A Walk in the Park
At Waitangi weekend we set off to walk the Abel Tasman Coastal Track with our two children Ella (5) and Cate (3). It was our first overnight trip with them, and the longest distances. It was a great success. The 3 year old walked the whole way. We didn’t get any wasp stings. The sun shone, the water was warm and the trip was a timely reminder that the crowds that visit Abel Tasman go there for a legitimate reason – it is very pretty indeed.
Day One: After an early morning bus ride and breakfast at the Park Café right at the start of the track, we set off en route to Anchorage.
Early on, the girls wanted to know when we would stop, and we told them we would have a break for scroggin and a drink every hour. Initially they wanted to know every few minutes when the hour would be up, but over the next few days they adjusted to the rhythm of walking, and gradually stopped demanding to know about the next stop.
We had lunch and a swim at Stilwell Bay, an adventure in its own right as the tide was so far in we had to ‘swim’ to reach the beach!
The afternoon proved a little slower, with long steep sections proving a challenge to little legs. Cate soon mastered a technique of ‘running’ down the steep bits with Jeff holding both her hands, and gradually became more confident with the rough ground. Ella listened to our advice about leaning forward, and avoided any serious tumbles.
We found it best if we walked with a girl each, about 50-100 m apart on the track. This seemed to significantly reduce any whinging and moaning, and instead we had long conversations with them about the bush, rocks, insects and weather. Cate had brought her imaginary friend along for the ride, so we heard all about her ‘little girl,’ the clothes she was wearing, where she lived, and what she liked to do!
At Anchorage, the girls befriended a group of older women from Auckland, doing their first big walking trip together. They were travelling the track at the same pace as us, so we were able to enjoy their company each night. They became reluctantly involved in a wee drama that first night, with a couple of blokes in their room almost coming to blows over snoring! Luckily we had chosen bunks in the other room and were spared the raised voices at midnight.
I was sad to learn that Abel Tasman has lost its wekas. Stoats have pretty much wiped them out. My previous memory of Anchorage, a good 20 years ago now, was of cheeky wekas prying into our packs and running off with teaspoons and anything else they could grab.
Day Two: The walk from Anchorage to Bark Bay was most picturesque. Walking across the estuary to Torrent Bay at low tide is stunning, with nothing save the sound of the sea in one direction, and the Torrent River in the other, all against a magnificent backdrop of beech forest. The girls played at the tiny Torrent Bay ‘playground’ (a pile of old rubber tyres and a simple swing) and then we climbed to the saddle above the Falls River where we had lunch. The track in this section was very busy with day trippers.
We reached Bark Bay in the early afternoon. It was full tide, so the girls and I swam in the estuary in front of the hut rather than heading back to the beach. It was great fun for children – shallow out a long way, crystal clear water and it was WARM! We were in there for hours.
Day Three: We headed off early, concerned about the timing of our tide crossings with the girls. We needn’t have worried. The girls by now were well accustomed to the idea of walking and we made good progress. At Onetahuti, there was plenty of time to enjoy the spectacular views and golden sand before crossing the creek and climbing up the last saddle before Awaroa.
It was a long hot descent (easy country for an adult, but a long haul for the kids). We probably should have had another stop as both girls were in tears by the bottom. Jeff took our day packs around the long way to the hut as by now the tide was in, and I headed straight to Awaroa Lodge in the hope a fluffy and a rest would be a good reward for the girls.
It most certainly was, and made even better when I managed to secure a booking for dinner that night as well.
We spent the entire afternoon on Awaroa beach, which I believe is one of the best in the park. A breathtaking crescent of white sand backed by coastal scrub, with bush covered hills beyond. The swimming was superb, and the girls spent hours playing in a large fort built out of driftwood a little way down the beach. Our new friends were also there enjoying the beach so all in all it was a very pleasant time – topped off by superb food, wine and service at the lodge that night.
At the hut we had our own wee midnight drama. I awoke to find Ella cold and outside her sleeping bag, and whilst trying to get her back in it, I realised the person I was poking and prodding was someone else!! We suspected overnight rain had sent some campers inside and one of them had crawled onto Ella’s bunk! They were gone before we awoke in the morning.
Day Four: A cool easterly was blowing when we set off across the estuary and we were pleased to soon be in the shelter of the bush. The forest is quite different in this part of the walk, with a lot of nikau along the coast and kanuka and manuka on the ridges. It wasn’t long before we were at Totaranui. The easterly was making life diffi cult for the water taxis, and loading at the beach was very hairy and a bit alarming as the boat bucked up and down wildly. It blew the scheduling, so after a dramatic ride back down the coast to Totaranui we discovered we’d missed our bus, and without prompt action, would likely miss our plane too. A rather expensive taxi ride later, we managed to rendezvous with the plane with a respectable 40 minutes to spare.
The Abel T is a great place to walk with young kids. The Great Walks booking system takes away a lot of stress – you know you will have a bed at the end of the day. The huts are full, but not unpleasantly crowded, which was my lasting memory from previous times there.
There are the little extras that matter with kids. There are cold showers to get the salt off, and sinks and taps for easy washing. Filtered water is supplied at the main huts and campsites.
The water taxi ‘pack carrying’ service was invaluable, meaning if we’d needed to carry one of the girls for whatever reason we could have done so as we were able to have the baby carrying pack with us the whole way. And just knowing that the boat taxi service is there is further peace of mind with littlies, should the weather pack in or illness strike.
One final word... don’t let the crowds put you off – this track remains an absolute treat.