Saturday, 21 October 2017

Abel Tasman Coast Walk- Awaroa to Totaranui

Real-time (although we have moved on from Totaranui)

We have visited the Tasman Bay area and the Abel Tasman National Park numerous times over the last 4 years, stopping for extended stays at Kaiteriteri, near the southern end of the Park and visiting the Golden Bay end a couple of times also. Although we've not walked the complete 60km 3-5 day  Abel Tasman Coast Great Walk, we have walked the Medlands Bay to Anchorage section on a previous visit after doing a boat tour right along the coast to Totaranui.

This time I was thinking that David could run me to the Awaroa Inlet in the boat and I'd walk the 7km section from Awaroa back to Totaranui but in the end we decided we'd drive to the Awaroa carpark and I'd walk from there. The carpark is at the end of a very narrow, winding road, the last time we explored the road we came across a rental motorhome that had slipped off the road. There are a number of holiday baches and a few lodges on the far side of the inlet near the beach, the carpark is where owners and visitors leave their vehicles. They then either use dinghies to cross at high tide or walk across (or around) the estuary at low tide.

From the carpark I crossed the estuary to that tiny island and then headed towards the track entrance which is around that little finger of land and across to the far left. The Awaroa DOC hut can be seen on the shore on the right. Trampers cross directly from there to the track entrance on their way north.

The water, in places, was deeper than I'd hoped for but I'd commandeered David's socks off him at the last moment in case mine got too wet. I wasn't going to take my boots off; while it's lovely to walk on the sandy parts, much of it was sharp shells and mud. You can then spend half an hour trying to dry your feet and get rid of the sand between your toes before you can start on the track.

David waited until I rounded the island; can you see him above the dinghies? (click to enlarge the photo- use your back arrow to return to the blog)

He's taking a photo of me taking a photo of him! 

Walkers can cross the estuary 90 minutes before low tide and up to two hours afterwards, and as I neared the crossing point, I spotted a group making their way across from the DOC hut.

I decided to let them go ahead of me, that way I could take my time once I got onto the track proper and not have them breathing down my neck (and nattering away disturbing any birds). I wanted to walk down towards the beach anyway but decided not to cross over as the river got deeper towards its outlet. 

Awaroa Beach is world famous in New Zealand; it's the beach that over 40,000 Kiwis bought through a crowdfunding campaign when it looked liked it would be lost to private ownership once again, you can read about it here. There are also some lovely aerial photos of the inlet in that link too.

As I walked alongside the streams and channels that criss-crossed the inlet, I once again found dozens of shoals of whitebait fighting their way upstream against the current. As soon as they spotted me they turned tail and were swept downstream, only to turn and head back up over the same ground as I stepped back.

Someone else was keenly following their progress; a Kotuku/White Heron, and I'm guessing the same one that we were seeing in the Totaranui estuary on a regular basis.

The group of trampers hadn't made much progress, there was much laughter and squeals of surprise coming from them, some had taken their boots off and were struggling across the broken shells, while others that hadn't, had sunk to their shins in mud. A few other walkers were crossing in the opposite direction and having the same problem. 

I stayed with the white heron for awhile, waiting until they eventually disappeared up the track and then made my way to the track entrance where I met another two couples heading across the estuary. I guess low tide at the estuaries along the walk are always going to a bit of a bottleneck as walkers time their crossing to suit the tide. 

The first section of the track is a gentle climb over the inlet headland to Waiharakeke Bay, the wide and gravelled track was very easy going, passing through beautiful bush and running alongside two crystal clear streams, one exiting into Awaroa Inlet, then once over the top, the other running down to the beach. 

There's plenty of evidence of pest control in the Abel Tasman Park (and in many of the parks we visit)- wasp bait stations and stoat and rat traps on the ground but this is the first time I've seen this type of trap (below left). I think it's for possums, they'd climb up on the board and put their head in.....well, no need to give you any graphic details. The Abel Tasman Park has the added bonus of Project Janzoon to help with predator control, a privately funded trust, working in conjunction with DOC to restore the local ecology. And in case you're wondering; 'Janzoon' was Abel Tasman's middle name. 

