Words by Kelsey Waters
It was a solo hiking trip along the Abel Tasman Coast Track in the middle of winter that made me fall for the South Island.
The picture-perfect views and sweeping golden bays that adorn the region’s postcards feel a world away from the big smoke yet are remarkably easy to get to.
A short flight “overseas” from Auckland and a scenic one-hour drive from Nelson Airport saw me on the footsteps of the National Park in sleepy Marahau.
But getting outdoors quicker than a DOC Ranger can set a possum trap is not the only appeal. The Abel Tasman Track is one of the country’s Great Walks – one of nine jewels in New Zealand’s crown.
On a peak weekend in summer, visitor numbers can swell to around 250 per day, which diminishes to 25 per day in the colder off-peak months.
I was fortunate enough to have picked a stunner of a crisp winter weekend, low visitor numbers and glorious sunshine.
The weekend’s perfect conditions saw locals venture from as close as Mouteka to not-too-distant Blenheim to enjoy an impromptu overnight stay leaving no bunk mattress upright in Anchorage Hut – the largest DOC hut on the track.
Yet on this Great Walk, once I had passed the day-trippers and weekend hikers peppering the more accessible half of the track (Marahau-Anchorage-Bark Bay-Totaranui), I found myself alone.
The solitude I had been searching for had finally arrived. And it was greater than great.
Fast-forward eight hours of wholesome hiking, I arrived at Awaroa Hut – a 1973 lockwood cabin of my tramping dreams.
I was greeted by two fellow female hikers, the first souls I had set eyes on since Bark Bay apart from friendly fantails and curious weka who accompanied me along the track.
My cabin mates for the night had hunkered down hours before my twilight arrival so I was welcomed by a roaring fire and a dorm to myself, with only candlelight to keep the night at bay.
Not known for being a morning person, I found the late winter sunrises rather agreeable!
After a good night’s sleep and an alarm-free wake, I was in good stead for a gentle hike to Whariwharangi Hut, where once again the benefits of arriving close to sunset meant the dinky hut was toasty courtesy of a family of three’s fire-making skills.
After devouring a freeze-dried meal and warming my damp clothes, we spent the evening playing card games and swapping tales of trips gone by.
It is heartening how familiar the company of strangers can be.
The weather turned on the fifth day.
After re-energising with porridge cooked atop my lightweight backpacker stove, I braved the wet and fog to navigate the inland track’s undulating grasslands.
The (visible) views were beyond words.
The intersection of Gibbs Hill, Pigeon Saddle and Totaranui Road abruptly ended my hike with a gravel road that led to my Airbnb.
The 10-metre squared eco-friendly bush cottage was equipped with a firm bed, hot shower, plug points, plunger coffee and other comforts I had not missed yet now appreciated.
The final night was spent listening to howling winds whilst cocooned in crisp sheets.
As the track is not a loop, I opted for a water taxi from Totaranui Beach to return me to Marahau.
Four days of hiking 60km of coastline was covered in less than an hour by boat.
The skipper kept his watchful eye out for seal pups basking on the rocks, who posed for photos as though sensing their presence would complete my trip.
And it did.
The 6-day Itinerary
Day 1: Fly Auckland to Nelson, overnight in Marahau
Day 2: Marahau to Anchorage Hut
Day 3: Anchorage Hut to Awaroa Hut
Day 4: Awaroa Hut to Whariwharangi Hut
Day 5: Whariwharangi Hut to Pigeon Saddle/Totaranui Road (stayed at Airbnb Toto’s Eco-friendly Bush Cottage, Wainui Bay)
Day 6: Totaranui Bay to Marahau
More information about the Abel Tasman Coast Track including hut/campsite bookings is available at the Department of Conservation website.