Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Abel Tasman Coast Track (NZ) - Anchorage to Bark Bay

Day 2 of the Abel Tasman Coast Track, this section follows the coastline between Torrent Bay and Bark Bay. Leaving Anchorage via the beach and skirting Torrent Bay estuary, a short side trip leads to the beautiful Cleopatra's Pool before passing through Torrent Bay settlement. Heading through forest and crossing the spectacular Falls River over a swing bridge, the trail ends at the idyllic Bark Bay. An even better follow up to Day 1

Distance: 11.5 km (one way)
Gradient: Largely gentle terrain with gentle to moderate ascents and descents throughout
Quality of Path: Very clear and well maintained
Quality of Signage: Well signed at all trail junctions, with expected time and kilometre information to the next landmark
Experience Required: Bushwalking/Tramping Experience Recommended
Time: 3-4 Hours
Steps: Several minor steps in places
Best Time to Visit: All year
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: No direct road access to this section, however access can be arranged via water taxi. For those looking to do the full walk, the Abel Tasman Coast Track starts at Marahau. From Nelson, follow Route 60 to Tataka Hill Highway and then turn right onto Riwaka-Sandy Bay Rd, which becomes Sandy Bay-Marahau Rd and then Harvey Rd. Trailhead is located to the right side of the road immediately after a left turn onto Marahau Valley Rd

Thankfully sharing a room with similar minded people, Alissa and I had an excellent sleep at Anchorage hut. While everyone took turns at snoring, the impact was minimal thanks to the earplugs. Add to that the comfort of the actual bed combined with our recent upgrade to the Nemo Fillo Luxury pillows, and we were well and truly converts to the Great Walk-style hut setup!

Alissa and I are not really people to dawdle at the start of the day, and with no mattresses to deflate and roll up, no tent to pack away and a decision made to forego hot food and drinks and instead have a Berocca and a Clif Bar, Alissa and were ready to go in 30 minutes.

With the tide being too high, Alissa and I would have to take the longer high tide route. The previous day, Alissa and I had reached a trail junction that skipped going down to Anchorage just before the big descent to the beach, and we had worried that we would have to rise up again on the same stretch of track. Some helpful hints from the Hut Warden indicated that this would not be the case, and we would instead have to simply follow the beach all the way to the end where an orange marker indicates where the track ascends back up through the rainforest. 

As with the previous day, the forest walking was dense and beautiful rainforest. The track rises up immediately and follows a series of short, sharp switchbacks to rejoin the main high tide route across the top of the ridge.

Initially staying high along the coast, the track skirts the edge of the Torrent Bay estuary, providing views down the flooded lagoon. The low tide track passes through this area and saves one hour of walking.

Leading towards the far end of the estuary, the track descends to sea level as it reaches the bridge across the Torrent River. Given the calm conditions on the day, the water was almost glassy.

Entering dense rainforest, the Torrent River is crossed via a long wooden bridge. 

At the time of our visit, Torrent Bay was far from a raging torrent, and it would actually have been crossable with a shin deep wade, though I'm sure it is far deeper and faster flowing in Winter. 

Not long after the bridge is a side trip to Cleopatra's Pool. One of two main side trip options for the day, the 20 minute return trip to Cleopatra's Pool makes it an easy sell for a day that is only 11.5 kilometres if going the longer high tide route. The Cleopatra's Pool Track follows the river upstream along a narrow section of trail, and reminded Alissa and I of a lusher version of Govetts Creek in the Grose Valley, particularly the section near Junction Rock. This reminder was sadly bittersweet given the fires that had swept through the Blue Mountains over the Summer, with the area badly burnt. 

Located on the other side of a rock hop, Cleopatra's Pool is a lovely spot along the river. Fed by a waterfall, those more inclined for a swim will not be able to resist this spot for a refreshing dip. Even I, who is not much of a fan of swimming when there is more walking to do, dipped my head into the water to cool off. While Alissa and I did not go for a swim, we ran into Julius and Lisa - one of the couples we shared the room with in Anchorage - who did go for a dip at Cleopatra's Pool. 

Returning back to the main track, the trail once again skirted around the edge of the Estuary with its glass-like stillness still on display in the shallows. 

Further along, Alissa and I could see that the estuary was getting deeper now as we came closer to the settlement at Torrent Bay. In the waters we could make out a series of markers that would point the way for walkers taking the shorter route at low tide. Along this stretch of track, a long, rough and steep looking side trip leads to waterfalls on Falls River. Initially I had been keen to check it out given the low kilometres for the day, however Alissa's reluctance led to me compromising in the end. Rhod, a hiker we had met the previous day, had decided to do the side trip. When we caught up with him later at the hut, he described it as a slog, and when I asked if it was worth it he emphatically said no!

At the end of the Torrent Bay estuary, a well marked exit shows where the low tide route would end as it rejoins the main track. 

The Abel Tasman Coast Track passes through the main street of Torrent Bay village. The village is a series of small beach shacks ranging from somewhat vernacular to extreme luxe. Given that these are private residences, walkers are asked to move quickly through the area, and Alissa and I did are best to respect their privacy and limit our photos through the area. 

The track passes by the village's main beach, with the tiny island of Ballon Rock being the area's main feature. From here Alissa and I were able to see how far we'd come so far, with the boats of Anchorage in the next cove along.