Once over the headland I take a short detour to check out the Waiharakeke Campsite, it's tucked up in the bush just behind the beach. I decide to have my lunch at the picnic table listening to all the birdsong and watching the antics of a couple of tui chasing each other and anything else that dares to land in a nearby tree. 

After lunch I walk back to the track and out onto Waiharakeke Beach, there's no missing this entrance if you're coming from the other direction.

The group of trampers ahead of me have spread themselves out along the beach to sunbathe and explore. 

Awaroa Beach can be seen in the background here.

I carry on my way, up the stairs at the far end of the beach. It looks like the group will be here for awhile and I can get a jump on them. Perhaps this is as far as they'll be going and they'll pitch their tents in the campsite.

There's a short steady climb after the stairs and then the next section of the track follows a part of the rocky coastline around Ratakura Point. There are peeps of the ocean here and there and also a view across to Awaroa Head through a tangle of bush.

Photos clockwise- 1) Awaroa Head, 2&3) Punga/Tree Fern, 4) Awaroa Beach(zoomed in), 5) Bush Lawyer/Tataramoa flowers (a scrambling thorny native climber, with sharp backwards-curved hooks that grab and rip clothing and skin. Once it seizes hold of you, it doesn't let go, presumably the reason for it's English name.), 6) Nikau Palm

And then the view opens up to something more spectacular; Goat Bay, the next beach on the walk. The tour boat in the background is heading into Totaranui.

I step down from the rocky platform at the end of the track...

...and out onto Goat Bay beach where no one has gone before me (yeah right). There are obviously a few walkers in a hurry because I have the whole beach to myself.

I stop to say hello to a Variable Oystercatcher/Torea Pango, with leg bling that looks a might uncomfortable. Variable Oystercatchers are mostly all black in colour (I know, it used to confuse me too, 'variable' means, well, variable doesn't it, not all black, right?)  This is an intermediate morph adult (it was with an all black mate- haha no pun intended!). They are not to be confused with a South Island Pied Oystercatcher who looks similar but has distinct black and white markings with a white breast and underpants, and who is also a larger bird. 

I leave the oystercatchers to their foraging and carry on to the far end of the bay, to where the next section of the track begins up and over Skinner Point. The cloud formation certainly makes for some fab photos.

I put my camera in my pack (very unusual for me) for the next climb, it a steep steady haul, with many switchbacks. I wonder when I'll reach the top. This is a reasonably new section of the track. If you look at the photo above (click to enlarge), you can see two slips on the point; they wiped out the old track which was just a very short climb to that low section on the point. The new track enters the bush at the base and then does a hard left before weaving back and forward to the top which I think must be close to the left edge of the photo. From the top it's a steep descent down the other side with lovely views through the manuka of Totaranui below- can you see the 'Grand Entrance' trees?

Half way down I take a short side track to Skinner Point Lookout, it's where the old track used to pass by and thankfully they have kept this part open, who'd want to miss this fabulous view of Totaranui.

On my way back to the main path I watch as a water taxi arrives at the beach...

...and zoom in on a long line of trampers waiting patiently to board; the owners of all those footprints perhaps? 

Then it past the sign board and home to have a much needed cup of tea; 3hrs 30mins and 9.5km later (inclusive of all photo stops, snack breaks and up and down the inlet). Job done!

Monday, 16 October 2017

Out There on the Briny

Real-time (and I haven't forgotten, I've still to do a couple of blogs from Golden Bay)

We're still at the DOC Camp at Totaranui, Abel Tasman National Park and we're having a great time especially with the fine and sunny weather finally. David put the Takacat up not long after we arrived but unfortunately he's had a few problems with his back again and then when it came right, the wind got up (an offshore breeze) and he wasn't keen to disappear over the horizon with the chance of his bad back kicking in again. 

