Abel Tasman National Park
Day 3 - Hike - Bark Bay to Marahau
Saturday, February 20
The last day of our Abel Tasman paddle-and-backpack dawned beautifully: the deep blue sky overhead showed only the fading light of Venus, and - framed perfectly by the headlands of Bark Bay - a band of fiery orange on the eastern horizon.
With our kayaks gone, our way back to civilization was on foot - via the Abel Tasman Coast Track, a long-distance route running the entire length of the park, and one of New Zealand's nine Great Walks.
As part of the overall planning for this kayak/hike hybrid trip, I had planned the itinerary for this day very carefully. Several in our group were relatively novice hikers, so I wanted to avoid having the hike be too long, especially since we were carrying backpacking weight; on the other hand, the Abel Tasman Coast track had a very small elevation range, staying fairly near sea-level on a well-groomed trail, which allowed us to cover distance easily. Then there were the tides - these also needed to be considered, because if not timed properly, we would have to add yet extra distance. And to top it off, we essentially had a time limit: the kayak rental company, where we had stored our rental vans, had hot showers and a gate-closing time of 6:30pm. Arrive after that, and.... no cleaning up and more importantly, no vans!
I spent several hours before leaving Canada, crunching the numbers and coming up with the itinerary you now see unfolding in this report. The Bark Bay campsite had been chosen for its combination of beauty, convenience, and distance from the southern trailhead. Any further north and we would be risking a too-long and overly-rushed day. Too far south and our previous two kayaking segments would have been too short (as it was, they had been pretty short).
I had calculated that the hike from Bark Bay back to the southern trailhead at Marahau would be roughly 20 kilometres, via the shortest possible route that included low-tide shortcuts. I had consulted the tide tables and had been delighted to find that the low tide for Feburary 18th at the Torrent Bay Estuary shortcut was roughly at noon, which gave us a window from about 10am to 2pm that would permit crossing. This was perfect for us, since that period of time was roughly when we should be transiting through.
* - Astute readers will no doubt realize that since we had to push our trip ahead two days due to inclement weather, the low tide times for today would be different from the day for which I had originally done planning. More on that later.
We all agreed to get up at the crack of dawn, to be breakfasted, packed, and ready to go by 8 a.m. This all went reasonably according to plan, and we had assembled at the trail sign at the entrance to the Bark Bay Campground at roughly 8:15 a.m. With a beautifully-clear blue sky overhead, we began the walk south.
The Abel Tasman Coast Track rose slightly as it followed the edge of Bark Bay. Eventually it contoured up and turned away from the water, beginning an overland course across the promontory of land known as South Head. As it curved into an inland gully, the vegetation grew thicker, and the atmosphere more moist. This would set a pattern to be repeated for much of our walk southward: whenever the path bent into the back of a gully, we'd get a shady stretch full of tree ferns and moss.
Beautiful Waterside Track
Pu and I took an optional short side-trek to a lookout, dropping our packs and running quickly along the trail, before returning and catching up with the rest of the group. By 9 a.m., we crossed one of the more notable footbridges along the entire coastal track at Falls River (the Abel Tasman coast track has an excellent series of footbridges along it).
The track wasn't entirely flat, as you might expect when glancing at a map - but neither could it be called a mountain climb. There were a few 200-300 foot ascents (100m) along the trail, and that was about as much up and down as we got. The tread of the track was beyond superb - always wide and smooth, graded like a little highway, often with little curbs and ditches. Easily navigable with simple running shoes (or water shoes, as some of us were wearing).
The morning went by pretty easily. We cruised along at a reasonable clip, enjoying the native bush, the singing birds, and the occasional glimpse of coastline (there wasn't much in the way of coastal views on this first section of our hike).
Roughly around 10 am - about two hours after setting out - we abruptly came to a high lookout above a bay of turquoise water and a bright, curving beach. This was Torrent Bay, location of "The Anchorage" and the Torrent Bay Village. It was also the location of our low-tide shortcut.
Immediately after the lookout, the Coastal Track started a steep descent down into Torrent Bay. Upon reaching flat ground, the track guided us briefly to the beach and then along a wide promenade between grassy lawns and upscale looking cottages. These were the houses of the Torrent Bay Village - a grandfathered community that pre-dated the park.
Because the properties at Torrent Bay are privately-held, there were many signs reminding hikers to stay on the track; no wandering allowed. We admired the beautiful residences (more house than cottage, if you ask me) as we walked through. This would be an incredible, off-the-grid place to own a vacation residence: water or hiker-only access, secluded, and smack in the middle of a beautiful oceanside park.