It was a frigid dawn, and the interior of my car was frozen over when I blinked myself awake. It was time. After over half a year in New Zealand, I was finally embarking on one of the Great Walks. I was hiking the Abel Tasman.
Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.” – Steven Wright
Hiking the Abel Tasman
As preparations go, I could’ve done better. Food-wise I was set — meals divided and rationed, even packed in the order I’d be eating them. But my gear…
A sleeping bag rated to 5° Celsius — not ideal when my car windows had frozen over inside and out that very morning. A duvet for extra warmth, wrapped in a garbage bag and lashed haphazardly beneath my pack. A hunting knife shoved through the loop of a daisy-chain, blade jutting out. At least nothing was being held together with duct tape.
The day started with a boat ride to the other end of the park. We detoured to the iconic Split Apple Rock before chugging along the coast of Abel Tasman National Park towards Totaranui — the northernmost point of Abel Tasman accessible by motor vehicle.
I set up my tent and stashed my gear inside before heading out on a 6 hour slog around the northern peninsula. Within a couple kilometers of the campground, the scenery turned fantastic. Golden beaches framed brilliant aquamarine bays, and huge rock formations dotted the rusted sand.
I reached the top of Gibbs Hill, and — after an ill-advised foray along an unfinished path — began my gradual descent. Along the way, I heard the sound of frantic breathing… almost a hissing sound. Unnerved, but just a little curious, I noticed a quivering ball of spikes in the undergrowth next to the path. It was a hedgehog, terrified and (if the sound was any indication) mere seconds away from hyperventilation.
I made it back to Totaranui — exhausted and ready for a hearty dinner. I ate on the beach as the sun set, painting the horizon shades of pink and blue as the waves rolled in.
The hike began in earnest on the second day, as the first had been a loop which many omit from their Abel Tasman itinerary. I started things out by promptly missing the trail turnoff from the beach and — instead of backtracking — climbing a 4 meter tall cliff to get around a point and on to the next beach.
Climbing with a massive backpack hanging off your shoulders… Good decision-making, Nathan.
After mentally smacking myself upside the head, I carried on, setting a determined pace. I had a huge distance to cover that day, and needed to cross the Awaroa Inlet before the tide rolled in. I made it in time, but still had to wade through thigh-deep water while treading gingerly on razor-sharp seashells.
Pushing myself paid off, and I made it to Bark Bay before dusk. The previous night had been a peaceful one, as I had the entire section of the camping area to myself. Bark Bay was a bit crowded (ha), with two other tents in the visible vicinity. I lit a fire in the fire-pit and sat with my palms to the flames, listening to the sounds of the night.
The penultimate day of my hike made up for the brutal trek of the day before. The hike was relatively short, and contained a single tidal crossing nowhere near as painful as the previous day’s.
I would be spending the night at Te Pukatea, the personal favorite of the iSite employee who booked my campsites for me. As soon as I arrived, I could see why she liked it so. There was not another soul in sight, and the gold sand of the beach was unmarred by footprints. I laughed aloud and ripped my shoes off, wriggling my toes into the sand.
This, this is what I’d come for.
“How do you deal with being alone?”
It had caught me off guard, made me think. Challenged me.
“I stay busy, I guess,” I replied. “Distract myself.”
But there, on the remote beaches accessed while hiking the Abel Tasman, that question haunted me. I was alone in more ways than one, without many of the distractions I usually have at my disposal. I felt it keenly that day, and even more so as I went for a brief mid-winter plunge in the sea. There was no need for a changing room, and I changed in the open air.
The day drew to a close, and the weka came out to play. A large, hen-like bird known for its propensity for thievery, the weka is an entertaining bird to watch and an absolute pain to have around a campsite. One had already stolen my spoon the night before, and this one had designs on the zippers of my tent. After unsuccessfully trying to scare it away with loud noises, I threw a stick in its direction. Without meaning to, I struck it square in the back, and it scuttled off into the bushes. A wave of guilt washed over me, but the bird was back within minutes — poking furtively around my tent while I ate.
The last morning was another beautiful one, and I felt a wave of relief wash over me. The weather had been so hit or miss that week, and I’d managed to get perfect weather every day of the hike. I packed my gear slowly, and spent a few more minutes lounging on the beach of Te Pukatea, enjoying the solace.
I’m glad I did, because as soon as I rejoined the main trail, I noticed the increase in the number of people I passed. I was mere hours from the park entrance, and day hikers were out in force. I plastered smiles to my face as they approached, and nodded in greeting. In the heart of the park, people would always respond, might even stop for a chat. It helped to break the monotony of solace, helped to remind us that us humans are social creatures. Day hikers can be a different breed. A word of greeting might go ignored, a friendly nod met with a blank stare.
I thought again about the loneliness I’d felt so potently the day before. “How do you deal with being alone?”
I felt none of it then. With each new group I passed, I longed more for the peace and solace of Nature.
“How do you deal with being alone?”
By remembering moments like this, I thought.
I crossed the long bridge over wetlands to the park entrance, and trudged along the road back to the car park where Te Namu waited for me. I was finished. I’d spent four days hiking the Abel Tasman, and it had gone as perfectly as I could’ve hoped. Now… now I wanted a hamburger.
How about you? Ever done a multi-day hike? Where was it, and what was your experience? Share your story in the comments below!