Sunday 14 December 2014

Abel Tasman Coast Track 3: Win Some, Lose Some

What a difference sun and warmth make! An afternoon of exposure to sun and a wood heater lifts our spirits and dries our gear. I hope it's doing the same to my camera. We share a pleasant night in Bark Bay Hut with three others, a young Malaysian man and a Spanish couple. In the morning they walk north to Awaroa, while we are going south to The Anchorage.

[Coastal Glimpses, Sandfly Bay: photo Lynne Grant] 

By now we’ve settled into the Abel Tasman pattern. You stay at a seaside hut, walk uphill in the morning, undulate a bit throughout the day, sneak a few views of the ever-varying coastline, pass through forests that change from wet and deep green to dry and straggly, before dropping down to the next coastal hut. None of the days is long.

But variations to the pattern are part of this walk’s charm. Today, towards the end of one of the undulations, we glimpse our destination in the distance. The Anchorage is at the far end of a convoluted embayment that we can only reach by crossing Torrent Bay.

[Above Torrent Bay, with The Anchorage in far left background]
Our first surprise is the settlement around the bay. Private land has been excised from the park, and more than a dozen “baches” are nestled into the forest around the bay. Quite a few are noticeably grander than the traditional weekend bach. There’s an exclusive lodge here too, made all the more desirable no doubt by being accessible only by boat. There are no roads anywhere near this beautifully tranquil bay.

We sticky-beak at a few houses, dream fleeting sea-change dreams, before finding the tidal flat we have to cross. We’ve aimed for low tide, to avoid the long detour we’d otherwise have to take. It’s a small moment of triumph when we see that we’ve almost exactly hit low tide. We hope this might mean we can walk right across dry-booted. This looks possible for the first couple of hundred metres, but then we reach a stream. It’s the Torrent River, one of the “torrents” after which the bay was named. At low tide it is a small sinuous creature winding a slow and shiny path across the flats. It’s only calf deep and a few metres wide, so we take off our boots, don crocs and wade across.

[Wading across Torrent River & tidal flats: photo Lynne Grant]
At the far end we climb over a short bushy isthmus then drop down to the beach that leads to Anchorage Hut. The beach is steeply sloped, golden-sanded, and busy. We’ve heard a few references to “The Anchorage Hilton”, built large because of the popularity of this beautiful bay. Opened just a year ago, it certainly is impressively spacious and comfortable. But it is still a hut, with the usual shared dining and bunk rooms and other typical DoC hut facilities.

[Anchorage Hut, aka the "Anchorage Hilton"]
Solar powered lights are probably the main novelty, unless you count the wryly humorous hut warden. Bill (not his real name) entertains the fifteen or so in the hut with droll Kiwi-style stories, variously tricking the naïve; bating the Aussies (us!); and generally teasing everyone else.

He helps to create a convivial atmosphere, and we’re soon exchanging stories with Danes, Poms, Swedes and Germans; the United Nations of hikers that typically peoples these Great Walks Huts. Happily my camera has started working again, so I snap a group shot before getting into a fun teasing chat with “Bill”.

 [Inside Anchorage Hut]

Australians and New Zealanders have a sibling affection that is strongly tinged with sibling rivalry. We exchange professional stories (I too work for a national park agency) and good-humouredly try to catch each other out. But eventually he pulls out his trump card. In the just completed rugby test New Zealand’s All Blacks have beaten Australia’s Wallabies by 29 to 28. That’s enough to shut me up. Lynne and I slink off to our bunk room, which we’re sharing with Brad. He happens to be the only New Zealander walker we meet on the track. We’re thankful he’s a non-gloating one!

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