Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Abel Tasman National Park, Golden Bay, and Farewell Spit

January 10th – 14th

Despite warnings about rain, we headed west to Nelson. This gateway to the northwest often records the most hours of sunshine in NZ, but this year they also had record rainfall and devastating landslides. We continued through Nelson to the smaller town of Motueka, where we visited the i-site and made a reservation for the morning water taxi ride to Abel Tasman National Park.

We also found out about the local council campground where, for only $5 per night, there is a nice park, public restrooms and an outdoor shower as it is near a saltwater pool on the edge of the bay.  I went swimming (brrr…) and Darrell went for a run. We both looked at birds in the flats as the tide went out. Lovely spot.

The next morning we boarded the water taxi – on land! It was then pulled by a tractor across the sand flats to where the tide was coming in and we were afloat. If you’ve seen pictures of this park, you may have mistakenly thought it was in the Caribbean…

Abel Tasman National Park
The boatman gave us a bit of a tour as well as a taxi ride. We first went to Split Apple Rock, which you may have seen in various advertisements. We slowly went by a rocky islet where some seals were hauled out, and then got dropped off at Bark Bay.

Split Apple Rock
If you have a week or so, you can kayak all the way up the coast to the far end of the park and then hike back along the coastal trail.  Most people do some smaller version of this – made easy by the water taxis that will drop you off and pick you up wherever you want. We had our absolute best weather day for this hike (weather forecasts are highly unreliable here) and looked a little enviously at people in kayaks as we sweated with our packs on the trail. Our total hike was about 25 km (15 miles) so we were pretty tired at the end of it!

Most tracks have stoat traps along them. NZ didn’t have any terrestrial mammals prior to the first Maori arriving, so flightless birds were filling the ground niches available. Now rats, pigs, cats, and stoats (a kind of weasel) prey on these endemic birds. We often see signs for poison pellets as well as the traps.

Stoat Trap
The tidal range is about 6 meters so some of the tracks have both a high tide route that goes inland, and a shorter low tide route that cuts across the beaches. The coastal trail ends with a long bridge over a tidal flat.

Darrell at the end of the trail
The next morning we worked in the van during the rainy morning. Darrell somehow meets the challenges of staying caught up with his work while we are on the road…  Then we drove across the Takanaki Hill in mist and rain so we missed the views and the walks to see hobbit holes. We dropped down to Golden Bay on the other side and meandered along verdant trails that afternoon. Our first stop was a small limestone gorge, and then we went to Pupu Springs, the largest freshwater spring in New Zealand with 14,000 liters per second of water bubbling up! There was a lovely walk around and through the springs area. The water is incredibly clear and beautiful.

Beautiful Te Waikoropupu (aka Pupu) Springs
After this short but memorable walk, we went to check out a free camping spot and ended up taking a hike along some old water races built by the past gold miners in this area. The hand-dug races still had water running in them, and in places the walkway hung over the steep hill next to them.

Water Race and Trail, hanging off the steep slope
There were myriad bryophytes including the world’s tallest moss, Dawsonia superba. I took a ridiculous number of pictures of wee green plants; mosses, liverworts, ferns, small angiosperms – a wet fairy world!

Huge variety of wee green plants!
We treated ourselves to dinner at The Mussel Inn, a local institution along Golden Bay with live music almost every night. We sat around the outdoor fire after dinner, visiting with a couple from Christchurch who told us about their experiences with the earthquakes. While many people are moving away from Christchurch, mostly due to the significant and frequent aftershocks, some are staying and working to help their city rebuild.

We camped just off a quiet road that night and it rained and rained and rained.  The next morning we had to shovel some gravel under our tires to get out of the mud! We parked the van by the harbor in the small town of Collingwood to get some work done with a view to the wind-whipped waves.

Storm clouds and a rain storm heading our way!
That afternoon we drove to the end of the road and met our ecotour out to Farewell Spit, the long sandy spit that curves over like the bill of a curlew protecting Golden Bay. The spit is closed except for two tour companies that drive huge-tired vans over the sand out to the lighthouse near the end of the spit. On the way we saw New Zealand Fur Seals on the beach, and got out to experience the blowing sand creating and moving large sand dunes. The wild weather gave us a more dramatic tour than many people get. In the photo below, Darrell is walking in the background and two brothers are trying to get a kite ride from their jackets in the wind. They were hilarious to watch!

Trying to get a ride from the wind.  Note the moving sand!
We had some rain on the way, and then a rainbow came out while we were enjoying some tea and biscuits (cookies) at the light house. The 19th century lighthouse keepers were the ones that planted the trees to create their own windbreak!

Fossil dolphin and rainbow near the end of the spit
The spit continues a short ways, and is growing a little every year as the wind continues to blow sand. There are protected bird sanctuaries there for gannets and godwits, but we couldn't get close enough to see them.

Every crevice of our exposed bodies and clothes were covered with sand when we returned! We spent two more nights in the area; first on a gravel bar near the coast, and then at Pakawa Beach Park, one of the nicest and most mellow campgrounds we have stayed at. Some caravan parks have room for hundreds of campers but this was a small one right on the ocean. While Darrell prefers to camp in more isolated areas, I like the campgrounds every 3rd or 4th day so I can wash some clothes, take a shower, and feel a part of the Kiwi families and other travelers in the area.

The lovely and empty beach at Pakawa, Golden Bay

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