Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tramping in Abel Tasman National Park

On the South Island in the northernmost part (referred to as the “Top of the South” by Kiwis), there is a huge bay called the Tasman Bay, on its western side is a national park called Abel Tasman National Park (named after the first European to lay eyes on the south island; Tasman did not actually make landfall, because he got scared off by some Maori warriors, but no matter). We had arranged in advance for a 3-day “tramp” (New Zealand-speak for “hike”) in the park. The company we went with provided guides, nightly lodging, all meals, and ferried all of our belongings except our daypacks on ahead to the lodge where we would spend the night. We decided to do this rather than try to camp on our own (which is allowed, and the NZ Department of Conservation provides “huts” for hikers to cook and sleep in). We went with a company called Wilson’s Abel Tasman Experience (I think that’s right), and were extremely pleased with them.

The first morning, January 13, we got picked up by bus and taken to Wilson’s office where they gave us a briefing and some gear (water bottles and cups, plastic bags, lunch), after which we drove to the last “town” outside of the park: Marahau (pronounced Mare-a-ho). From there, we began our tramp. There were 5 hikers in our group, all women, not counting our guide Lyla. There were also 11 people, who had selected a Wilson’s tour that had them kayaking for the most part, with a bit of hiking (not for me after the arm-wrenching experience on Taupo). The kayaking group joined us at night and for certain hikes. Lyla, our guide, was a veritable hiking machine. She was 56 years old, but she would walk through an estuary at low tide with no shoes on, over thousands of broken mollusk and clam shells. She also could race up a large ridge (--mountain--) far faster than any of the rest of us. While we tramped, Lyla told us things about the plants, animals, and history of the area. She was terrific. I took a picture of her trucking up the trail, but it turned out very fussy. Just picture Glenn Close but extremely tan, barefoot, and friendlier.

The first day was only about 4 hours of hiking. We arrived at a lodge in a place called Torrent Bay at about 5 p.m. One really interesting thing to me was that the high and low tides left certain bays and other water-covered portions of the park crossable by foot during low tide. So, we actually walked across an estuary to get to the lodge at Torrent Bay. It was bizarre to cross the muddy land, knowing that in a few hours, it would all be four or five feet underwater. The ground was littered with shells from mussels and other crustaceans. After arriving at the lodge, we promptly took showers and then got to eating the tasty dinner the lodge staff made for us. The beds were comfy and the food was good. I slept very well.

After a hot breakfast the morning of January 14, we tackled our big day of hiking. It was basically a little bit more 8 hours of walking, but we had about an hour stop for lunch and a swim. The hiking was more difficult than the first day, with three large ridges to summit and then descend. The tallest probably took 45 minutes to get up (so 45 minutes of going steadily uphill) and 25 to get down. By the end of the day, I was very tired and stiff. I was glad to reach the lodge.

The lodge we stayed at on the evening of the 14th was a replica of a home originally owned by ancestors of the Wilson family. It was named Meadowbank. It was very pretty. Lovely to reach after a hard day of hiking. Here are some photos of the lodge and the view from in front of it which I took the morning of the 15th.

On the 15th, the weather was the most beautiful it had been for the whole tramp. We had an easier day of hiking, with only 2 ½ hours of hiking in the morning. After the hike, a boat picked us up to take us back south, but with a stop for lunch, a swim, and an optional hike to a lookout point. Having seen a lot of beautiful lookouts, we opted to just swim and eat lunch.

In total, we hiked (errr, “tramped”) over 20 miles, probably close to 25. I still haven’t gotten straight exactly how to convert from kilometers to miles. It was a very challenging hike for us city dwellers, but it was also quite peaceful and unbelievably beautiful. Pictures follow for your viewing pleasure.

One of many beautiful bays we saw, above and below.

Below, a peaceful creek/river near a more forested part of the walking track.

Below, one of the various gorgeous lookouts from the track.

Below is a swing bridge that we crossed that extended over a river/creek, like the one above.  The swingbridge was quite fun.

Below, a view of a turqouise bay through the trees.

Lake Taupo and on to Wellington

After leaving Rotorua, Violet and I took a bus one hour south to Taupo, New Zealand. Taupo is home to the largest freshwater lake in the Southern Hemisphere: Lake Taupo. The lake is the size of Singapore. Here are a few photos.

The first day we spent in Taupo was pretty rainy, so V and I took the chance to sleep in, do some laundry, and catch up on our reading. Our room had a nice little patio outside it, which was virtually private, so we also enjoyed our coffee outside. We booked a kayak trip for one of the three days we spent in Taupo. It was a 2 ½ hour trip to some large Maori rock carvings that have been carved into a huge rock wall that rises out of the lake. I did not bring my camera, so I don’t have any pictures, but Violet did, so perhaps I can procure some to add to the site.

The kayaking was fun, but I have to admit that I am not coordinated enough to be a crack kayaker (also known as a “cryaker”). As soon as I got my paddling down right, then my steering (done with the feet in the type of kayak I was in) was all off. The last 45 minutes were rough, as I was tired of constantly having to overcorrect for my poor steering. My arms were very, very sore the following night and the next day.

We didn’t do much else of interest in Taupo, though I took some walks around the pretty town and lake. Here are some photos taken in the nice little harbor and on the walk into the main drag through the town.

We left on January 10 Taupo for a long (full-day) bus ride to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, where we would take a ferry over to the North Island. The three-hour ferry ride was beautiful, and the pictures I took don’t do it justice, but here they are.

These pictures just don't show how dramatic the sounds were when arriving via ferry. You'll have to go see for yourself.