After finishing our Christmas hike on the Kepler Track we spent a nice relaxing New Years in Christchurch, but it wasn’t long before we started getting restless legs from spending all day sitting around not doing anything. Fortunately we didn’t have long to wait before it was time to set out on our next adventure. We drove up north to Nelson and spent the night there on our way to Abel Tasman National Park.
We had a pretty lazy start to our first day. We didn’t have a very long walk planned for the day so we spent some time exploring the Nelson Saturday Market and getting a nice lunch before heading out to start our walk. We got to the park at around 1:00 pm. We had a “four hour” walk to get to the first campsite, but the track was practically flat so we were anticipating a slightly faster walking time.
The Abel Tasman Coast track is a bit different than the other great walks. While all the others we have done have had two or three huts and two or three campsites along the way, the Abel Tasman has four huts and nineteen campsites. Back in May when we were booking the walks we didn’t really know what to expect so we just booked the campsites next to the huts and figured we’d use the time estimates posted on the DOC pamphlet. Looking back on it this was kind of silly. The track was 60 km, just like the Kepler Track, but unlike the Kepler Track, which climbed to over 1200 meters, the Abel Tasman barely reached 200 meters at its highest point. We had just walked the much more difficult Kepler Track in only four days and now we would be walking a much easier trail in five days. This was my first realization that maybe we should have done things differently.
The track presented an interesting change of scenery from the past three walks (all located in the southwest corner of the island). I know I mentioned before that it was interesting how different and unique the Kepler, Routeburn, and Milford were considering how close together they all are, but the Abel Tasman made them all seem really similar by comparison. The path followed along the coast with lush green forested hills on one side and stunning ocean views on the other.
The scenery wasn’t the only difference we noticed this first day. It was also really crowded. On the other walks we might only run into a handful of other people during the course of the day, but here there were day hikers everywhere. Each time we rounded a bend we had to pass someone or stop to let someone else pass us. There was hardly a moment when there were less than a handful of other people within sight on the trail. It didn’t help the experience that many of them were lacking in hiking etiquette. If there is only room for two people to walk side by side on the trail and there is someone coming your way, it is nice to get in a single file for a moment to let them pass. If I had a dollar for every time I had to teeter on the side of the trail while a group of perfume/axe smelling, tiny pack with barely any water carrying, loud talking, whole trail take-upping… I mean, share the road people! Dang!
As we approached the campsite the wind picked up and some dark clouds rolled in. The trail crossed over top of a series of hills with small trees and low bush that allowed clear views of the bay. It only ended up taking us about two and a half hours to get to the campsite, and, like everything else that day, it was a departure from our previous experiences. The trail let out onto a beach that was crowded with both people and kayaks. The water was filled with boats of various sizes. The campsite was similarly packed. There were a number of “palace tents” that looked like they could each sleep twenty people. The picnic tables had table cloths with glasses, plates, and cutlery. These people were clearly looking for a different experience than Alana and I were. There was none of the natural tranquility that I was becoming so fond of on these trips. In retrospect, I thought, we probably should have booked spots at some of the smaller, more out of the way campsites.
We set up the tent and went over to the cooking shelter to boil water for our boil-in-the-bag-sesame soy noodles. It was pretty basic, especially compared to the gourmet meals that were being prepared all around us, but it was a nice change from the typical rice and bean combo. We got into the tent, fingers crossed that it wouldn’t rain the next day. So far this walk was off to a bit of a rough start. Not for the usual reasons like bad weather or rough terrain, but because I was being selfish. I guess it’s great that the track is so accessible and everyone can enjoy it without committing to a five day 60 kilometer hike. I figured that as we moved farther along the trail it would probably become less crowded, or I would get over it. Then, as I got into my sleeping bag to lay down for the night, a baby in the next tent over started screaming.