Trip Start Jun 10, 2009
Trip End Sep 07, 2009

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Where I stayed
Anchorage Hut
Awaroa Hut
Whariwharangi Hut

Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Monday, July 27, 2009

Sorry this entry is a bit long, but so was the trek.

On Monday, Sebastian, Phillip, Dom and I set off for Picton and the Queen Charlotte Track, a trail that takes three to five days to hike. Only when we arrived, we discovered we would have to take an expensive water taxi to and from the track and that it was a very touristy hike, with lodges and backpackers along the trail. We turned the car around and headed for Abel Tasman National Park, a couple of hours away, and its Coastal Track, one of New Zealand's nine Great Walks. After booking huts along the trail in Motueka, a nearby town, and getting information on the track, we started the hike around 3:30 p.m.

The first day was good: we were all fresh, and since we started so late decided to only make a short tramp of about 13 km, to the first hut, which took us a little more than three hours. We did have to walk for a little while after dark, though, and although we had flashlights, we opted to leave them off unless we hit some rough ground or went under a particularly thick bit of trees since the moon was out. Walking by moonlight through a forest on the side of a mountain while the ocean gently lapped pristine beaches below was an almost mystic experience, and the stars were amazing. It was the clearest I'd ever seen the Milky Way, and probably the most stars I have ever seen at once. We even saw several shooting stars throughout the night. When we got to the hut, we decided to build a bonfire on a nearby beach and then sat around it eating dinner and talking until we went to bed. It was a good way to start the journey.

The next day, however, was fairly hellish. At about 23 km, it was the longest distance we had to hike in any one day, and it started on a slightly sour note when we got off to a bit of a later start than we wanted. We had planned to leave fairly early, but a couple of the guys had decided to take a kayak we had found the night before out for a quick trip, which would have been fine if they had gotten up early like they had talked about, but they got up when I did and took it out. It put us almost exactly past the time we would have been able to cross an estuary at low tide, which meant we had to take the high tide track, adding about an hour's walk to our day. Later, someone suggested we cross a wide stream on some rocks rather than using a bridge (although I can't put too much blame on them; I could have just taken the bridge), but the rocks ran out with a ways still to go so we had to walk through some water and continue with wet shoes.

The worst part of the day, though, was a mountain about 260 meters tall. While we didn't have to any actual climbing, the trail went at a continuous steep upward slope for well more than an hour, and all of us were exhausted after we reached the top with still hours to go. After the top something even worse came, at least for me: a steep downhill section. Those are bad enough normally with a heavy pack trying to push you down the hill, but my knee started acting up again as I walked downhill and made the rest of the hike uncomfortable at best, and painful at worst. To top matters off, it rained for most of the day, and we had to walk the last 20 minutes in the dark through wet sand on a beach, which set my knee on fire, after crossing a river bed at low tide and getting our feet wet again. It wasn't all bad, of course: it was still beautiful and we saw plenty of cool stuff, like Cleopatra's Pool, a big pool formed by a mountain stream surrounded by granite boulders and rock formations. If it hadn't been winter I would have jumped right in, and as it was I was tempted, but the water was frigid. When we finally got to the next hut, we found two people already there (the second and third Americans I've met so far), which turned out to be a good thing since they already had a fire going in the little stove, letting us pass out in warmth.

The third day was much better, shorter at about 14 km and with easier terrain. It started with an estuary crossing at low tide. We had to cross several streams running through the wide stretches of sand, so we took of our shoes and rolled up our pants. The water was amazingly cold; it felt like I dipped my feet in freezing fire. At one point we had to wade through water past our knees, so our pants got wet anyway. We eventually had to stop in the middle of the estuary and put our shoes on, using each other for balance so as not to get our socks muddy, so we could cross a vast expanse of shells that hurt our feet. When we made it to the other side it had taken about 20 minutes, even though we could still see the hut. The rest of the day was fairly typical for the hike, although I went at a slower pace because my knee began constantly hurting; nothing too bad, just enough to slow me down. At one point, we had a choice of going directly to the hut, which would take about an hour, or heading to a seal colony at a place called Separation Point, which would then take two hours to get to the hut. The other guys headed for the seals, but I chose to continue to the hut so I could rest my knee as soon as possible. While I had a great time tramping with the guys, it was really enjoyable to have a hike by myself and relax a while at the hut before they got there, especially since it was the first day we got to a hut before dark.

That was the last hut and right near the end of the 57 km coastal track, and we had a choice: we had planned on taking the inland track back to where the car was parked, taking three more days, two nights, to get back, or we could head out the other end of the park and catch a bus back to the car. While Sebastian and Phillip continued on the inland track, Dom and I decided to catch the bus and head back to Blenheim. We had heard the inland track wasn't anywhere near as well kept up as the coastal track and there were a couple more mountains in the way, one more than 1,000 meters. I didn't want to risk it with my knee acting up, especially the mountains, and Dom decided he had had enough as well, so while the other two got up early to continue on another full-day hike south, Dom and I took it easy and left later in the morning. We had a (comparatively) short jaunt of 7 km, half uphill, half down, to the car park at the end of the park, which we knocked out in about an hour and a half. When we got there, however, we discovered the buses don't run in the winter. We were in the middle of nowhere with no mode of transportation than our own already-worn out legs, with the nearest tiny town more than 15 km away, so we did the only thing we really could: started walking.
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