Plan: walk the Abel Tasman
When?: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and the day after!
After talking to the man in the DoC office in Nelson about the logistics of parking our car, water taxis and available camping sites we decided to park at Totaranui, walk with our gear to Anapai Bay, set up camp then walk unladen up towards Wainui, veer off over Gibb’s Hill and back to Anapai. A good circular walk because I hate retracing my steps and where there is an option for a circle, I will take it! Not sure what that says about me….?!
As usual we managed a “crack of noon” start and as a result we walked in the heat of the day – how does the saying go… “mad dogs and Englishmen…”? As usual (again) Gus spent the first couple of hours moaning but, after 15 km and five and a half hours walking, when we were on our knees, he found a new burst of energy and RAN the last 1.5 km back to the camp site! His reward; diving into the clear blue ocean at Anapai Bay.
Despite the fact that we had underestimated the distance and the height we had to gain and lose it was a spectacular walk. It certainly gave us a taste of what was to come; steep climbs up and over headlands to drop back down to sea level to golden, sandy beaches and crystal clear, blue water. Rock archways and sea birds gracefully swooping and gliding over the water, deliciously cool bush providing welcome shade after the remorseless heat and glare as we trudged across the soft sand of the bay, our feet sinking in and taking one step backwards for every one forwards, and camp sites nestled in the bush behind the beaches which provided the perfect places to stay the night. Sitting on the beach on Christmas Eve looking up at the stars and listening to the ocean lap gently onto the beach brought us the peace and serenity we have missed in our hectic daily lives this year.
We anticipated rain the next day, so made the most of the good weather on Christmas Eve and made sure everything was packed up and out of the rain. However, we woke with surprise on Christmas morning to glorious sunshine. I don’t think there is anything better than waking with the sunrise, the birds singing and the sound of the ocean. Breakfast of pancakes with sugar and lemon for breakfast, cooked on the beach with just a little frustration due to the pesky (that’s being very polite!) sand flies and the fact that non-non-stick camping cooking pots are not the ideal things to cook pancakes in! Nevertheless they were delicious and Gus, who’s idea it had been because pancakes are his all-time favourite food, was very happy! Aonghas excitedly unwrapped the one present we had carried for him – a frisbee thing and bouncy ball from Lachlan and Nigel gave me a beautiful pair of ear rings in the shape of Tuis. I just had a card for Nigel as his present was too big to bring! Aonghas, of course wanted to play with his frisbee – we found out too late that it did not float! I ran into the sea fully clothed to rescue his Christmas present! Fortunately the sun was hot and my clothes soon dried (although I suffered from the effects of damp underwear combined with salt later in the day!).
We were soon packed up and on our way again. The path, well-made, single track, was easy under foot but took us up some quite steep, windy hills over the headlands and back down to the beautiful bays. We had to get to Awaroa for around 1.30pm where we could cross the estuary at low tide. We thought we had plenty of time but a new path from Totaranui to Goat Bay to replace the one that was wiped out by landslides caused by the torrential rains last year slowed us down somewhat. The old path went around the base of the hill and was mainly flat; the new one winds its way up the headland to get above the slopes that could potentially slide onto a lower path and it is steep! It is a deal longer to complete than the 30 minutes suggested by the DOC signs and it is steep up and steep down – not good for my knees especially when carrying a heavy pack. (I have reluctantly decided that I may have to succumb to buying some walking poles!) After yesterday our legs were sore and today we had heavy packs to carry. Gus, surprisingly, didn’t complain much at all but we made slow progress in the heat – steady away, but steady was slow! Nevertheless we arrived at Awaroa almost on schedule where we crossed the estuary. We watched as other walkers came across, some in bare feet and some in their walking boots; some, like us, had brought sandals, and we were glad we had . We were probably crossing at the optimum lowtide time but we still had to wade through ankle to knee deep water and as the sharp shells crunched under foot and the crabs scuttled away into their holes, we wondered how the bare footers had fared. We stopped for lunch at the Awaroa Hut, found a shady spot under the trees that we shared with the Californian Quail that strutted and pecked their way around us and hungrily ate our Christmas lunch; the more we ate the less we had to carry!
On our way again in the heat of the afternoon sun and we were soon sweltering as we walked alongside the half-keeled boats stranded on the sand as the tide went out. We had been told that Awaroa lodge was open and serving beer -the thought of a cold beer on Christmas Day in the wilderness was very enticing and the way via the lodge to Tonga Quarry was shorter than the DOC track! Decision made! We followed the sunflowers across the airstrip to Awaroa Lodge – an oasis in the desert – an upmarket, high-end tourist spot but happy to take the passing trade of weary and worn, thirsty Abel Tasman walkers! It was surprising to find such a place (just off) the AT track but a welcome break for our sore feet, welcome shade and welcome fluid for our parched throats! (I exaggerate in the interests of prose – we weren’t that parched as we had plenty of water but the chilled amber nectar was so much more thirst quenching!) Cold beer on Christmas Day in Paradise! Unfortunately we still had a way to go so we reluctantly shouldered our packs and headed uphill once more.
