Sometimes you just need to be on your own.
Hiking puts a whole lot of perspective back into life. Apart from living for several days with what you can carry in a backpack and experiencing the beauty and diversity of the New Zealand wilderness, there are few more enjoyable or better ways of sharing time with family and friends. Personally, I have found tramping has helped make some new friends and cemented some long-standing relationships.
So tramping solo never been a priority for me, but when I was given the chance to walk the Abel Tasman track, I decided it was time to step out on my own. This track is undoubtably world famous, and visitors have raved about how much they enjoyed the unique experience. Somehow, I had always felt I was missing out, and now that I have been, I can confirm that that was true.
Heavy spring rains had given the Nelson region a good soaking over the two days before I left Marahau on my way to Wairima Bark Bay, some 20km away. It was all a bit eerie with dark skies, wind gusts and a track devoid of any people, but that only added to the buzz I felt at the thought of spending a couple of days on my own. A light drizzle was to hang around for the first few hours of the trip, but the upside was that everything had that bright, varnished look, with beautifully clear streams and plenty of noisy waterfalls.
It wasn’t long before I had some company even if it was only the first of many weka encounters. A family of five were crossing the track ahead of me. Dad was full of confidence and circled me a couple of times obviously expecting some tasty morsel before he decided there was nothing for him and followed his less brazen family foraging for real food on their way down the gully.
Abel Tasman does not have the imposing rugged mountain peaks and glacial valleys of the Fiordland Parks, but the golden-sand beaches make for a quite different but equally spectacular experience. Within the first hour of the walk, I heard the slap-and-crash of waves hitting the beach. Even though I had a good eight hours of tramping ahead of me the temptation became too great and I headed down a short but steep track towards Apple Bay.
That phrase “golden beaches” is so over-used but there is no better way to describe those beautiful bays. I challenge anyone to resist those clear waters – even in November. My first swim of the season. Shared with a paradise shelduck. Refreshing. Liberating. Going solo got an A+ at that stage.
Each of the many bays are lined with those golden sands but each have their own unique beauty. I reached the semi-circular Anchorage Bay just after midday. By then the wind had dropped away completely, the sky was trying to clear, and small surf was gently sliding up and back along the water’s edge. I got so distracted by the serenity of it all that I completely missed the turn-off back onto the track and had to retrace my steps.
Warima Bark Bay where I camped that night is different again. A small spit of sand with enough Pohutukawa, flax and other coastal plants to shade campers, a sandy beach on one side and tidal estuary on the other. I will always remember the bay for the glorious sunrise the next morning. The ridge to the east hid the exact moment of first-light, but moments later the sun appeared over the still, glassy bay and I got to enjoy one of the finest sunrises I can remember for a long time.
Native birds are thriving in the Park, and a shout-out must go to all the folks who are doing such a great job of keeping pests at bay. Project Janszoon has been going hard for well over a decade, and thanks the perseverance of those involved and many other volunteers and professionals, the native birdlife is thriving. The bush is full of the cheerful sound of robin and tui, with the regular appearance of the cheekily charming piwakawaka.
One of my most blissful experiences occurred early morning at Bark Bay. I was lying back in my tent enjoying the sound of waves slapping the beach just a few metres away, when a bellbird landed in the tree just above me and began to greet the day with its unique one-bird orchestra of calls. A priceless experience. Bellbirds are few and far between but with the efforts of so many they have more hope now than they have had for some time.
Weka are abundant. Sometimes annoyingly so. I had the pleasure of having my lunch stolen off me at Stillwater Bay, and holes pecked into my tent cover at Observation Bay. It felt like a weka or two had taken up residence at every possible stop, waiting for the opportunity to pilfer from the weary visitor. It was only thanks to the cliffs at Stillwater Bay and an almost flightless bird that I managed to recover my lunch, but the truth is I would not have it any other way. Let us face it, they were here first so just applaud their ability to adapt and take advantage of our arrival. Kaka and saddlebacks are also listed as birds to look out for, but I never had the pleasure of coming across either. Next time.
Missing the tide at Torrent Bay was a blessing as it gave me the chance to visit Cleopatras pool. A gentle walk through cool forest alongside the Torrent river leads to the rapids and several pools, and the chance of a cool, refreshing fresh water swim.
The DOC brochure has several recommendations for side trips along the way, although I chose to spend most of my spare time enjoying the many bays. Most of the bays are just a short walk from the main track, and excellent stops for a break, lunch, or a swim.
The Solo Experience
Abel Tasman was the perfect choice for my first solo tramp. This is a genuinely Great Walk, remote enough to offer some pristine wilderness, but popular enough to make it a relatively safe place to tramp alone. It also helped that it was mid-November, with longer days and warmer seas and relatively quiet, so I got to enjoy most of the trip with only the birds for company.
Going solo has its advantages. I got to walk at my own pace and took the time to appreciate everything around me. My only stops were for several swims each day and a quick lunch break which I took when it suited me. Very self-indulgent but entirely excusable. I made up time by drinking as I walked, not stopping for scroggin breaks and avoiding the regathering that always happen at the summits of each hill when sharing a walk with a large group.
Personally, I found the tracks well maintained and gently graded which made it easy to pick up the pace. The recommended hiking times were easily achievable – perhaps they have been set knowing that everyone will stop and enjoy at least one of those magnificent sandy bays.
But the verdict on the merits of tramping on your own – as soon as I reached civilisation I could not wait to get on the phone and post on social media to share the experiences of the previous two days. So, nah, I think shared experiences are just that much sweeter. It is no coincidence that I enjoyed the walk so much that I have since persuaded several other friends to share the experience with me in the next few months. However, don’t get me wrong, it was a memorable and unique experience, and finding myself in the same situation again I could be persuaded to go alone once more.
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