The 'Grand Entrance' as seen from the sea.
Eventually the stars aligned one afternoon so we headed off to explore a little of the coastline north of Totaranui.

We were bobbing about on the ocean waves while David pulled up the beach wheels when three Blue Cod (my fav fish) landed in the boat, literally. Lets just say there are some generous people about.

With dinner sorted we spent the next few hours exploring the tiny coves and rocky coastline.

In places the exposed bush has been sculptured by the elements.

Can you spot the Spotted Shag nests in the photo below?  Nearly dead centre, these ones were pretty stable on their small ledges, others we could see, were in some very precariously places. I wonder if there some sort of hierarchy amongst the colony or if it's first in, best site (a bit like motorhoming). 

The first bay north of Totaranui is Anapai Bay, it's accessed via the Abel Tasman Walk and there's a small camp site for tenters near the centre of the beach. Most walkers head on to the Whariwharangi Hut, a day's tramp from Totaranui but those that are taking their time on the walk and have tents, can stay here before moving on. We thought we might have lunch on the beach...

...but decided it was far too busy; with a loved up couple canoodling on a log at one end, someone having a swim and others just arriving on the beach in the middle and still more setting up camp or drying gear near the camp site.

We headed back towards Totaranui where we'd seen a couple of small coves...

...and pulled up onto our very own beach for lunch.  

Not only did we have our very own cove we also had our own miniature version of the Tonga Arches, granite rock formations sculptured by the sea. These were hidden from view as we approached from the sea and as there's no other access to the cove I doubt many would have seen them unless they landed here at low tide. The actual Tonga Arches are further south along the coast and part of Abel Tasman Park; many kayakers visit them, we saw them on our last visit when we took a boat tour up the coast. 

With the incoming tide quickly shrinking our beach we pushed off and headed back towards Totaranui, checking on a seal pup we'd seen on the way up and looking for more shags. 

It was a great surprise when David spotted a Reef Heron/Matuku Moana peeping out from behind some rocks. It's dark grey colour the perfect camouflage for its coastal habitat.

While there are only an estimated 300-500 Reef Herons in New Zealand they are regularly seen at sites they occur and have had a steady population for the last 40 years, although they are still on the 'Nationally Endangered' conservation list. 

There are two boat ramps at Totaranui, one you can see on the left, the other one is inside the estuary and can only be accessed at high tide. The entrance to the estuary is on the far right against the rocky cliff (don't forget to click the photos to enlarge) 

It's not quite high tide but being the little boat that we are, we ride the waves over the bar...

...and into the estuary...

...chasing hundreds of tiny whitebait ahead of us (although this is just a small school)!

The narrow channel sweeps around the edge of the sand and straight past the second ramp. As calm as it looks, we get caught in a small whirlpool just as the wind picks up and as I'm climbing out ahead of the ramp to go get the ute. The wind whips up a mini tornado of stinging sand and leaf litter and dumps it over us and the boat!

There are a number of whitebaiters fishing the incoming tide including a group of noisy Variable Oystercatchers who stand on the edge and chatter while David waits for me to bring the ute down to the water's edge. 

And while these photos show how calm it can be, here's a video I took of the water taxi picking up trampers during the wild weather we had when we first arrived at Totaranui. The usual pick-up is in the middle of the beach at the 'Grand Entrance', but this day the skipper sent the walkers down to the boat ramp to board where I happen to be out getting some fresh air; watch for the woman in the jandals! 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Totaranui- Bird Paradise


This must surely be the grandest entrance to a DOC Camp in all of New Zealand. This is Totaranui at the northern end of the Abel Tasman National Park and the Abel Tasman Great Walk. The trees, alternate London Plane & Macrocarpa, were planted in 1856 by the first European settler & landowner, Williams Gibbs. He wanted an imposing entrance for visitors arriving by sea (the only means of access back then), and he sure got it, albeit many years after his passing. 

