Friday, 27 December 2019

Abel Tasman Coast Track (NZ) - Whariwharangi to Wainui Bay

The final day of the Abel Tasman Coast Track, Day 5 starts is a short half day up and over the hill to Wainui Bay. Starting behind Whariwharangi Hut, the track rises up a moderate but continuous ascent to a lookout and trail junction. Descending from the hill, the track provides spectacular views of Wainui Bay and the Greater Golden Bay area. A short but enjoyable finale to a great Great Walk

Distance: 5.7 km (one way)
Gradient: One moderate ascent and then a moderate descent
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: 1.5-2 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

Having our own private room in Whariwharangi Hut the previous night, Alissa and I had just about the best sleep we've ever had out on a multi-day hike. Given the last day of the Abel Tasman Coast Track is a cruisy 5.7 km and we wouldn't be picked up until 1:30pm, it also meant we had a more chilled and lazy morning than any other day of the walk. As such, Alissa and I pottered around longer than we usually do, said goodbye to Audi and Mogy who were going to the alternate finish point at Totaranui and yet we were still amongst the first to get going!

The track from Whariwharangi leaves from behind the hut. Given this was a homestead, it is amazing how the rainforest here still has a wild feeling instead of being severely compromised by introduced species. A lot more still needs to be done, and the previous night we had read about the 30 year project being undertaken by Project Janszoon to restore the entire Abel Tasman area to its former glory by 2042 in time for the 400th anniversary of Abel Tasman's arrival in New Zealand.

While a short day, the elevation chart shows the day to also have the biggest elevation gain of the entire walk. Given I generally walk at a faster pace than Alissa on the ascents, I powered ahead. At numerous points along the way, there were natural clearing with views down to the beach, however I was sure that there had to be more to it and that there would be great views from the top of the climb.  

Alas, it was not to be; once the elevation levelled out for an extended period of time, I realised that there were no views from the top and that it was all just dense forest. I stopped and waited for Alissa and this point. The ascent had hardly been a challenge at all, and now with it behind us the elevation was all downhill from here.  

The forest opened up across the top of the ridge, providing views across the valley showing off how dense and continuous the forest was. Sadly no coastal views. 

About 45 minutes into the day's walking, Alissa and I reached the junction with the Gibbs Hill Track. For those who are heading to the alternate finish point at Totaranui, this is the route that they would take. It is also used by those who have not had enough of Abel Tasman National Park and want to take the rougher Inland Track back towards the start over and additional three days. 

Before following the track down to Wainui Bay, Alissa and I briefly followed the Gibbs Hill Track as there was a lookout point right near the junction. From the lookout we could see the coastline of Golden Bay that would be our finale to the Abel Tasman Coast Track.  

Heading down to Wainui Bay, the track winds it way towards the coast along a cutting that appears to have been an old road. 

The way the track continually provided views of Wainui Bay and the greater Golden Bay area was fantastic. It was difficult to capture the grandeur in photographs, but Alissa and I agreed it was an epically beautiful finale to a coastal walk.   

Looking out to the bay, Alissa and I knew that somewhere over the hills and coastal ridges beyond was the Heaphy Track - another of New Zealand's Great Walks. Rhod would be starting the Heaphy Track in the coming days, which is probably a more sensible pair of Great Walks to do together than the Abel Tasman and Tongariro Northern Circuit that Alissa and I were doing.

Just before reaching the Wainui Inlet, the track provides one last view down to a calm, secluded beach. It is a shame that the track doesn't end at a more inviting beach as this spot looked like absolute perfection for a swim. 

With the estuary in view, we were well and truly at the home stretch.  

As with the impressive trailhead at Marahau, Wainui Bay also features a dramatic entry archway to mark the start/finish of the Abel Tasman. Although we'd only be out for five days and we'd thoroughly enjoyed it, we were nevertheless happy to finish the walk. Having found the walk easier than many she'd done before, Alissa noted that this was the first time in a long time that she'd completed a multi-day walk without crying at some point due to either the challenge or emotional release at having completed something of great difficulty.  

Amazingly given our last start, Alissa and I were the first ones to arrive at the end - and we weren't even overtaken by Rhod at any stage! Rhod would be the next one across the finish line, and Alissa and I gave him a dramatic slow clap as he cross the threshold of the gateway. The Canadian hiker we'd met on Day One was one of the others finishing here, and as a poetic end we again took her photo at this trailhead. 

As we waited for the bus and chatted amongst ourselves, a stunningly beautiful bird flew into the tree next to us. This was a KererÅ« - the only pigeon endemic to New Zealand. Its feathers were iridescent and its stately appearance made it appear far more noble than the dirty looking 'rats of the sky' that often populate cities.This was a fleeting moment, but one of my favourite moments in Abel Tasman National Park - still giving right to the end. 

Given its short length, this final day on the Abel Tasman Coast Track is more of a half day. While less diverse than some of the other days of the walk, there was still a lot to like about it given the expansive, grand views of Golden Bay at the finale. Overall, Alissa and I thoroughly enjoyed every day of this walk, and it made us excited for our next adventure - the Tongariro Northern Circuit. 


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