Wednesday, 25 December 2019

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

Day 3 of the Abel Tasman Coast Track, this hut to hut section links Bark Bay to Awaroa. Leaving Bark Bay Hut, the track rises up one of its steepest climbs before descending to Tonga Quarry and the beautiful Onetahuti Beach. Rising up to Tonga Saddle, an optional low tide route passes by the Awaroa Lodge Cafe before a walk along the shorts leads to the well located hut. A relaxing and enjoyable middle day of a beach holiday on foot

Distance: 13.5 km if going on the main track; less if taking the low tide route via Awaroa Lodge Cafe (one way)
Gradient: Largely gentle terrain with gentle to moderately steep 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: 4-5 Hours, depending on how long you spend at the Lodge Cafe
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

On what was Christmas morning of 2019, Alissa and I woke up early for our third day of the Abel Tasman Coast Track. The previous night, a group of us had been chatting to the Hut Warden who had given us so really useful advice; in spite of the public holiday, Awaroa Lodge's cafe looked like it was open, and additionally going via Awaroa Lodge actually provides a shortcut to Awaroa Hut that saves an hour of undulating rainforest walking! With the glint of non-dehydrated food in our eyes, Rhod, Julius and Lisa, American couple Audi and Mogy, Alissa and I all agreed that we would head to the cafe for brunch. Rhod was the first out the gate, with Alissa and I a short distance behind.

From Bark Bay, it is possible to take a low tide route through the estuary, however the Hut Warden had advised us that the high tide route was actually quite scenic and worth the very meagre addition in kilometres. Given that we would be taking a more significant shortcut later in the day, Alissa and I were happy to do the extra distance, especially since the track crosses a number of spectacular creeks along the way.

The track skirts the edge of the estuary, and passes over a nice swing bridge. While less epic than the one the previous day over Falls River, this swing bridge actually provided us with views of a waterfall on the other side.

While fairly small, the waterfall was a nice scenic feature from the track. All in all, these small but beautiful touches made the high tide route as worthwhile as the Hut Warden had suggested.

After the waterfall, the track becomes a lot more undulating, leading to one of the steepest climbs of the entire Abel Tasman Coast Track. Alissa and started this stretch together, however given my faster speed on these sections we ended up agreeing that I would wait for her nearer to the top of the climb.

Rising up, the track provides lovely views back down to Bark Bay, with Medlands Beach even peaking out from behind the headland that separates it from Bark Bay's main beach.

With Alissa taking the climb at an easier pace, Julius and Lisa caught up to Alissa and I by the time we got to the top of the ascent. Since we were aiming to go to the cafe we decided to stick together for the rest of the day. While we had hung out with them every day of the walk, it was nice to get to chat with them while we were walking and we found that we were travelling at a compatible speed. 

The descent from the top of the ridge brought the four of us to Tonga Quarry. Tonga Quarry used to be a small campsite on the Abel Tasman however it was closed in 2018 due to storm damage. 

The area is filled with historic value as it was once the quarry from which the steps for the Nelson Cathedral were sourced. Now only a handful of foundations are all that is left of the wharf that was used to transport the granite to Nelson and Wellington.

After taking a short moment to enjoy the scenery, the four of us continued on the track towards Awaroa. Immediately after leaving Tonga Quarry, the track crosses a bridge over a stream and begins a short but sharp ascent up across the coastal ridge.

As well as providing lovely views back towards Tonga Quarry Beach, the track also takes in views of Tonga Island. Not to be confused with the actual island nation of Tonga in Oceania, this small island apparently is home to a flourishing fur seal colony and is reachable by water taxi. 

Continuing along the coastal ridge, Onetahuti Beach came into view. The shallow, calm waters along the edge of the coastal cliffs looked extremely inviting for snorkelling, and while we were keen to press on it is the kind of area that would be worth exploring if you have more time or are travelling to Onetahuti by water taxi and can afford to bring more gear with you. 

While Onetahuti Beach is one of the longer beach walks on the Abel Tasman Coast Track, Alissa and I have cut our teeth of both the Bibbulmun Track's Mazzoletti Beach and the Cape to Cape Track, where the sand can be soft and the beaches can stretch on for seven kilometres. The sand here was firm under foot and made for an easy walk. With the campsite being right on the beach, this would be a choice location for those tenting it along the track and we ran into a few hikers who had started on the same day as us camping here instead of at Bark Bay. 

Along the beach, a stream flows into the bay, however it was at such a low flow that it was not much of an obstacle at all.

Further along the beach, the four of us encountered a Variable Oystercatcher looking after its brood. While full black compared to the Pied Oystercatchers we have back in Western Australia, these birds had a similarly aggressive attitude when defending their young. Luckily we were not swooped on like we had been while on the Cape to Cape Track leading to Prevelly!

At the northern end of Onetahuti Beach, the track crosses a somewhat stylish looking bridge over Richardson Stream. 

While there was not much water flowing at the time of our visit, the stream is wide and shallow, and it made me wonder if it too was an estuary that fills up at high tide - although we had thought that we were walking at high tide around this time of the day. 

