Our adventure began on Wednesday, February 10, as we waited for the bus outside our motel in anticipation of three great days of hiking, or tramping as it’s known here. While we sat on the raised garden bed edge, pedestrians on their way to work or out for a morning retirement stroll all greeted us with friendly “hiya” or “alright?”

When our bus finally arrived, about 20 minutes late, we were a bit unsure of what to expect from our group. Let’s just say we brought the average age down quite a  bit. So we were happy when a few other couples about our age boarded the bus as well. We needn’t have worried though because many of the retirees were quite young at heart. It seems some that boys will always be boy, whether it’s shaking the morning dew off trees or sharing war stories about rugby games and tournaments.

Our group of 25 included people from South Africa, the U.S., Singapore, quite a few Brits, a couple of kiwis and us, the only Canadians. About 6 were kayaking for the first day and half. The rest of us were going to tramp.

The first day included our travel from Nelson to Motueka, then on to Marahau, the start of our tramp. The first day was a 12.5 km hike, with some small hills, but not a lot. The weather was great, and our guides John and Emma (pronounced “Imma”) were really knowledgeable about the types of trees, shrubs and birds in the forest.

John’s family has owned a piece of property in Abel Tasman for generations, and he grew up playing on his grandfather’s land as a child. He’s been guiding for 23 years and really seems to enjoy sharing his fascination with trees and the history of the Maori and the early settlers. Both of them truly cared about the forest and the park, and often spotted litter or dropped items along the path and magically swooped down to pick it up.

Our group was quite large, and a guide was at each end to make sure nobody got lost. Along the way we learned from Imma about the black moss growing on the beech tree. It’s caused by parasites eating the tree sap and leaving their annal channel hanging from the bark like a hair. I fyou touch a couple of strands, which Imma did, you can then taste a honey-like substance, which Imma called “parasite poo”. Along our tramp, John pointed out tea trees, manua shrubs and others.

We stopped for lunch, which had been provided in brown bags at the office, at Apple Tree Bay. From there, we hiked up to a look out over Astrolabe Roadstead, named after Dumont D’Urville’s ship on his second visit to New Zealand in 1827. Although the national park is named after Abel Tasman, neither he nor Captain Cook ever landed in the boundary of the park.  Then we passed by Anchorage Bay beach, and climbed over to Torrent Bay, where we put on  our “iss-tu-ary” shoes, also known as boat slippers, to cross the estuary to our lodging for the first night at Torrent Bay Lodge. Along the way one of the trampers lost a shoe in the muck and had to balance until her husband retrieved it..  This first day covered a distance of 12.5 km. If we hadn’t arrived for low tide, we would have had an extra 2.5 km, with more hills.

It was quite surprising arriving at Torrent Bay and seeing a small village. Although there are no cars here, the streets all had names. Our lodging was on Lagoon Street. The first night’s lodging is a challenge to really show you in pictures (although I did take some). Meals are eaten in a communal area and served by the three guides.  We joined Wendy, Jim, Sally, Anne, and Jens for a supper of mint pea soup, steak, potato, cauliflower, green beans, and some sort of seafood pasta mix. For dessert, we had a kiwi specialty, Pavlova. Our conversation ranged from movies to sharks and word and card games.

Electricity is supplied by generator and some solar panels, and all water needs to be filtered. As a result, no hairdryers are allowed and you’re encouraged to be mindful of your water use. Everybody was in bed fairly early, in preparation for the long tramp on day two.

Day two started at 9 a.m., with two big hills before lunch at 1:30, when the kayakers joined us. Lunch was at Onetahuti Beach, which means “run along the sand”in Maori. It was a beautiful beach. I think we were all a bit keen to get to the next lodge. As we walked along the length of the beach to get to the trail that crosses over to Awaroa Bay, two hikers set off far ahead of the guides. Our group continued on while John was busy putting his shoes back on. We thought he’d catch up with us because he’s quite fit, but he must have been telling forest stories to another tramper.

When we reached a fork in the road, there was no sign of the other trampers. We waited until the guides caught up and then made our way down to Meadowbank Homestead. It’s absolutely breathtaking. At first I thought it was because of the 17 km tramp. But it truly was an amazing place to stay. Built in the 1990s it was much newer than the first night’s lodging and the setting in a 1000 acre estuary meant that you could sit watching the tide roll in as the sun was setting and everyone was sipping on their first pint. A well earned pint, I might add.

Dinner the second night was scrumptious: starting with a tomato-carrot soup, followed by salmon, potato, vege, salad and ending with a lemon mousse. Breakfast options each day included cereal, fresh fruit salad, toast, and you could order ahead from a choice of two cooked breakfasts: porridge or scrambled egg and bacon on the first day, or porridge and breakfast burrito on the second day.

Lunch each day was pack your own from a variety of options including fruit, granola bars, boiled eggs, cheese, crackers and other snacks.

On the second evening, John brought us into the living room to tell us the history of the land and home, and show us a video made by the great, great granddaughter of the original inhabitants. He then read us a poem about the Pohutukawa and Rata, which we had seen along the way.

Day three started off with blue sky above us but dark clouds above the water. We took a barge across the estuary to begin our tramp over to Totranui, where we would be picked up by boat and taken back to Anchorage. By the time we started to tramp in the woods, a light rain had begun. Convinced it wouldn’t last long we continued without our jackets and knapsack covers for a while, until one by one we all succumbed. Then it began to really chuck it down in buckets, just when we had to cross rocks, now slippery, to get to the beach for our pick up.

As we we huddled waiting for the boat, we all began to wonder whether we would enjoy a two-hour stopover at Anchorage beach in the rain. On the boat, the guides asked us if we wanted to stop or continue back to our starting point and get the bus back to town. If not enough people wanted to stop at the beach, we would all return early.

Since there were six who wanted to hike around the beach, we decided to join them. In the end we were about 15 who did a 1.5 hour hike out to the head and back. By the time we returned to the beach … the sun came out.

And in the 20 minutes waiting for the boat, I decided to get out of my soggy wet hikers and put on my sandals. What a wonderful feeling. Sand in your toes, sun on your back and a feeling of accomplishment. Wilsons really did offer exceptional value for the tour. The guides work really hard and truly love what they do.

I have to admit, it did feel good to come back to the motel and have a proper shower and use a hairdryer. Still, I’m looking forward to our next multi-day hike. Photos will be posted on Flickr in the coming days.

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