement. There was a man in the one with a large windmill jerry-rigged to the top. As I came closer he called out a hello. So I walked over to chat. He was a grizzled, good-looking guy maybe in his late forties. He asked where I was from and how long I was here. New York and two months, I said. “Ah! Decadent!” He had just started his vacation, and when I asked how long his was he only said, “Not long enough.” He is a sea kayak guide and had cut out of work early. Winter is coming and he has to prepare. I asked how cold it gets and he said pretty frosty but he has a down sleeping bag. I asked if the windmill was for power (duh)and he said he gets good power from it. In a storm he can even watch a movie. But it’s too big, it makes the boat top heavy and it rocks pretty wildly in the wind. I asked if I could take a picture and he said, sure, I don’t mind. He was waiting impatiently for the tide to return so that he could try out his new motor – he gestured to it hanging off the back of the boat. Still two and half hours to go. I might’ve lingered longer to talk but I was very aware of having intruded on his home, so I moved on. I hadn’t talked to anyone who wasn’t waiting on me that day so it was nice to have some genuine interaction.
Not too much farther up the road was The Barn, a hostel and campsite just steps from the beginning of the Abel Tasman Coastal track. I set up my tent under a tree and next to a bush, not far from the expansive flat land and water before the distant mountains. As soon as it got dark, I realized my mistake, as the light from the hostel area was shining brightly into my tent. So I pulled up the pegs and dragged it around to the other side of the bush.
At 2am after restless sleep, I was awoken by the sounds of talking in the tent less than 20 yards away. I could hear it even while wearing earplugs, which I have been wearing religiously every night. It went on for long enough that I was wide awake. Considering all the sleeping I had done that day, it was no surprise to be hit with insomnia. I walked into the hostel communal area, thinking I would be up a little then try to sleep again. That didn’t last long and I went back to the tent and dragged it as far away from the talkers as I could.
I don’t remember when I got up the next morning, but it wasn’t at the crack of dawn, for sure. I meant to get on the track that day, but still had some preparation to do. I walked into town to buy some supplies. Along the water, I saw the windmill boat moored. As I walked up to an older gentleman getting out of a kayak, I heard happy greetings right behind me. I turned and it was the man from the windmill boat, not saying hello to me, but to the older gentleman. I couldn’t tell if he recognized me so I awkardly crossed the road to go into the little general store. He walked in not long after me and was happily greeted by the woman working there. “Sammy! You’re back in town….” I was going to say hi if he looked my way, but he never did. Somewhat of a local character, I assume. I was too spacey and lacking an appetite to plan any food. I just bought a chocolate bar, always a good fall-back.
I sat at the little cafe and had a coffee, got online and checked email and chatted with Kerry. Back at the Barn I had to order a water taxi to pick me up, and book campsites along the way. I also had to get sandfly repellent and sunscreen. Everything caused delays. Too boring to go into, but there was a lot of going back and forth to computers with internet and calling DOC to get it all sorted out. The day was creeping on and I wondered if I would actually get going. I thought about charging my camera battery, too, but that got lost in the mix. I packed my bag kind of hastily, too, which might account for why it was on the heavy side.
I was on the track by 2pmish, heading for Watering Cove which seemed a realistic goal. The trek starts on a walkway through the flat muddy marshland you can see from the Barn. Golden browns are contrasted with the dark greens of the hills, blues of the mountains and sparkling water. I made a few camping purchases in Nelson, one of which was a pair of gaiters. These are pieces of material that snap and velcro around your shoes, to keep the rocks out. On the Tongariro Crossing I was constantly stopping to dump out little pebbles.
On the mud below the walkway at low tide, people had spelled out words with rocks. Mostly people’s names, but this seemed an appropriate self-portrait:
Lush, dense canopy of greens constrasted with the golden beaches and open sky over sea. There were occasional small bridges over little waterfalls. I had much of the walk to myself, only passing people sporadically. A gift of the late season and starting late in the day. The reflected and diffused light often glowed green or yellow. An otherworldly feel, as if light was emanating from everything around me.
I really liked the way the trees would silouette against the bright, glowing golden beaches and clear green-blue waters.
The anatomy of a tramper, bottom half – check out those gaiters!:
Top half, looking a “wee bit” tired:
The most graceful tree:
The last climb before the descent to Watering Cove was well worth the effort. Here I am resting at the summit:
And a closer view:
I got to Watering Cove after about 4 hours of hiking, with many rests in between. It was low tide and I could walk around this large granite rock formation near the water. One shallow recession in the cliff had dark blue/black sand at its base. At the other end of the beach was a precarious arch of rock, very thin at the connecting point to the ground. Unfortunately my camera battery started to die at this point. I left it off mostly, but could quickly turn it on, snap a picture and turn it off again before it shut down.
I camped on the beach at Watering Cove, a few yards past the high tide water line. I could hear the water lapping in closer during the night, and left my rain fly open so I could gaze out at the stars as I lay in my sleeping bag.
I didn’t get going until maybe 10 the next morning. Spent some time just sitting, looking out to sea as my tent dried in the sun. This day was the longest and toughest. I spent around five hours on the track, the last hour half-hobbling after the big blister on my left foot burst. I stopped at Bark Bay Campsite, even though I had been booked about two hours farther down the track at Tonga Bay.
An example of the views:
A 47 meter long suspension bridge:
The water from the bridge:
As I walked down the beach a man in the distance smiled and waved at me as if we knew each other. I almost turned to look over my shoulder, but just said hello back instead.
There were fireplaces here which excited me. I had been carrying a little billy-can, some bags of tea and honey just in case. There are no provided stoves on this track, but I was hoping for fire somewhere. A large group of people was scouring the site picking up kindling, and there was a large pile of wood next to an axe in the center. I picked up the axe in my flip-flops, then thought better of it. Knowing me, I would chop off a toe. I don’t think I have ever chopped wood before.
