Tuesday, March 16, 2010
I haven’t written in over a week because I’ve been savoring every moment of the sun, sand and scenery of the northern part of the South Island. We are currently in Pakawau on Golden Bay with plans to stay a fourth night. It was a favorite spot when we visited in 1995 (we stayed 5 days) and the same holds true today. Our grassy campsite overlooks the sea that lulls us to sleep each night. At times the waves are crashing so loudly you think they might engulf the tent yet when the tide is out they are just quietly there. Night before last we did have a bit of a restless sleep for there were gale force winds that we thought might carry us away. It kept us up most of the night. I’d just nod off and be snapped out of sleep instantly extending my arms to hold the roof of the tent. No worries though because my husband very professionally staked the tent out to perfection. Gregory slept through most of this mind you and only awoke when Mike reentered the tent after getting out to move the car to block the wind. He awoke and said, “What’s happening!?!” We just had to giggle and told him it had been blowing this hard for several hours. It didn’t faze him much and he nestled back into his bag and was asleep again soon. We heard there had been a cyclone off the coast that brought these winds.
We’ve met the best people here at Pakawau. Margaret and Bruce are campers here on holiday from Australia and we’ve enjoyed the nicest conversations. They’ve kindly offered to have us stay with them when we arrive in Sydney (they live just outside the city) and to keep a look out for a camper van for us.
John rents a cabin here at Pakawau camp and is a “feller” a bit ahead on his job (he cuts the lumber and another crew does the cleanup) so he has been kind enough to show us around a bit. He gave us some nikau palm fronds to use to slide down the dunes at Wharariki Beach and met up with us for the hike. The sand was a bit damp from rain the previous night so the “sleds” didn’t work out quite as we hoped but the views were stunning and Mike and John had a visit up on the dunes while Gregory and I explored the coastline. We found 5 seal pups in the shallows of a cove and got within a few feet of them. They were really putting on a show for us. There was one pair in particular that were quite playful “rolling around” in the water and posing on the rocks. It was so delightful to just watch them in their natural environment. Once back up on the dunes Gregory found that he could touch the edge of the dune just at the top and start this avalanche of sand. It worked likewise if disrupted from the bottom of a dune where the sand would give way little by little until in reached the ridge. This kept us entertained for quite a while and Gregory didn’t want to leave, however, we eventually rejoined John and Mike and tramped back over the hilltops to the car park (about 20 minutes) and drove on a ways to a spot John wanted to show us. As we entered the car park we were prepared to begin tramping when John invited us into his 4-wheel drive and took us over the hilltops and through two farm gates on a road where “unauthorized vehicles not allowed” though it is obviously not strictly enforced. Everything is pretty laid back here! When we reached the peak of a rise we tramped down the other side, across narrow planks that had been strategically placed across streams and crevasses, and down to an empty beach with a MASSIVE cave and spectacular cliffs layered in sandstone and conglomerate rock. At first we thought we’d see no seals but after exploring the cliffs and caves we found a couple of adult females sunning themselves (we kept our distance because they can bite) and a few playful pups swimming in some underground caverns. Once again we were delighted to have yet another of New Zealand’s stunning beaches all to ourselves. The paddocks we crossed to reach our destination were dotted with sheep and an iconic wading bird, called the Pukeko (swamp hens), that can been seen all over New Zealand feeding in the grasslands.
I have to mention that when we first met John he and the camp manager Stu had just come back from a fishing trip with a boatload of green mussels and gave us a bucketful which we steamed and then sautéed in plenty of garlic and butter. They were delicious. To top it off he gave us a sampling of smoked snapper and about six, inch and a half high Thresher Shark steaks and several good-sized chunks of Rig (another type of shark that feeds exclusively on crab). We cooked it all up, along with everyone else in camp, and we had a fish feast!
Last night after coming back from exploring the dunes and beaches we met Jamie and Ricki who are from the UK and we all ate our supper in the “dining room” (along with John and Kevin, another friendly local resident) while we chatted about where our travels have taken us and where we hope to go. Inevitable destinations were shared and since we’re all traveling along the West Coast next we hope to cross paths again. They’ve just come from 4 months in Southeast Asia and will go to Australia on April 3rd with plans to work for a bit to raise further capital for continued travel.
Prior to our arrival in Pakawau on Golden Bay we spent a couple of days at Totaranui on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. Totaranui is a DOC (Department of Conservation) site and though we had to travel many kilometers of dirt track to get to it, we found the facilities to be very nice. The ablution (amenities) blocks were complete with toilets, showers (cold but hey they were showers!) and great basins and hand-operated ringers for laundry. We tidied up when we first arrived and then had some time on the glorious golden sand beaches (we did more swimming than sun bathing, due to sand flies) and we encountered a rather large stingray in the shallows. Fortunately, a gentleman had been following it down the beach and taking photos therefore warned us of its arrival! Gregory followed it down the beach and warned a couple of fisherman and a swimmer. (Again we had almost the entire beach to ourselves!) This was the first camp where fires were allowed so we had a great roaring fire and visited with Phil from the Isle of Mann who was traveling by motorcycle. The advantage of staying up past dark is witnessing the billions of stars that blanket the clear night sky. I must admit that the skies of New Zealand put on the grandest display I’ve seen in my lifetime.
On our second day in Totaranui we hiked about 11 km (6.8 miles) of the Abel Tasman Coast Track. It winds along under a canopy of dense forest including tree ferns, nikau palms and manuka rising enormous heights above the sea and dumps you down on to golden beaches where you tramp along only to rise back up into the forest and meander along until you reach another inviting beach. We brought a picnic lunch that we thought we might enjoy on the beach but the sand flies had another idea and we ate quickly and swiftly got moving again. We tramped for about two hours to reach Awaroa Inlet where we had planned to arrive at low tide so we could make the crossing and come back before the tide came in again. Crossing the inlet was an experience with thousands of tiny cockles crunching under our feet as we crossed streams of water to reach the Awaroa Lodge (a hut that houses those who spend 3-4 days hiking the entire coast) and then made our way back. Gregory wanted to go back around the coast rather than up through the forest and we headed that direction, since we’d talked to others who said it was doable with a bit of rock scrambling, however, with only about three feet exposed to the waterline and the tide rising rapidly I said no to that idea. [We were told that this was the fastest rise and fall of the tide in New Zealand at four meters (13 feet) in an hour.] As it was, the water was up to our thighs when we crossed the inlet. The whole tramp took about four hours and we were so proud of Gregory that he completed it. There was a bit of complaining on the way out but as is usual the return portion seems to go easier. We met a nice young couple from Denmark, Lars and Mette, who were on their third day of the track and carrying 50-pound packs. We crossed paths on the way back and invited them for a fire that evening where we enjoyed swapping stories. They too are traveling for an extended length of time. The next day as we were off they planned to have a rest day and then turn around and hike three days back along the Abel Tasman to Marahau, their jumping off point three days prior. Oh to be young again!
Also at Totaranui we had the pleasure of meeting Thurid and her husband Allen along with their two young children Ken and Asta who are from Germany. Thurid and Allen actually met while bicycle touring in New Zealand and are now back with their children. Steve and Susie (from the UK) were also camped out with them and had their two little girls with them, Lolo, just a wee tot, and Aiya their 4-year old. It was so nice to visit with other families who are traveling and of the same mind set as we are.