At the southern end of the village stood a small dock, along with a couple of DOC (park service) restrooms. From here we could look across the Torrent Bay Estuary, which at the moment was covered in a teal-covered layer of salt water.
Obviously there was no crossing this way for us yet. You may recall that I had carefully researched and determined that we'd hit the low tide just at the right time - but that was, of course, for our original trip dates, which would have seen us cross here on the 18th of the month. As a result of our [very necessary] bad weather delay, it was the 20th, and the low tide had shifted forward by a couple of hours.
Long Break Time
Now, I knew this when we started out on our delayed adventure two days ago. We had done a rough back-of-the-napkin bit of calculating and realized that our hike was still possible - we'd have to wait a while at Torrent Bay, just enough to let the water lower enough to comfortably let us pass. It would mean slightly deeper wading than a crossing at absolute low tide, but, still quite manageable.
I estimated that we'd probably start to be able considering a foot crossing by about noon. So, nothing to do for the time being but take a nice, long break and enjoy the beautiful summer day.
We had a late morning snack (or early lunch, depending how you view it), and began our wait, watching as the water level in the estuary very slowly started to fall. Pu went off for his usual swim in the ocean, Lori went for a walk on the nearby beach.
A somewhat scruffy dog trotted by, holding a stick in its mouth and confidently dropping it in front of anyone who would pay the least bit of attention. Fetch was the name of his game, and he was keen to play it with each and every person in the vicinity. Friendly and full of energy, the little guy warmed our hearts and helped pass the time as we waited for the tide.
Eventually even playing fetch with the beach pooch wore a little thin. It was approaching noon at this point, and although the water in the estuary was looking mighty shallow, it still looked a bit too deep to pass. There was some itchiness to move forward, make progress, and we considered our alternatives. The high-tide route added about four extra kilometres of distance - distance that I had not built into our schedule and which I had not asked everyone to endure (since that would bring our total distance up to around 24km, a not-insignificant increase). We debated for a while, split on the best course of action. My personal opinion was to simply wait, as I felt that whatever choice we made, it would not significantly impact our arrival time at the trailhead (go around and walk an extra 4km, or wait for less than an hour and not have to walk an extra 4km). Plus, based on my observations of our pace, we were still well within acceptable margins for arriving before the closure of the kayak rental facility.
While continuing to waffle about our desired course of action, we sent Pu (aka "Pu the meter-man") to wade out into the estuary and get a sense of the actual water level. He got quite far, but still eventually reached a zone beyond thigh deep, which we agreed was our limit. By the time he had returned to shore, several in the group had decided to stop waiting and start walking the longer high-tide route. The die had (loosely) been cast.
Send out the Pu-meter
As we started walking the long way around, I noticed that it might just be possible to make it across the estuary by skirting the deepest water and choosing a slightly different path (normally one follows some orange markers placed along the flats). The others seemed unsure about this and continued on along the track, but I veered off onto the muddy ground anyway (I already had my water shoes on, so I didn't need to stop to change footwear). My hope was that by demonstrating how easily it could be done I could encourage the others to join me.
By now the tide had receded even more - enough that indeed I was easily able to skirt the remaining water for quite some distance. My shortcut had taken me quite a ways ahead of the rest of the group, and I waited at a spot where I knew they would see me.
The sight me standing on a large muddy flat coaxed a few others (namely, Andy, Andrea and Jenn) to come join me on the estuary. Brian, Pu, Lori and Caroline continued on via the super-long way, and there was no point in attempting to call them back now. We would simply have to ensure a proper meetup somewhere later on the trails.
The remainder of the estuary crossing went smoothly enough. There was one short section - the channel of a small river, where we did reach water that was about thigh deep. Apart from that, it mostly just traipsing across the mud. I waited at the orange post that marked the southern end of the estuary crossing for our little sub-group to catch up.
Looking back north from the south end, I could see that the water had lowered dramatically. Although only thirty minutes had past, what was once a teal-colored bay of water was now a wide, bare mud-flat.
Andrea was the next to reach the southern end of the estuary, limping a bit from a sore toe cut she had received a few days before while walking around on the beach. Soon after followed Jenn and Andy.
Jenn and Andy crossing flats
Our group of eight was now split in half, into two groups of four. I've never found it to be a good idea to split up (unless carefully planned, it can lead to bad assumptions, wasted time, and what I like to call ships-passing-in-the-night syndrome). The last thing we wanted was frantic running back and forth along trails, wondering if group A was ahead of group B or vice versa. Therefore, my first concern was to reunite us back together again as quickly as possible. Looking at the trail map on my GPS, I could see there were several different trails on this side of the estuary, and I couldn't be sure which choice the other group might take. So, after carefully agreeing on a meetup point with Andy, Andrea and Jenn, I left them and ran up the trail by myself, hoping to reach a point along the trail before Brian, Lori, Pu and Caroline would have to make that choice. I'd then guide them back to the point where I had agreed to meet back with Andy, Jenn and Andrea. In this way, we would minimize the chance of a wrong choice leading us further apart.
I ran up the trail by myself in a hurry, not bothering to dry off my wet, sand-filled water shoes (which would later prove to be a mistake), becoming quickly sweaty as the trail steeply gained a couple of hundred feet of elevation. I turned off on the high-water trail north around the estuary, maintaining a fast clip to try and meet the other group before they reached any sort of trail junction.
Fortunately for me, I did not have to run too far back up the high-tide trail. Five minutes in, I met them walking briskly up the trail towards me. Ah, good. Crisis averted.
I turned around and we started hiking back south. I had given specific instructions for Andy, Andrea, and Jenn to also continue south, but to stop at a specific trail junction if we were not already there. In this manner we could avoid ships-passing-in-the-night-syndrome and completed our coalescance back into a single group.
We continued to walk briskly but not in any sort of overly rushed fashion, secure in the knowledge that either we or Andy's group would stop at the designated junction and wait. Sure enough, right around 1:30pm, we arrived at the junction to find Andy, Andrea, and Jenn waiting for us. Maneuver accomplished - we were all back in one group. Although this may have seemed overly complex to you as a reader, I have seen simple situations like this go way out of hand unless everybody works carefully to reunite.
With the adventure of the estuary crossing behind us, we resumed our trek south. The Abel Tasman Coast Track was higher up in the hills around here, and it gradually descended as it made its way south. That, combined with the continued perfect state of the track's tread, meant that we maintained a fast pace with little effort. We soon began to get excellent views of the Abel Tasman coastline in the vicinity of Stilwell bay - beautiful, broad beaches and placid, turquoise waters.
From Stilwell Bay south we were never far from the coastline. This meant many nice lookouts, some of which were on little side tracks, which Pu and I would occasionally split off and quickly explore.
Paddlers in the Astrolabe
By about 3pm, we had covered the majority of our distance back to the trailhead. For half of us, this was already over 20km, due to the extra distance of the Torrent Bay high-water trail. Feet and muscles were getting a bit tired at this point, but we didn't really stop. It seemed like we had developed a bit of a get-'er-done as fast as possible mindset. A bit of a shame, really, since there were many beautiful little spots along the way begging for a bit of exploration.
Starting to get a bit tired