On the beach I saw an Aquataxi arrive and I went up to speak to the driver. I had bought a ticket to get back from Awaroa, which was not only a far walk the next day but had to be timed in such a way to make a tidal crossing at low tide. I didn’t think I was going to make it. And didn’t relish the idea of trying to make it out there on a busted foot. He gave me a list of pickup times, which were plentiful. I would probably just walk over the next hill to Tonga and catch a ride back in the afternoon. No reason to wreck myself running to my pickup point.
While setting up my own tent one of the three kayaking men came over to ask me if I had extra tent pegs. I had been carrying four very large extra tent pegs with me, but dumped them out of my pack before this trek, as I have never needed them. But I did have four extra little ones that are used to hold the rain flys out. I only use those if its stormy and windy – and the day was perfectly still with not threat of rain. This group was two young guys from Scotland, Simon and Nick and an older guy, Chris, from Wales, the one who had said hello on the beach earlier/ They had met at a hostel in a nearby town, Takaka, and decided to kayak together.
I went around the campsite searching for any remaining twigs. Back near the fireplace, I saw Chris cutting long thin dead branches from a low tree. I asked if he also wanted to build a fire. No, he was carving more tent pegs. While he whittled away I tried to get a fire going. I went through about five waterproof matches, but nothing was catching, so I asked the guys if any of them were good at starting fires. Simon came over with a lighter and had a go at it. Nothing really seemed to want to light, so I suggested gathering some of the dried leaves. Those went up in a nice big flame, and got some embers going. I looked up as we were messing around with this and Chris had arrived, sweating, with a massive armload of wood chopped into little logs. He is a big guy, with a somewhat sullen manner. He didn’t even smile as I exclaimed how awesome it was of him to chop up the wood, he just dropped it off with a just-doing-my-duty kind of an air. Very sweet.
So I’d made some friends. Simon and Chris got very involved in trying to get the fire going and keeping it burning. We sat talking as the sky darkened, tending to the recalcitrant and often pathetic little fire. The wood was damp and generally not in the mood to burn. I dumped water out of the billy, hoping that might induce a boil, just hoping for one little cup of tea.
Simon and Nick had just graduated as Aeronautical Engineers and were traveling for many months. They were going to end in America, driving down the west coast in a rented wagon with three other friends. Chris asked me what I did and I said worked on movie crews setting up lights. Simon asked what shows and I told them Law and Order since that is the one most people seem to recognize. Rescue Me doesn’t seem to have international appeal. Chris didn’t say much and I asked him what he did. Same thing as me, more or less. Worked on TV crews as a jib assistant. Lots of BBC stuff. He was taking a year off traveling, ending in America as well.
I gave up on my water boiling and took my billy off the fire. Surprisingly it had gained enough heat to make a good cup of tea. Yay! I got greedy and put another can of water on – but gave up on it fairly soon after.
We walked onto the beach and gazed at the stars awhile. I turned in early, around 930pm and the guys stayed up a few more hours drinking beer and talking. I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying from my tent, though I did keep hearing “American”. Their Scottish accents were hard to make out even close up, though I was endeared by how often they said “a wee bit”.
Early the next morning Simon woke me up, apologizing but saying I probably wanted to see this sunrise. And to bring my camera. I thanked him sincerely as I disengaged myself from the sleeping bag.
I could hear Chris asking Simon if I had gotten up as I approached the beach. The sky was burning pink and orange all across the area we could see above the beach.
The guys were also being picked up at Tonga that afternoon, so we said see-you-laters as they paddled away. Even the hour walk was exhausting for me, but I was glad I made it to the next coves. The first stop was at Tonga Quarry, where piles of granite and concrete slabs attest to the existence of an early 1900s quarry.
After this picture, the camera died for good.
The final walk down to Onehatuti Beach had the most beautiful views of crystal clear, bright green water directly below. I could see down to the sand underwater and wished I had brought snorkeling gear. When I got to the beach the guys were already there. They had had the most amazing day. There is a little island off the coast where seals live. The seals, being so accustomed to human visitors are very friendly and playful, jumping up onto the kayaks and even into Nick’s lap. They got out of the kayaks and swam with them. They all seemed overjoyed with the experience. I said I thought I would go for a swim and Chris offered me his wetsuit. It was big on me, but better than nothing. I just wore my bikini underneath. He also offered a mask and snorkel. Perfect! It was cold, but I was so captivated by snorkeling that I forgot my discomfort. I don’t think I have snorkeled since we lived in Puerto Rico when I was in middle school. There weren’t a whole lot of fish, mostly these small white ones with one big black dot on each side of the tail. Though I briefly saw a very quick school of skinny skinny fish with long skinny noses. Diving down to get closer to the bottom of the rocks I measured the mussels with my hand. Some of them were as long as from my thumb to pinky, spread wide, and incredibly fat around. This is a marine reserve so nothing is harvested. There were also starfish and a variety of plants. The overall color scheme was in varying shades of brown. Though some of the littler mussels were a bright blue. This was a great way to end the tramp – both as entertainment and hygiene. I know I had gotten very stinky both sweating and sleeping in the same clothes for three days.
The taxi back was fun as well, cruising along the shoreline. pulling into each cove to pick up other passengers. The driver pulled around to show us a stingray, but I only caught the briefest glimpse of it below the reflections of the sky.
When we reached Marahau it was very low tide, so the boat was hooked up to a tractor which pulled us up onto the street and brought us back to the Aquataxi centre. I strapped my pack back on and walked to the Fat Tui where I had the most delicious coffee and vegetarian burger – a large jumble of vegetables, beans, sauces and bread that dripped all over everywhere as I scarfed it down. Bliss.