After nearly seven months of travelling, through 3 continents and 11 countries, we arrived in a remote paradise, on the other side of the world to home and had one of the most magical weeks of our trip so far.
Abel Tasman National Park: Situated on the north coast of New Zealand’s South Island and so remote it is only accessed by boat or plane. This wilderness reserve has 60km of coastline, with a trail that runs the full stretch, winding its way up and over each headland, attracting hikers, kayakers, anglers and travelling families!
We were lucky enough to be visiting with our friends Alice, Jonny and their two daughters Harriet and Frida, who left Richmond over a year ago to travel through North and South America before settling in New Zealand – Alice’s home country. Alice planned a 10 day itinerary for us all including three days in Kaiteriteri – the gateway to Abel Tasman, five days in Awaroa Bay – in the centre of the park and the last couple at her amazingly hospitable parent’s place in Hanmer Springs.
Kaiteriteri and Hanmer Springs were both wonderful but it was Awaroa that stole my heart. We have been lucky enough to visit many, many beautiful places on this journey. Rather annoyingly, what goes hand in hand with the vast majority of these ‘bucket list’ places is a boatload (sometimes literally) of other travellers who, just like us, are all after the same experience, vista and ‘that perfect photo’. Inevitably, it can sometimes takes the edge off the experience.
Awaroa is different. It is a tiny community of ten or so houses and a small lodge for hikers, situated around a stunning estuary about two thirds of the way up the coast of the Abel Tasman National Park. It is quite literally ‘in the middle of nowhere’ and the beauty of this corner of the world is really quite indescribable.
On our 45 minute boat journey from Kaiteriteri, courtesy of Pete – the owner of the house we had rented, we saw only seals, a solitary stingray, a handful of kayakers and a couple of other boats.
As we arrived, snaking our way slowly through the sandbanks in the estuary, stepping on the beach and up the steps to the house, I felt we could have been the only people on the planet. The view from the lawn in front of the house, across the estuary and out towards the horizon was incredible and I can say, now with some experience, my favourite so far in all the world.
Announcing our arrival with excited squeals and the usual rampage through the house to decide who sleeps where, we alerted Geoff from next door who appeared to say hello with his dog Bella – much to the girls’ delight. Geoff is one of only two permanent residents in Awaroa and clearly a man who enjoys solitude, peace and quiet… so imagine his delight at the arrival of five excited young girls followed by their parents, carrying way too much luggage, bags and bags of shopping, boxes of beer and a few bottles of wine. Add to that the full frontal nude flash that one of us managed to inadvertently give the poor man as she was changing into her swimming costume 10 minutes later… and we were all set for a great week!
We arrived in beautiful, warm sunshine, however, what we imagined was going to make our stay all the more exciting was the forecasted ‘former cyclone’ Gita, due to make landfall the next day. I’ve learned to pay little attention to weather forecasts on this trip, but pretty much everyone we’d spoken to and all the news channels were predicting the cyclone would hit on the Tuesday night, with winds of up to 120km/hour and that the weather would remain stormy for 48 hours. Alice’s parents had been so concerned they’d suggested we abort and stay in Kaiteriteri, but we were determined, prepared and ready for a lot of board games!
Given we were only there for five days we made the most of the first day by swimming in the estuary, taking the kayaks out and making the journey to the lodge for dinner. Our walk to the lodge was a little daunting because we had to time it so we could wade across the estuary and back before the tide was too high. We made it there without mishap and were rewarded with some fabulous food washed down with some of New Zealand’s finest local wine. The journey back was slightly wetter…and therefore full of laughter, headlamps, soggy shoes and trousers.
We woke the next morning to torrential rain. Gita had landed early! It rained heavily all day, although that didn’t stop us going for a stormy swim in the sea when the cabin fever struck and jumping in the huge muddy puddles that had quickly formed all around. To pass the time, we continued what had quickly become our ‘go to’ past time and played countless games of cards. NB: It turns out Alice is a bit of a card shark and throughout our time together has successfully inspired the next generation of poker players!
After our stormy Tuesday, we went to bed hoping the rain would ease the next day so we could do some walking. We woke to sunshine. Gita had treated us kindly, compared to tales we were told of significant damage just a few miles away. We spent the morning playing and exploring the estuary in low tide and were even treated to a rainbow, before hiking south along the trail to Onetahuti. Our hike took us up and over the headland with stops to swim in the sea and admire the incredible views from way up in the hills down to the beaches below. The beaches were deserted and the kind dreams are made of. They are pristine with golden sand and huge crashing waves.
The following day we rose early-ish (actually way later than expected due to late night cards) and with a plan to hike north along the trail to Totaranui Bay. We found ourselves wading across the estuary on the way out and getting totally stuck in some sinking mud, as well as bitten by all manner of creatures lurking below!
During our hikes on both days we met a family from Greenland along the trail. The parents spoke English and we had a wonderful, inspiring conversation about their homeland. As a result Greenland is now very much on the bucket list! The kids hurdled over their language barrier by going in search of crabs together. The picture of Willow I have in that moment will be one that will always remind me of this happy place. She is covered in mud, holding a crab and absolutely in her wildest element.
We managed to mis-time low tide on the way back and rather than wait the 3 hours until we could safely wade across, decided to send Lola, Keith and Jonny to swim across the estuary to retrieve the kayaks and paddle back to rescue the rest of us. It was all such a great ‘back to nature’ adventure, I felt like a character in a Enid Blyton book.
Our time in paradise was coming to an end. Pete was due back at high tide the next day to take us back to our cars in Kaiteriteri. By this point we had been completely out of contact and ‘off the grid’ for five days and without any WiFi for 10 days. It was heaven and I wanted longer. I am the first to admit I’m just as addicted to my phone as the kids are to their electronic devices. We try to ration screen time and it generally works as given the option, the girls usually choose playing and exploring outside, but we still all seem to clock up quite a few hours on screens. During our stay in Awaroa the only time I picked up my phone was to take a photo or look at the health app to see how far and high we’d walked. The children didn’t even consider picking up an iPad. They were completely engrossed with what mother nature was offering up in this beautiful playground.
During our time together we had talked, read, walked, swam, kayaked, cooked food, played together and learnt a bunch of new of card games. I pretty much wore the same pair of shorts and t shirt all week. We got dirty, showered and got dirty again. It was such a huge reinforcement for me about how happy I am and we are as a family when we are spending our time this way. Life was so simple and yes the backdrop was an exsquisite environment, but i know we can find the same peace and happiness elsewhere.
As we packed up the boat and said goodbye to Geoff and Bella on the beach, I asked the girls what had been their favourite moment of the week. They all began shouting out. The ride down to the beach five minutes before in Geoff’s trailer was quite high up there…but so was the hiking, kayaking, crabbing, finding a huge pumpkin washed up on the beach and making lemonade to offer to the walkers on the trail. All such simple pleasures. I couldn’t take the grin off my face during the boat ride back.