Revisiting the Abel Tasman

Trip Start Jan 10, 2005
Trip End May 10, 2005

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Next we headed to the north coast of the south island to do some trekking at Abel Tasman National Park and visit Mr. and Mrs. Bridger (Marj and Vern) whom Heather and I stayed with many years ago. Martin and I visted with their son, Trevor, in Brisbane, Australia.

The Bridgers, who are now 85 and 86 years of age, still live in their own home in Motueka (population 6,600). I don't know if Mr. Bridger remembered us, but his wife certainly did! I've maintained an active correspondence with her at Christmastime for the past 20 years. She's still as sharp as a tack and chatted away with us about her family and our visit with them. She remembers that we turned everything in the washer pink - guess there must have been something red in the laundry that ran. I remember her mushy peas - thank goodness that sort of cooking is no longer common practice here. As Martin and I concluded our visit, Mrs. Bridger thrust a "packet of biscuits" (cookies) and a couple of large "blocks of chocolate" (chocolate bars) into our hands, just as she might have done twnety years ago.

When Heather and I last saw them, their son Peter and a friend took us up by boat to the end of the Abel Tasman walk and we hiked back. It's a very popular walk nowadays and considered one of the "Great Walks" here in New Zealand. Thousands of people trek it every year. Since we didn't have a lot of time to spare, Martin, Steve and I decided to catch the water taxi about half way up and walk back. Everyone was given a life jacket, loaded into the back of the boat which was towed by the tractor onto the sand and then launched into the water. Twenty-three km and seven hours later, we made it back to Matahau. I was dead tired. Although considered an easy to moderate hike, there's still a fair bit of up and downhill, particularly if you aren't used to walking for an entire day. I think I remember it being easier than it was, but I know I was in better shape, plus 20 years younger! (Heather and I took three days to complete the trek, so doing half of it in one day was somewhat ambitious.)

The vistas from the track are beautiful - tree-covered limestone rock jutting out of tranquil blue-green bays with golden sand. There are lots of birds; the melody of one in particular reminded me of the meadow lark. When Heather and I were here you had to time your walk to cross at certain points when the tides were out - I remember almost missing one and walking almost up to our waists in water! Waiting for the tides is no longer necessary as the tracks have been extended to go around the beaches (and, of course, that makes for more walking!) The trail certainly is smooth and well-tramped; what alarmed me was the amount of gorse growing along the paths. Gorse is a thick, prickly shrub that they use in England as a substitute for fences and someone from there had the bright idea to bring it to New Zealand. Now it's everywhere. Attempts have been made to limit the spread of gorse in the park through controlled burns.

We stayed at the YHA in Motueka (a renovated bakery) and met some interesting people, as you always do when travelling: a nurse and a midwife from England; a young woman from Berlin, Germany who saw the Berlin wall come down when she was five years old; a Dutch fellow who is determined to buy a farm in Australia and move there to live; a "mad" scientist and mathematician from Christchurch. A little four year old girl named Lois from Wales was entranced with Steve who can mimic Donald Duck perfectly. Every time she saw him she would giggle and jump up and down. (Lois told Steve that she wanted to be a fairy when she grew up and have a horse named Millie.) When we departed from the hostel, she said to Steve, "It was very nice to meet you, Donald".

All three of us are tired of negotiating the curvy roads and let out a sigh of relief when we hit a straight patch! The mountains also make it difficult to tune in a radio station - it's only when we're right in a town that we can catch a signal, so have to be content with singing or talking (not difficult for Steve!). (Steve drove down the wrong side - right side - of the road today - he's the first one of us to do that!)
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