Tue 28 March 2017
- Km Today: 12
- Total Km: 1163
Abel Tasman Track
There wasn’t too far to travel this morning to get to the western end starting point of the Abel Tasman track at Wainui Bay. The folks were returning to Nelson today and flying back to Auckland so it was sad goodbyes before I set off up the hill and over to Whariwharangi Bay, really only a quick jaunt of a couple of hours. The gorse bushes were in flower and being warmed by the sun, they give off that tasty coconut aroma – combined with the widespread views of Golden Bay made for very pleasant walking conditions.
For at least 500 years Maori lived along the Abel Tasman coast, gathering food from the sea, estuaries and forests, and growing kumera on suitable sites. Most occupation was seasonal but some sites in Awaroa estuary were permanent. The Ngati Tumatakokiri people were resident when, on 18 December 1642, the Dutch seafarer Abel Tasman anchored his two ships near Wainui Bay, the first European to visit Aotearoa – New Zealand. He lost four crew in a skirmish with the local people and soon moved on. Permanent European settlement began around 1855. The settlers logged forests, built ships, quarried granite and fired the hillsides to create pasture. For a time there was prosperity but soon the easy timber was gone and gorse and bracken invaded the hills. Concern about the prospect of more logging along the coast prompted a campaign to have 15,000 hectares of crown land made into a national park. A petition presented to the Government suggested Abel Tasman’s name for the park and it was duly opened in 1942 – the 300th anniversary of his visit.
My first night is to be in the Whariwhangi Hut which is a restored homestead located a few hundred metres from the beach. The original homestead was built by John Handcock in 1898 from timber that was floated through the surf to the beach from his uncles steamer, the Lady Barkly. He lived there with his family for 15 years however the land was unsuitable for farming. Whariwharangi was last inhabited in 1926, but farmed until 1972. During this later period the homestead served as a stockmans hut. The farms in this northern end of the Park, although the last to be retired, eventually succumbed to the impoverished granite soils. The historic hut was restored in 1980. When I arrived at the hut it was still before midday – the hikers who stayed last night may only just have departed. Being that there was no one around I took possession of the one small separate room off the dining area downstairs. Anyone else staying tonight would be in the dormitory rooms. Having claimed it with my pack I set off for the Whariwharangi beach a golden crescent of sand with stream at one end and cliffs at the eastern end. The water lapping at the beach is as clear as glass however to touch is, let’s say, ‘refreshing’. Still there is that magnificent feeling when your footprints are the only ones on the beach.
As I have half a day of daylight I take the opportunity to walk across to Separation Point to see the seal colony on the granite headland. The scenery at almost every step is superb and I feel rewarded for taking such a fantastic walk. Once at the point there are many seals and their pups frolicking in the crystal clear water or sunbathing on the rocky shore. The track climbs down to the headland – a sign suggests that packs are left at the top of the steep descent and I couldn’t agree more. It was actually a bit frightening going down and what is it about Murphy’s law that I stumbled right at this point when usually I am so sure footed? Of course coming back up the cliff was a doddle. Gannet mannequins have been installed on the headland to encourage a colony to establish here.
On my return from Separation Point I could not resist a dip in the water at Whariwharangi bay and afterwards I luxuriate on the beach before returning to the hut to hang out with the newly arrived hikers at the hut; a Dutch girl, a family group from Australia and two Danish girls. In the adjacent campsite there is also a couple from France (some people still smoke..) and two Dutch girls.
A wee group of us went down to the beach for the sunset. At the far end of the beach was the corpse of a pilot whale (which is actually a large oceanic dolphin) up on the sand and secured by a rope to a tree on the shore. Apparently it and one other had come from the recent large stranding on Golden Bay and had been towed to this resting spot. Quite why two very pungent corpses were put onto a popular beach and right next to the Abel Tasman track I cannot say but man they ponged! With sun down behind the western horizon we return to our homestead hut for the night. It has been a magnificent first day on the Able Tasman Great Walk.