Thursday, 26 December 2019

Abel Tasman Coast Track (NZ) - Awaroa to Whariwharangi


The longest day of the Abel Tasman Coast Track, Day 4 starts with the tidal crossing at Awaroa Inlet. On the other side, the track rises up and down to a series of magnificent beaches on the way to Whariwharangi Bay. Located in the greater Golden Bay, the Whariwharangi's beach is complemented by the unique Whariwharangi Hut - a converted 19th Century homestead that is the track's best hut on the track's most scenic day


Distance: 16.9 km (one way)
Gradient: Mix of gentle terrain with some moderately steep ascents and descents in sections
Quality of Path: Very clear and well maintained, with a section of road walking and through a field
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: 4.5-6 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


The Abel Tasman Coast features some one of the biggest tides in New Zealand, with the difference from high to low tide being as much as 5 metres in places! This means there are a number of tidal crossings on the Abel Tasman Coast Track, however all but one feature an alternate high tide route. The one exception is Awaroa Inlet where there is no alternative but to wait for the tide crossing. The tide time can vary wildly however on the day of our crossing low tide was at 4 am in the morning, and as such everyone at Awaroa Hut woke up early to make it across within the 2 hour window.



After saying goodbye to Julius and Lisa, who were catching the water taxi back to the start rather than doing the last stretch to Wainui Bay, Alissa and I made our way across the inlet. While we'd seen the inlet emptied out the previous day, it was something else actually walking across and remembering that this area had been deep enough for Alissa, Lisa and I to go for a swim!



Because the Awaroa River flows through the inlet to the ocean, there are always sections of the inlet that are under water and you will have to get your feet wet to cross. Alissa and I initially started barefoot until the sharp shells became too painful and we were forced to put on our camp shoes. 



The crossing takes about 20-25 minutes. One other side, we saw Rhod, Audi and Mogy were dusting their feet and putting their shoes on, as well as many others who were at the hut or were camping at Awaroa. 



While speedy Rhod got going quite quickly, Alissa and I were surprised to find that many more hikers seemed to be resting at the crossing or taking their time getting their boots on. Being efficient and keen to get going, we got our shoes on and set a cracking pace along the track.  



Making its way through lush rainforest, the track runs parallel to Waiharakeke Stream as it flows towards Waiharakeke Bay. The fern-lined shallow stream reminded Alissa and I of similar streams and creeks in Tasmania, particularly bringing to mind the lower sections of Mount Field National Park's Lady Barron Falls Circuit (minus the waterfalls). 



Reaching Waiharakeke Bay, the track diverges from the creek and follows the coastline northwards to Goat Bay.



Bathed in the early glow of golden hour, Goat Bay was a typically spectacular Abel Tasman beach, with granite outcrops popping out from the sand recalling the beaches of Western Australia's south coast. One thing I noticed about this day of the track was that the beaches felt wilder and more remote, and while they still were populated by other visitors they mostly didn't have the same level of busyness of Anchorage or many of the coves seen on the first day of the walk



At the northern end of the beach, the track reenters the rainforest. Previously, the track followed a lower, easier route to Totaranui Bay. Totaranui and Goat Bay are only separated by about 100 metres of headland, however a landslide has resulted in a track closure and a longer, steeper climb to the other side.  



The deviation appears to have been in place for many years (according to one blog, the landslide happened in 2011), and while it looks like little more than a blip on the elevation chart, Alissa and I felt like this was easily the hardest and steepest climb of the entire track. 



The continuous switchbacks were made more bearable by the fact that forest here was really quite magnificent, looking much like the lush Gondwanan rainforests of South-East Queensland. 



While the ascent felt like forever, it was actually only about 15 minutes of switchbacks. That being said, seeing the track descend was a great relief. At one point, we could see a side track leading to the right that we assumed must have been the old, far easier route before the landslide. 



Descending to Totaranui Bay, Alissa and I caught up to Rhod who was making use of the limited phone signal to make some calls. Continuing along a road, the track passes right through Totaranui Bay Camp Grounds. A massive camping area, Totaranui is much more geared towards car campers however there are areas for hikers to set up their tent if travelling to an alternate, non-hut itinerary. 



While the track doesn't follow the beach, it was worth checking out. With its calm waters, this would be a great spot to go for a swim if car camping or to go for a paddle as the kayaks on the sand suggested. 



At the northern end of Totaranui Bay is yet another inlet crossing. Unlike many of the others, this one didn't seem as well signed and we decided to skip it and instead follow the high tide route. This is the only section of the track that features any significant stretch of road walking as it follows the road out of the camp grounds and then heads along unsealed service roads for a short stretch. 



This section was certainly the least 'natural' looking part of the walk given the dense grass on either side of the track, however it gave us the feeling of being in the Shire with the road going ever on and on. 



We were pleased when the track returned to more native vegetation as it followed a dual use section of track shared with cyclists.



Interestingly, the track once again leave the native vegetation to enter a mowed, grassy field. At this point we had to take a moment to make sure we were going the right way, eventually spotting the track continue on the other side of the field.



