Road Trip South Island: Abel Tasman

Our original South Island plan was to wake up really early and make it to Abel Tasman National Park in time to do a walk, stay one night there, and move on to the coast the next day. After rushing through the North Island we decided it wasn’t necessary to keep moving at such a fast pace so we enjoyed a leisurely morning in Picton before hitting the road. It was a great call; we were able to sleep in, enjoy the drive, and get to Abel Tasman in the afternoon, a place we soon discovered deserved more than just a quick trip.

Leaving Picton we made a very important stop for the rest of our road trip: we got 5 tapes at a thrift store. Why so important? Fez only had radio or a tape player, and we accurately guessed that most of the drive through South Island wilderness wouldn’t have any radio signal. The selection was not the best, but we walked away with a few options: 60’s Chart Toppers (surprisingly good), Hooked on Rock and Roll (surprisingly bad), Interstate Truckers Original Artists (imagine Johnny Cash as a long haul truck driver), The Best of M People (the Brit chose this one, I had no idea who they were), and Bruce Springsteen (obviously the winner). The songs on these tapes will forever remind me of New Zealand. There were some moments where the fates aligned and the song was absolutely perfect for the situation, some where it was totally wrong, and some where we were just a bit delusional and the song became intertwined with our loss of sanity. For example: it was very rainy this day and 60’s Chart Toppers decided to play “I Can See Clearly Now the Rain is Gone.” Rude. Or when Frank and I sang a duet to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (yes I do have that on video). There will be more of these as I continue posting…

After a short lunch stop in Nelson, made even shorter by the unwelcome downpour we got stuck in, we got our first taste of hilly South Island roads. We decided to pass Moteuka in favor of staying in Marahau, which is at the entrance to the park. The approach was a winding downhill road with views of forest as far as the eye could see, until we reached the bottom, came around the bend and were greeted with the most perfect turquoise sea. We pulled off to marvel at the ocean and spotted a rainbow in the distance. That’s it, South Island, you’ve got us hooked.

We drove through town – if you can call it a town, it’s more like a hamlet; no traffic lights, one convenience store, a smattering of hotel and housing options – and ended up at The Barn. This hostel must be incredible in summer: it has an outdoor kitchen, pool table, BBQ area, tent and campervan spaces, and a ring of two person huts. It still was great for spring though since the indoor lounge and kitchen has a wood burning fireplace to keep everyone warm. Just to give you an idea how cold it still is here, we woke up to see fresh snow on top of the hills behind us. Don’t be deceived by the sunny beaches in the pictures, it’s not quite summer yet. We opted to stay in one of the huts even though it wasn’t heated (it was cheaper for 2 than the dorm rooms); just two beds and a light, so serene.

On the ferry ride we had decided to go on a wifi detox when we got to the South Island and The Barn was the perfect place for it. It is one of the most chill hostels I’ve been to so far. As soon as we arrived I had one of the most enjoyable showers of my whole trip, with a panoramic window looking out at the quiet beginning of Abel Tasman park and the ocean, and that night we cooked dinner and hung out with some of the other guests.

The next day we took a water taxi to Bark Bay, about halfway up the coast of the park, and walked back along the Abel Tasman Coast Track. When I say water taxi you probably imagine a nice little dock with a catamaran sort of boat. At least that’s what we were imagining. We were very wrong. We boarded the little 20-person speedboat in a parking lot and then were actually pulled into the water by a tractor. I have never seen this before. Crazy Kiwis.

The trek we did is one of the Great Walks and you can easily see why. It’s stunning. We started at a peaceful horseshoe bay with tan sand and vibrant blue water, then climbed up and around through forest before getting back down to another perfect beach. The scenery changed with the elevation and all of it was just beautiful.

Before we stopped for lunch at yet another perfect horseshoe beach at Anchorage we had to cross the ocean floor, literally. The tide changes so much here that at low tide you can actually walk across an area that is covered in water the rest of the day; our boat had driven over this area that morning to drop some people off. We tramped across tons of shells and traversed a freezing cold ocean water river to get to the other side, the whole time marveling at what we were doing. I had encouraged bringing a traditional American hiking lunch of peanut butter and banana sandwiches; apparently they don’t eat these in England, and now Frank has had this combination at least half a dozen times and will probably bring it back home with him. You’re welcome England.

The last leg of the walk led us to a viewpoint overlooking the coast. It was all hills covered in green trees descending to the blue ocean, separated by thin lines of sand. It was like we were in a postcard.

The hike took us around 5 and a half hours. We were happy to just chill at the hostel that night, enjoy a few beers, and chat with more fellow travelers. A few of the people we met meant to only be in Abel Tasman for a day or two and had decided to stay a week or more. It’s the kind of place that people don’t want to leave. As I soon discovered, most of New Zealand is that kind of place.

This day will forever be a highlight of my time in New Zealand, not just because the scenery was the definition of beautiful, but also because for hours Frank and I just walked and talked. We covered a whole range of topics from social to personal, political to cultural, and everything in between. Considering we had met for about 15 minutes when we decided to spend 2 weeks together, things were really working out. After a whole day just hanging out the two of us I could see that we would have a great road trip, and more importantly a great friendship. Writing this now, after our road trip has ended, I can say I was right.


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