Tonga Quarry is, as it’s name suggests. an old granite quarry and there are still remnants of the activity that took place there; a few large blocks of granite and the cutting area is still visible. Otherwise it is a beautiful, steeply shelving beach, golden sand and crystal clear water which Gus and I dived straight into before the sun disappeared behind the rock face that was the backdrop to the cove. We had a good half hour playing with the floating bouncy ball in the water; Nigel with his feet in the water and Gus and I racing to catch the ball that Nigel threw!
A clear, freshwater stream flowed from the bush out into the ocean and there were some beautiful sand flutes in amongst the rocks formed as the waters of the stream met the sea. We pitched our tents in sandy recesses in the sparse bush in front of the denser bushed area and the rock face. We were unsure whether the pegs would really hold in the sand if the wind got up so we used some rocks to weight them down and tied some guys to the trees. No sign of Chris and Ross who were hoping to sail into the bay to meet us for Christmas Day so we guessed that maybe the wind was the wrong for them. Never mind we would see them the next day in Watering Cove.
As we made dinner we discussed tomorrow’s walk – it was going to be a long one! With very tired legs and sore backs and a few blisters forming, the 18+km to Watering Cove was a daunting thought! An early start was on the cards. We were heartened by the optimistic hope that we had done the hardest, highest climbs already and although there were still lots of ups and downs to come we knew we could crack them!
Christmas Dinner was Cheeses and crackers to start, Back Country Pasta for main course with chocolate for dessert. A veritable feast!
However, our plans and worries about the long walk the next day were unfounded – a much greater challenge interrupted our walk. As Nigel boiled water for the next day and made Gus a drink of Raro he slopped some boiling water on his arm, reacted and knocked the whole cup off the table and into Gus’ lap. I heard the screams from the beach where I was taking photos of the sunset and ran back to find Gus trying to get his polypros off . We rushed him to the standpipe where we doused his legs with cold water for 15 minutes or so. The skin rapidly sloughed off his left thigh and we could see that his private bits and his right leg were also scalded. He valiantly held onto the upright post as we supported him under his arms and tried to splash as much of his legs as we could. Gus, the boy who screams at the smallest pain, was incredibly brave and responded well to being calmed. His sense of humour came to the fore – maybe it is that same macabre humour we have witnessed on rescues that somehow helps to distract us from the real horror that we are seeing? Nevertheless, it was unsustainable to hold him there for long and we moved him to the stream where we found a spot deep enough to sit and cover his thighs where the water was flowing. We had already realised that these were burns that we couldn’t treat ourselves in a remote campsite in the Abel Tasman, and he certainly wouldn’t be able to walk out tomorrow so managed to get cell phone reception at the edge of the beach and called 111.
Gus was getting cold; we had already put three merinos on his top half and a hat but he was chilled through with sitting in the stream. We brought a sleeping back down for him to lie in next to the stream and he lay in that until the pain got too much then he went back in the stream. Switching between the stream and the sleeping bag helped maintain some warmth whilst also cooling the scalds.
Nigel spoke to the paramedics and soon a helicopter was on its way. There was no possibility of it landing so the plan was to winch a paramedic down to assess the burns and decide whether to evacuate Gus by air or send a boat round later – possibly the next day.
We watched the helicopter coming in; with its search beam and auxiliary lights it was like some sort of space ship descending from the sky. As requested we flashed torches to give them an idea of where we were. I sheltered Gus in the sleeping bag from the sand that was whipped up as the helicopter hovered and winched Gary, the paramedic, down to us.
Gary quickly assessed the situation, decided that Gus needed to be in hospital, inserted a line and administered some more powerful drugs than the Panadol we had been able to provide, and Gus was soon wrapped in his sleeping bag to cushion the harness and was being hoisted away. He had initially been quite apprehensive about going in the helicopter but after some reassurance from us, a cuddle and the happy drugs, he was fine. He admitted to being quite alarmed when once he had been winched clear of the beach, he ceased to go up and the helicopter started moving away. He said that he thought they were going to fly all the way to Nelson with him hanging 20 metres below the helicopter! However, they just needed to get clear of the cliffs and the trees before hovering to winch him in the rest of the way. I watched as first Nigel, and then Gary were winched away and I was left, my skin whipped with by the sand and my hair full of it, alone on a beach strewn with our belongings! Well, not quite, Nigel had done a pretty good job of putting the clothing that had been hanging to air in the trees in our packs but I did find quite a few bits and pieces buried in the sand the next morning!