Day 9: Punakaiki to Abel Tasman National Park
We got up in light rain and ate breakfast at a local cafe where David had very disappointing pancakes (you figure they’d have good pancakes near the pancake rocks!). But at least they had a cute kitty curled up on the floor near our table. We followed the coast up for a little while longer, hitting patches of rain and patches of sunshine, and then turned inland to drive kitty corner to the north coast. We were mostly following the Buller River “gorge” that we expected to be steep and dramatic based on the guidebook description. Not very dramatic, but still a beautiful forested valley. We made a stop at a hanging bridge (which wasn’t all that exciting) and arrived in Motueka, the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park, around 4pm in beautiful sunshine.
A few hours of internet and booking agents later, we had our plans for the next couple of days all settled. We then drove another 15 minutes north to Kaiteriteri where we put up our little two-person tent in the midst of a vast, loud and brightly illuminated campground otherwise full of RVs with fake grass spread in front and TV glaring inside. Not our style of camping experience, but it was quite a convenient place to leave our car overnight and to access the water taxi departure spot the next morning.
Days 10-11: Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman is stretched along a beautiful coastline with forested green hills, sandy beaches, rocky peninsulas and islands, and Mediterranean-style blue water. There is no development in the park except for a few basic huts and campgrounds tucked away in the forest near most beaches. The various beaches are connected by a coastal trail, one of the Great Walks of New Zealand. It takes about 3-4 days to do, but since I was pregnant and couldn’t carry a big pack, we chose to do just a portion of it. The general plan was to take the water taxi up the coast into one of the bays, drop off a big pack and then continue on the water taxi with just a day pack further up the coast and hike back to the tent the same afternoon. We’d then camp overnight and and take the water taxi back the next day.
The water taxi ride itself was beautiful, giving us a view of the park from the water that we would not have gotten from the trail alone. We made several stops for people accessing or leaving the trail at different points, and we dropped our pack at the Anchorage stop, continuing on the water taxi several stops further north to Tonga Quarry. The trail between here and Anchorage was spectacular, climbing up and down across ridges and into bays with beautiful beaches. The sunny higher-up spots were almost a Mediterranean climate with dry sandy soil and little pine-like trees, while the more shaded valleys were a bit more like a rainforest with goofy fern trees.
We had to take it pretty slowly, so it took us about 4-5 hours to reach Anchorage. This included a side hike to Cleopatra’s Pool, a quiet spot up one of the creeks. When we arrived at Anchorage, our bag was still there and we camped just steps away from the beach, on the side of a crooked little brook. We cooked our dinner on the beach during sunset, went for a walk and just generally enjoyed this little piece of paradise.
In the morning we both went for a dip in the sea, but just a dip as the water was pretty cold. We also went for another short hike: to the next beach south of us and back. David was clearly not worn out by this turtle-paced exercise, so he went for another 1-hour side walk, turned into a jog, over the ridge to Watering Cove, missing out on midday naptime. And then we took the water taxi back to Kaiteriteri where we collected our car and went back down to Motueka. Here we did another internet stop to plan our next steps: a drive north around the inland side of the park and another hike on the north end of the park.
We then set out to follow this plan, driving north to Takaka where we were to stay for the night. In the evening we made a quick side trip from Takaka to another little town with a brewery known for its Captain Cooker Manuka Beer. Apparently, when Captain Cook first landed in New Zealand, his crew was suffering from scurvy, which beer can alleviate. Since he had no hops, he made beer from a local bush called manuka, and this is the one brewery that still brews this type of beer today. We both tried it and really liked it.
Day 12: Abel Tasman National Park, drive to Marlborough Sounds
We got up on the early side to drive from Takaka to the northern edge of the park. Here we left our car near the shore and picked up a bus that goes into the park to a campsite some miles north of Tonga Quarry where we started our southward hike a couple of days before. From this campsite (Totaranui) we headed north, through Separation Point (a side-hike to a rocky point that separates the north-south shore of the park from the east-west shore), and then west back to our car. This was a 5-hour hike for us with similarly beautiful views to the previous one. The added bonus here was the Separation Point side trip. We climbed down some rocks to a cliff just above the water and watched several sea lions play just a few feet below us as we ate our picnic lunch.
In the afternoon we drove back through Takaka and Motueka and then east towards the other major national park in the north part of the island: Marlborough Sounds Maritime Park. The road was nice and curvy, and as we approached the Sounds, we got nice views of the water (though nearly in the dark). We reached our next stopover, Picton, pretty late at night.