Reaching the end of the village, the track once again enter rainforest onwards to Bark Bay. An old sign gave a much faster speed than the signs nearby, and given that Alissa and I were travelling faster than the suggested speeds, we were confident we could make it to Bark Bay in the 2 hours, 10 minutes listed. 

From the village, the track rises up to head across the top of a ridge. Just before heading slightly inland, the track provides one last magnificent look at Torrent Bay.

The next section was sadly no where near as magnificent as the bare area features trees that had been cut down and cleared. Given that this is national park, one assumes that this was due to trees having fallen over and not the result of logging.

Along the way, the track crosses another stream and another pool. Known as Halfway Pool, this was a much smaller and less exciting looking water hole. It wasn't overly clear what the pool was halfway to, however my best guess was that it was halfway to Falls River.

With the track having a few ups and downs from Anchorage through to Halfway Pool, it was nice to have the track settle into a gentle groove as it made its way across the coastal ridge. While mostly within forest, the track nevertheless provided great viewpoints down to the coast, with Frenchman Bay being a highlight. 

With Alissa wanting to take it at her own pace, I decided to power ahead so we could get to the hut in time to stake our claim on a good spot. We had heard that Bark Bay was a smaller and less impressive hut than Anchorage so wanted to have dibs on the best places. With flat, easy walking I was able to power along quite well towards Falls River. 

Falls River features the most impressive bridge of the entire track, with a 47 metre long swing bridge making its way across the wide river. At the time of my arrival, a large family were slowly making their way across, so I took a moment to chill out until they cleared. 

The view from the swing bridge was excellent. Lined with rainforest on either side and with sparkling emerald-coloured water, the Falls River was quite spectacular. Alissa, who was only about 10 minutes behind me in the end due to the hold up with the family, saw a boat tour going through when she crossed the bridge. 

From the swing bridge, the track continues on in an easy going fashion. At this point I began passing a lot of day trippers coming in the other direction. Given their minimal gear, I took it as a sign that I was now not far at all from Bark Bay.

From Falls River, the track features a few side trip options, with the uninviting-sounding Sandfly Bay being one I was not keen to check out. Further along, a short side trip leading to a lookout at South Head seemed a bit more inviting.

Thinking of both Bald Head and South Point, I was expecting something spectacular from the lookout, and unfortunately I have to say that the side trip was not really worth it. Alissa and I had plenty of better views over the day, and I would only recommend it to serious completists looking to do every side trip. 

Returning back to the main junction, I arrived just in time for Alissa to come around the corner. She had not been expecting to see me, and was quite happy that she had kept up a fairly decent pace herself. From there, we followed the track back down to the coast as it provides lovely views of Medlands Beach. A small, idyllic cove, this is a really inviting swimming spot if staking a claim on a bunk isn't front and centre in your mind. 

Running right along the coastline, the track rounds a corner to reveal Bark Bay. While this is the home stretch, the hut is surprisingly further away than you would expect. 

As we came closer to the beach, we could see that the spit separating the Bark Bay estuary from the ocean was a beachside campsite. With the hut being adjacent to the campsite at Anchorage, it was interesting to discover that Bark Bay Hut is further inland on the shores of the estuary. 

Nestled in the forest, Bark Bay Hut is an older style building compared to the luxury lodge style of Anchorage. The architectural style bore a close kinship to the older style huts Alissa and I have seen in Tasmania, particularly baring a resemblance to the Waterfall Valley hut (that was there in 2016 but has since been replaced) and Pine Valley.

While less spacious, the hut nevertheless had a good provision of amenities, including a decent kitchen area, a number of tables and a wood heater than was unnecessary at the time of our visit. 

Compared to the single person bunks of Anchorage, the main bunk rooms Bark Bay are definitely a step down given it features the utilitarian shelf style that is common in a lot of older public huts.

And herein lies the reward of getting to the hut early; being the first group to make it to Bark Bay, Alissa and I were able to have our pick of places. Speaking to a couple who were leaving to head toward Anchorage, Alissa and I asked for their tip on best place to sleep and they revealed that there is a smaller room around the corner that has individual bunks! A family of four who were staying for two nights were already in, however Alissa and I were able to secure the last two empty bunks for another night of better sleep. 

Having arrived early and with a lot of free time up our sleeves, Alissa and I decided we might as well go exploring. The tide was out at the estuary so we headed out and across towards the beach.

In the bay was a small boat that had been stranded in the sand by the retreating tide but that would be able to leave once the tide came back in. 

Walking through the campsite, Bark Bay certainly lived up to the image of a 'beach holiday on foot', with plenty of fire rings on the beach, a camp kitchen and even a cold shower. 

With calm water, Bark Bay was another inviting beach, however Alissa and I were again not really in the mood for a swim and instead just sat on the beach taking in the serenity. 

Returning back to camp, playing a few rounds of Fluxx and having afternoon naps, it was interesting to see the significant difference in water level once the tide comes in. 

After a great first day, this second day of the Abel Tasman Coast Track was arguably even better as the track spent even more time in spectacular scenery. While an hour longer compared to the low tide route, the high tide track definitely felt like a worthwhile scenic route given the beauty of the Torrent Bay estuary and Cleopatra's Pool. With the excellent views of the coastline across the ridge and idyllic Falls River, this was a really lovely day of walking that, while more difficult than the first day, was still a relatively easy amble with a high reward for effort ratio.