Saturday 14th November
Abel Tasman National Park - The North coast.
Beautiful red sky at dawn today (Uh-oh). Luckily we were parked on the wharf next to the sea and there were no shepherds about to give any weather warnings.
We had viewed two weather forecasts yesterday evening and didn't like either of them, so planned to find something better at the i-site later today....
After watching the sunrise from our private east facing ocean view bedroom with a mug of coffee, we set off to to explore the northern part of the Abel Tasman National Park and head on further north towards Golden Bay and Farewell Spit.
First stop, Hawkes Lookout, half way up the steep, winding mountain road from Riwaka up Takaka Hill. From here we looked out over the Riwaka resurgence and to the seascape of the Tasman Bay and Nelson beyond. The distant mountains behind were only faintly visible through the low clouds hanging over them, but we could see snow on the highest peaks.
Cafe Madge produced a fine cooked breakfast of eggs on toast with fresh paw-paw and kiwi fruit to follow, accompanied by some of the best coffee on the island, whilst we enjoyed the view, the sunshine and the hilarious antics of the human race in their camper vans, jungle outfits and intense expressions, as they marched past, fully knitted up for the five minute stroll to the viewpoint.
Moving on, we wound our way on up through the mountains, looking up at the steep wooded mountainsides and down at the vast green fertile plains below.
In Takaka we found the i-site and a very helpful lady who provided exactly what we needed to know for our afternoon plans, although she failed to produce any better weather forecast than our previous ones... Rain showers arriving this afternoon and heavy rain tomorrow. The plan therefore was to explore as much of the north as possible today and then use Sunday's bad weather to get some driving done.
We drove east along the coast via Pohara and Tata Beaches, and past spectacular rock formations and cliffs with climbers dotted over them like colourful insects.
After stopping twice for a large dairy herd to pass (they took a short course across a field whilst we followed the road around the edge to meet them again!), we arrived in the park and parked at Wainui Bay. With rain forecast and a lot of park to explore, we decided to travel light and run the planned route to the north-eastern area of the reserve.
The northern end was a much quieter part of the park with few walkers and no kayaks. Those walkers who do visit here would normally be setting off on the 5 day hike to walk the coast path and wild camp, or stay in the camping huts, along the way.
We set off in running kit with a handful of biscuit bars, two water bottles and a jumper each and felt very light on our feet in comparison to the few heavily laden trampers that we passed or met.
As we might have predicted our initial 3 hour route was extended and then extended again as we kept discovering more beautiful spots to explore. We set off from Wanui Bay to follow the coast trail to Whariwharangi beach and hut, 5.7km. The views back over Wanui Bay were amazing. You could walk across the bay at low tide but we were there at high tide and the bay was filled with swirling water.
Running uphill along the coast, and then downhill through woods, we arrived at the Whariwharangi Hut or 'Homestead' - a quaint little house/log cabin with smoking brick chimney, gables and balconies and neatly tended garden. The beach was amazing. Very windy with a stiff on-shore breeze and lots of surf. We shared some biscuits and decided that we would run on towards Separation Point.
This was the headland that separates the Tasman Sea from Golden Bay. It has a lighthouse, and a conservation project project to try to re-establish a gannet colony there. They have placed a dozen or so dummy gannets on the rocks near the lighthouse and are playing recordings of gannet calls through loudspeakers. We did observe one gannet fly overhead, circle round and fly back as if to say 'What on earth is all that?!'
From separation point we saw signs to Mutton Cove and read on the ATNP app that it was a beautiful sheltered beach just a couple of kilometres away. We ran down and onto the pristine sand. A pair of walkers were just tramping along the beach, and then left, so we had it to ourselves. There was a long curve of golden sand, broken in the middle by a rocky outcrop. We climbed over that and discovered the southern half of the beach, backed by two large pine trees, and behind them a small flat grassy area for wild camping. The beach was populated by three weka, brown hen-like birds, rather like a kiwi, and they were clearly anticipating our picnic, but were disappointed by the lack of it! The beach was beautiful and we felt that we just had to swim to add 'the icing on the cake' today.
We had none of the conventional costumes or accessories normally required for swimming and so had to improvise as best we could and simply dry off in the sun afterwards. The beach was deserted, the sun was shining, and the smooth, clear blue sea was silky and wonderful. The wekas just ignored us and scratched about near our pile of clothes hoping to find hidden food! After drying off we ran along the back of the beach and returned to Whariwharangi beach for biscuits and then back to Wanui Bay.
The scenery on the return journey seemed even better than in the way out. Probably because, in direct contradiction of the forecast, the weather had steadily improved during the course of the afternoon and was now warmer and sunnier than when we had set out! Our outing had been a round trip of about 22km, so we were pretty tired and glad to flop into Madge for a cup of tea and some toast and peanut butter.
Time to move on. After tea we set off further north, back through Takaka and up State Highway 60, through Collingwood and Puponga. On the way we stopped at The Mussel Inn, a pub with great atmosphere, a craft brewery, great pies and live music. We each chose one of their special beers - Bill had a Golden Retriever and I chose a Blue Gnu!
We shared a huge table with a bench at each side, in the middle of the room, by the fire, with some local kiwis who hold us the bad news about yesterday's terrorist attacks in Paris. Unbelievable.
From there we set off in the dusk to drive up to Farewell Spit. The land here looked to us rather like Shetland. Sparsely populated farming communities and small single storey dwellings.
Gradually we started to see the low tide sand flats on the inside of the spit, and even in the overcast evening light we could see that the sands and mud were covered with estuary birds especially black swans. Nearer to the Spit at Puponga we could see the white sand dunes that run along the outer, northern edge of the spit - another complex eco-system. The visitor centre was closed but looked nice, with a lovely cafe overlooking the area described, worth a return visit tomorrow.
Meanwhile we drove a couple of miles back down the road to a freedom camping area just on the edge of the beach. It should give lovely views of the sunrise and the birds at low tide at 6.09 tomorrow morning.