Extract from Middle England to Middle-earth:
Walking to Mid Caples Hut took us four and a half hours, with stops. The temperature read 26ºC (78ºF) on the thermometer in the shade outside the hut. We had been walking in woods mostly, so far, but now the track headed out into open meadow and we became hot and sweaty. At almost three o'clock we knew we had to press on. The rucksack was incredibly heavy — Henry carried it all the way — which left me with Freya (a big girl for her age of nearly four) when she was tired.
The track went uphill a lot with large creeks to ford. Mountains were on either side of us with a big prominent one at the valley head. This was our goal, taunting us as it appeared closer then daunting as we realized it was not.
The last meadow was wet underfoot, then we entered a forest which seemed gloomy after being out in the open. Tangled roots crossed the path, along with streams and rocks to negotiate. The grey South Island robin and little green South Island rifleman birds came within a foot of us. Our water ran out so we drank from side creeks as recommended by some rangers we had met carrying a load of pipes up the valley. The DOC leaflets tell you to boil water for three minutes or treat it as it may contain Giardia and other parasites or bacteria.
Joe and Henry went on ahead, Henry planning to come back and help me. We eventually got to the hut at 6.30pm.
I had envisaged a grassy meadow with the chance of a refreshing dip in the river, a reward for reaching the end of our journey. I was swiftly disavowed of that notion. The hut was situated in the middle of a boggy, fly-infested clearing in the bush and next to it, a towering mountain with waterfalls shooting down it. Where the river had got to, I was not sure.
A couple were erecting a tent in the clearing. The hut was advertised as sleeping 20 trampers but there didn’t appear to be more than 16 beds in bunks of four in a row, each fitted with brown vinyl mattresses. We dumped our stuff on a top bunk.
“It would be a bit odd if you were on your own and had to sleep right next to a stranger,” I whispered to Henry.
“That would depend on who you got next to,” he replied, raising his eyebrows at me.
In 2004 our big tramping trip was on the Caples Track near Queenstown. It took two days and was one of the few in the area we were advised to walk on due to having young children, as a lot of the tracks have alpine sections.
This year we really wanted to enjoy more of the Abel Tasman Coast Track as we had had such a limited experience of it before. I loved this track with its array of beaches, and often beautiful weather as it is in a region that receives a large amount of sunshine. It is also brilliant because you can get a water taxi ride along the coast to a number of drop-off points, then walk back to the start. Which means you get to see more than if you had to walk there and back as you have more time. The coastal track is also easy to walk. As adult trampers, we gauged that form Bark Bay we would take a full day back to get back to Marahau, but it was achievable. Any further walking, and we would have been struggling. As it was, after a certain point the walk became less of a pleasure and we began to wish we were back at the campsite. All done in a day though, no need to take camping gear - damn near impossible, coming from the UK for a limited time.
You have to watch it; don’t under-estimate your timing or you could end up having to jog back. At the time of year we visited (autumn) the sun set at about 6.15 pm which meant twilight was about half an hour after that.
Although there appear to be two companies, Abel Tasman AquaTaxi and Marahau Water Taxi, they are run by the same people. When I tried to book the aqua taxi, the website for Abel Tasman AquaTaxi had no booking facility but Marahau Water Taxis had easy online booking. We did eventually book it from the other side of the world but there were a few emails flying back and forth in order to sort it out. We wanted to park at the huge parking area near the AquaTaxi centre, as this was closer to the start of the walking track.
Don’t Run Out of Water!
We covered 15 miles (25 km) in a day on the Abel Tasman Track. We were dropped off at Bark Bay and walked back to Marahau. Having two young people instead of two littlies was great. No sitting down in protest in the middle of the track by a four-year-old. Instead… a mistake on our part led to a protest from Freya of a different kind. We left a bottle of drinking water on the water taxi and our supplies dwindled to a dire level. Then Freya started to complain and worry. We had allowed about 2 litres of water per person. It was a pretty hot day and we were starting to feel dehydrated. However, we gave the remaining water to Freya for the sake of peace and Joe and I bombed on ahead.
When I had envisaged emergencies like this I thought that at least we could go down to one of the beaches where they had drinking water (there aren’t that many either); but when it comes to it, you don’t feel like doing an extra mile, especially when it would be uphill on the way back. Joe and I eventually succumbed and drank from a small waterfall. Not recommended I suppose, but we had no ill-effects.
There is an inland track too, which is steep and more challenging. This 41 km track climbs steeply through the forest where at the top you are guaranteed of amazing views. You can make a circular walk by combining the two different tracks too.
Walking from Bark Bay to Marahau on the coastal track gives the opportunity to take a couple of diversions inland: Cleopatra’s Pool is a ten-minute walk off the main track and worth a look or a even a dip.
Cascade Falls, however, is a 1 hr 3o minute return walk so we gave it a miss. Walking across the inlet to the Falls River on the suspension bridge though, gave great views of the river below and plenty of people kayaking.
Coquille Bay and Fisherman Island: 2003 and 2018
I seem to have taken these two photos from almost exactly the same spot! It’s obviously one of the more beautiful viewpoints along the track. The first is taken in the middle of the day in summertime, the second one on our way back in late afternoon in the autumn.