Back on a defined track, the Abel Tasman Coast Track well and truly returns to the native rainforest scenery as it once again climbs steeply. Rhod had caught up to me near the top of the ascent and exclaimed a similar disdain for this second lot of steep switchbacks, and he carried on as I waited for Alissa to catch up. 



After passing a track junction, the elevations levels out for some more gentle walking on the way to Anapai Bay. 



Consulting the Abel Tasman Coast Track app, Alissa was excited to note that Anapai Bay was our second last beach before we would head across the top of the coastal ridge towards our day's destination at Whariwharangi (pronounced Pharipharangi).



After the short beach walk, the track once again rose up across the headlands. This ascent was far less steep than the two previous, and the promise of nearly being finished certainly lifted our spirits.





The start of Mutton Cove is heralded by a small creek crossing that at the time of our visit was little more than a step across. 



This was another outstanding beach on a day filled with outstanding beaches, and I could immediately understand why it was one of the busier campgrounds we passed over the course of the day. 





At the northern end of Mutton Cove, a sign indicates walkers have a choice to make; either follow the main direct route to Whariwharangi or take the scenic route via Separation Point. While the scenic route is only 900 metres longer, it also takes an extra hour to travel as well. Given that Alissa and I were keen to get to Whariwharangi, we decided to take the direct route, especially since I vaguely remembered a bit of advice online that it would be in our interest to get there early to stake our claim on a room. 



While the ascent out of Mutton Cove was twice the height of any we'd done over the course of this day, it didn't feel anywhere near as steep as the first two. Nevertheless, there still were a few switchbacks up across the ridge, as well as several short but sharp ascents and descents to conquer to get to the other side. 



One of the best wildlife encounters of the whole trip happened for me on one of the switchbacks. A Weka was standing in the middle of the track and seemed even less inclined to move out of the way than the others we had met. As I got closer I realised that I'd caught the bird in the middle of it catching a worm. I stopped and watched the bird as it worked patiently for the worm to tire before pulling it out of the ground. This was certainly a poetic sighting, as Alissa and I would soon be the early birds getting the worm ourselves once we made it to Whariwharangi Hut. 



Working our way down the ridge, Alissa and I ran into Rhod who was taking a break while enjoying the views. 



Ahead of us, we could see the stunning Whariwharangi Bay, which meant we were well and truly on the home stretch to the hut! From here, we descended to sea level and followed a track behind the beach which led to the hut. 



Whariwharangi Hut is undoubtedly the coolest looking hut on the Abel Tasman Coast Track. Unlike the luxe Anchorage Hut and the more standard Bark Bay and Awaroa, Whariwharangi is an old homestead that was built in 1896 and was restored in 1980 to be a hikers' hut. A two story building, the hut features four rooms of different configurations for hikers to stay in. 



The first room is a fairly standard bunk room with one large platform and a set of bunks in the corner. The top bunk is shorter than the others and is only really suitable for children. 



Up a very steep set of stairs are two more rooms.



The room to the left of the stairs is probably the worst of the lot, with sleeping platforms all around in a 'U' shape. The worst position to have is to be in the back corners as the two on the far left and far right would be landlocked by other sleepers. 



The second best room is across the way as it only sleeps three, which seems like a massive step up in quality compared to the sardine can fit of the other two rooms. Audi and Mogy were able to secure this room, only having to share with one other person. 



The best room in the whole place however is right next to the kitchen, and it is the perfect example of why it is worth getting up early and getting to the hut in a timely fashion. This small room has only two bunks and a whole lot of space to spread your gear out. Given Rhod had missed out on booking a bunk and was camping, Alissa and I basically had no competition to secure the best room, and probably the best room in any hut we've ever stayed in. Some later arrivals would look into the room and with a hint of jealousy in their voices comment at the good fortune of having a private room in a DOC hut. Certainly there was an amount of luck involved, but Alissa and I pushed hard to get here early and sacrificed seeing Separation Point to get it. If it is something you really want, then I really recommend getting up early and not dawdling. Otherwise, you'll just have to be content with whatever bunks are left.



Another great feature of the old homestead is that the kitchen has a massive dining room table with a chess set in the middle, as well as a well worn deck of Uno cards. While being taught Olsen Olsen by Julius and playing endless rounds of Monty Python Fluxx in the afternoons was enjoyable, having a chess set and Uno gave us some new games to play and helped pass the time. The chess set ended up really inspiring Rhod, who ended up going to the beach, finding some driftwood and carving a pawn to replace the cube seen as a replacement piece above. 



And of course Whariwharangi Beach itself was magnificent; easily my favourite of the beaches in a day filled with some of the best beaches of the entire walk. This north facing beach is part of the greater Golden Bay area, and with temperatures in the low 20s it was basically paradise for me.

At 16.9 kilometres in length and featuring the track's only mandatory tidal crossing, this was by far the longest and most logistically challenging day of the Abel Tasman Coast Track. In spite of this and the somewhat compromised stretch through Totaranui, this was probably my favourite day of the Abel Tasman Coast Track as it was the day with the best beaches and the most engaging walking. The tidal crossing was an exciting start to the day, and to finish it off with the luxury of a private room in Whariwharangi made this a near perfect day. One of my favourite days of hiking in 2019. 

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