Looking back towards the beach and Tonga Island one last time (or so we thought), the four of us began our last climb for the day towards Tonga Saddle. 

The ascent was slow and gradual, and was much more easy going than the steep climb out of Bark Bay. The track even offered some benches at lookout points to peer back down to the Onetahuti Beach once again. 

Once we were across the top, the track levelled out for an easy amble until the junction to Awaroa Lodge. From here the track descends steeply and follows a track of much poorer standard until it reaches the lodge. 

Although the sign suggested it was 10 minutes to the cafe, it was closer to the 20 minutes someone had scrawled onto the sign as a correction. Although the Hut Warden had assured us it would be open, we were still nervous that the Google listing might have been wrong. It was such a relief to find it was indeed open for business. Rhod had arrived a little while before us and he was in the middle of a bowl of granola and yoghurt when we showed up. This was somewhat comical as he had been living on a massive slab of homemade granola bar for the last few days, and when given the opportunity to order cooked food ended up ordering much of the same!

Being too early for lunch, Alissa, Julius, Lisa and I ordered breakfast. Over the entire trip, Alissa and had not had any coffee so she was delighted to finally get a coffee - and an iced coffee at that. Audi and Mogy showed up about an hour later, and actually arrived at a more conducive time as they were able to have lunch. Being Christmas Day, New Zealand has a bit of an archaic law that says alcohol cannot be served before a certain time and must be with a meal. Being still full from brunch, none of us were keen to order something else and thus missed out on the beer we had been most hanging out for. 

Having enjoyed our rest and meals, Julius, Lisa, Rhod, Alissa and I left Audi and Mogy and made our way to Awaroa Hut. Normally when a track has a side trip like this, you'd think we would have to pay the price of a much longer return back to the main track however going to Awaroa Lodge Cafe is a double reward as it provides a flat shortcut as well!

While not necessarily recognised on the DOC maps, a helpful map along the tracks through the settlement clearly show the trail passing through the village to a low tide crossing, and then heading around the bay towards the hut. 

The track skirts the edge of a grass landing strip as it passes by some of the glamping accommodation that is an alternate option to the hut for those with the means who want a bit more luxury. 

Reaching the tidal crossing of Venture Creek, a man working for the Lodge advised us to wait about an hour for the tide to drop a bit, and while we initially were going to wait Lisa decided to test it out. Realising it was little more than knee deep, the rest of us took of our shoes and made our way across to the other side as well. 

On the other side of Venture Creek, the five of us merely had to follow the rive bank as it led towards the bay. A series of orange markers would appear at a bend in the creek, and the appearance of a number of beach houses got us pretty excited as it meant we were almost there.  

Rounding the corner, the five of us were now well and truly in Awaroa Bay, and we followed the golden sand beach westwards towards the hut and crossing location. 

Oddly, the markers pointed us towards a track that leaves the beach, however the track actually ends up leading back towards the bay.

Back at the bay, we only had a short walk along more beach before reaching our day's destination. 

Awaroa Hut is similar to Bark Bay insofar as being a bit less of a luxury lodge and more of a classic government hut. The main area was probably a bit more generous with space as it offered two separate sitting areas. The main space had a similar bunk room setup of two large bunk platforms that are not the best outcome given the packed in like sardines feeling. 

Knowing that we got along with Julius and Lisa, we managed to score the front room of the hut. While not the single person bunks we'd had the last two nights, the platform here was smaller so meant a lot less people than the two main rooms. We would still be packed in sardines, but at least it was a smaller can!

Arriving so early in the day, Alissa, Lisa and I decided to go out for a swim to check out the depth of the bay. The water was surprisingly less cold than I had expected. While it started out fairly shallow and easy going, we realised that there is a deep channel towards the middle with a fast flowing current. As such, DOC's advice that the track should only be crossed at low tide should be taken seriously. 

Some people do not take heed of the information or grow impatient, and one of the great joys of Awaroa is that it provides hut dwellers with a great source of entertainment watching other people's poor decisions. 

There is even an ample lawn outside the hut to provide a comfortable sitting space to enjoy the spectacle. 

Later in the afternoon, the tide was well and truly out and we could see a lot of people making the crossing all at once. While many were trampers continuing onto the next campsite, Awaroa's campsite is also a walk-in site for non-hiking campers as there is a car park just to the west of the track crossing. It was fascinating watching the car camper folks walk their gear across the bay, with some pushing trolleys, one dragging a branch to use as a sled for their belongings and a few people carrying what looked like a real mattress! Considering how much it sometimes feels like you're just waiting for bed time in the late afternoon, Awaroa definitely kept us entertained. 

Finishing up with Christmas carols, card games and some whisky, Bark Bay to Awaroa was a fantastic day of hiking, being largely easy going and filled with so many excellent and enjoyable moments. It is rare for a day of walking to have both a scenic shortcut and a cafe, and for the hut to provide as much entertainment as Awaroa. Certainly, this day felt very much like a beach holiday given its overall slackness, and Alissa declared this to be her favourite day of hiking ever to date! While I wouldn't go so far (New Years Eve would trump it), this was a really lovely and relaxing day of hiking that only made the Abel Tasman Coast Track grow in my esteem even more. 


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