Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Great Abel Tasman Hike - Part 2

Sunrise at Castle Rocks. Click for full photoalbum.
Last time it was all about the coast. Today it'll be all about the national park's inner part. It's going to be tough, so get ready. 

Wake up and start climbing
Upon leaving Whariwarangi, first we had to climb 405 metres above sea level on top of Gibbs Hill (sunny weather again, great view), then fall a bit down to Pigeon Saddle and then tackle the first really difficult part. Pigeon Saddle is at about 300 metres above sea level and after maybe two, three kilometres we must have been at least twice the elevation. And no more fancy gravel paths, this was the real stuff - narrow paths through thick forest, steep stairways made of roots and rocks... oh yes, that day really tested us.

Whariwharangi hut.
Skinny and heavy
I think that having done the Coast track first was a huge plus for me and Dominik, we had a chance to warm up, and we were already half through our food supplies. Yuka and Shohei weren't so lucky and had a really hard time with fully loaded backpacks. Especially Yuka, skinny as she is (when I hug that girl, I'm afraid to break her) and with all the stuff she had brought along. My eyeballs almost dropped out of their sockets when I saw what she had packed... she must've robbed a cosmetics shops and added her whole garderobe... The backpack was bigger than her!
On the other hand, I can't say a word, because it was only thanks to her cooking pot that we managed to boil some rice and thus considerably improve our food supplies. Our naive plan to cook in an empty tin can didn't work out, so thanks for that Yuka!
What certainly didn't help were her brand new, not yet broken into hiking boots (they actually turned out to be the biggest problem in the following days). Despite all the difficulties, she bravely survived the hardest part of our walk and has our deepest admiration. It really was a strenuous day for everybody.

 Coffee and breakfast.
Awapoto hut - a tramper's luxury hotel
After several hours of strenuous climbing we had finally reached our first overnight stop, the Awapoto hut. It was with huge relief that we dropped our rucksacks, lit up the stove and devoured our meagre dinners. Once the hut was nice and warm, we could dedicate ourselves to the pleasures of away-from-civilisation life. No electricity, no hot water, no telephone coverage... no light pollution and no noise. We loved it (at least I did).

Full dark, all stars
I liked Yuka's remark about my reading an electronic book on an e-reader with candlelight. Modern technology at its best. What took our breaths away, though, was the "hotel's ceiling". At 600 metres above sea level, in a clearing amidst hectares of thick forest, with no light pollution and no clouds whatsoever, it was a spectacular show.

Every bit of the firmament was littered with hundreds of stars, creating dozens of constellations whose shapes I can't begin to describe, and to crown it all, the Milky Way stretched right above us. Despite the cold, we stared at the sky until our necks got sore, guessing what the various stars resemble. I saw a house, a bat, a brain, an archer (maybe that was Sagittarius) and who knows what else, and I hadn't smoked anything! Most importantly, after months in the southern hemisphere I finally recognised the Southern Cross. Ah, and we saw a satellite. Those things move bloody fast, it crossed from one edge of the firmament to the other within minutes! I wonder how many times a day it circles around the Earth.

Lunch break.
Day 6 - unmet expectations
Day six (or rather Day Two of the Inland track) was supposed to be the toughest due to the distance we had to cover (over 20km), the elevation (from 600m to almost 1100 and then drop to 700) and the lack of water between Awapoto and Castle Rock, our next hut.
Surprisingly, it turned out to be a much easier and pleasurable walk (long patches of flat terrain), but unfortunately Yuka's foot started hurting due to a problem with the new boots. In the end it was painkillers what got her through.

We didn't see much landscape due to fog and rain (I think we walked through a cloud), but there was plenty of beautiful forest to catch the eye. Constantly changing vegetation, mighty trees covered by carpets of moss all the way up, all sorts of different scents, and later in the day even some sightseeing, once the weather improved. The coastline's more impressive from high above then from the actual coast track.

My foot hurts!!!
Castle Rocks - The View
The battery in my camera was nearly defunct after six days of service and it finally quit just before the most impressive viewpoint - Castle Rocks. The lookout is a good ten-minute hike up and down a deep creek, and for the effort we got rewarded by one of the most impressive views so far. At 720 metres above sea level, Castle Rocks is a rock face overlooking a huge valley with a spectacular view of a good part of the coast, all the way to Motueka and even a glimpse of Nelson, some 100km. The place also strung a note of nostalgia, reminding me of Prachovské Skály back home.

The hut at Castle Rocks isn't nearly as nice as the Awapoto one, but it offered a nice and warm shelter for the night. And again, a stunning view of the stars. I just love New Zealand's night skyline.

Hunter Hunting
We met a deer and goat hunter at the hut, armed with an impressive rifle. Don't ask me any details, but it was cool to look through the scope and imagine it was a Dragunov from good ole' Project I.G.I.).

I'm knackered, bloody hell what a steep walk!
Smoked out of bed
The last morning in Abel Tasman wasn't nearly as happy as the previous ones. The guys decided to go watch the sunrise and had to get up quite early. Nothing wrong with that, if Yuka hadn't spent half an hour in vane attempts to light the stove, tearing and crumpling about a zillion newspapers and producing a whole lot of smoke, all going towards the ceiling, where my bunk was and ventilation was not... After being smoked out of bed at 5 a.m., do you blame me for contemplating murder?

Slow and fast
Anyway, this was our last day on the inland track and, sadly, the worst. Yuka's foot got worse than ever, painkillers weren't working anymore and the track got into a steep descent teeming with jumps, slippery rocks and other nasty stuff she really struggled with. Despite her efforts and will of iron (she has my admiration for never giving up), our progress was far too slow and after a while we agreed on splitting up - Yuka and Shohei stayed behind and continued towards the Coast track at their own pace, while Dominik and I, as if released from a chain, virtually burst into a run towards the car.

Which reminds me that we met a guy who really did run all the way from Marahau to Castle Rock, about 13km and 720m elevation on an extremely steep terrain, and then back before we were even halfway through. That's what I call endurance!

On a positive note, the weather was perfect and before we made several photo/sightseeing stops to absorb the coastline's stunning views. I borrowed some of Dominik's pictures to give you an idea.

Later that afternoon, when we were sitting in a McDonald's, shovelling huge burgers and rethinking of the past week's events, we both agreed that the less popular Inland track was a lot better than the acclaimed Coast Great Walk. It was challenging, beautiful, interesting and didn't feel as artificial as the commercial coast walk. Overall, it didn't even feel like a unique "week in Abel Tasman" experience, but like two clearly separated trips. When fresh memories of the Inland walk were still sinking in, the Coast ones already felt like ten years old.

Viewpoint of the gods.

Timing's of the essence
We were very lucky with the Coast track's timing. September is probably the best time to go - it's already warm enough, but still too cold for the hordes of summer tourists who start pouring in in October, making the place look like Times Square on New Year's Eve...
It was also very auspicious to start on Monday, having the park for ourselves the whole week and retiring Inland for the weekend. On Sunday afternoon, when we left the park, we met more people in 30 minutes than during the whole past week.

Back to civilisation
To celebrate our return to civilisation, we stormed into a McDonald's in Motueka, ordered the biggest meals on the menu, sent them down with litres of fizzy drinks, then went to a hostel, had a hot shower, shaved, did the laundry and spent the rest of the day hooked up on the computer. We didn't feel hungry, but for some reason our dinner consisting of half a kilo of spaghetti, half a kilo of ham and half a kilo of carbonara sauce was gone in ten minutes, along with several cans of beer.

That was our Abel Tasman Tramping. Try it, it's great!

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