Gibbs established a farm of over 7000 acres here at Totaranui and supplied Nelson with milk & dairy products. He also built two holiday cottages which he rented out to holidaymakers. Even back then this little pocket of coastline was a popular holiday destination. Sadly the Macrocarpa looked to have succumbed to disease or old age as there were only large stumps in their spots! Ngatara, the farm homestead (see the link in the next paragraph for photos) is now owned by the Crown and used for school camps.

If you don't arrive by boat or on foot, Totaranui is accessed via a 12km narrow winding gravel road from Pohara in Golden Bay. And it's where we have been parked up for the last week. We've driven the road before but just as a day trip in the ute, this time we brought the 5th-wheeler along for the ride.

The road was fine, it's up and over a small range and not as bad as some we've been on. Just a couple of sharp switchbacks and a little narrow in places but with lots of areas to pull over if you meet other vehicles or need to let others pass. We timed it to cross over late morning when most of the traffic would have been ahead of us and any day-trippers would still be enjoying their visit.

The DOC campground is a very popular destination for holidaymakers and at the height of the summer season there can be over 1000 people in camp. It's a huge place with over 23 large bays for camping, each bay can hold anything from 10-20 campsites; fire pits (bring your own firewood) and picnic tables are a central point where campers can gather. There also fresh water available in every bay, a refuse collection area nearby and a dump station for campers (not day trippers as it's very expensive to empty septic tanks this far out).

Each bay is bordered by bush and some have the estuary as a backdrop, they stretch right along the beach although there is no camping on the ocean side of the road. There are numerous ablution blocks dotted about with flushing toilets, cold showers and more impressively, laundry tubs with hand mangles!

We have our bay to ourselves and at the most there have only been 8-12 vans in each night. If I didn't know any better I'd think we were here by ourselves. Most have headed to the end of the camp beside the estuary where they can access the boat ramp and do some easy whitebaiting in the numerous streams that flow from the estuary.

We arrived in the sunshine and had a couple of lovely days before the heavens once again opened up and it rained solid for nearly three days. Luckily we have been able to access the internet through the big wet.  Netspeed has been a Godsend, although even with the big booster Yagi aerial pointing all the way across the bay to Nelson, it's been mostly borderline and often we have only been able to connect to read but not contribute.

Just like Kaiteriteri, Totaranui also has the same beautiful golden sand; this is looking south into the Park and towards Awaroa...

...and north to the end of the bay... 

 ...where the huge estuary empties into the ocean twice a day. 

This is just a tiny section of the estuary and at high tide it's at least thigh deep.

The bird life is prolific with, unusually, the most common sighting being of the Kereru/NZ Wood Pigeon.

I'm sure there's at least a few hundred birds around the camp; any casual glance into the surrounding bush, under the tree canopy or up to any bare trees produces three or four birds glancing down as they rest during the day. 

This one was perched precariously in a small bush; wings spread, sunning itself in the warm afternoon sun. 

I counted at least 20 birds feeding in a patch of tree lucerne which they have nearly stripped bare. 

They squabble, flap, bash and bumble about through the soft vegetation with most staying put as I pass by. It's such a treat to see them at such close quarters.

Sadly this bird with the odd coloured feathers is not well, it has a wound on it's neck which may have been punctured by a branch as it landed to feed.

While Kereru and Tui swoosh and soar about above us, down on the ground Weka and Pukeko roam throughout the camp. Here a Western Weka stretches and spreads it's wings as it soaks up the warm sunshine (I know how you feel mate!). I had to laugh the other night, I forgot to turn the water pump off and when I visited the little room at some unGodly hour the pump swung into action along with what seemed like the whole population of weka screeching out their alarm calls at the noise.

I have been surprised by the lack of chicks on the ground for both the weka and pukeko although I did manage to spy these two chicks with their parent hidden in some tussock. It's either a little too early or they are being kept out of harm's way- I've seen weka stalk and attach pukeko chicks and I know pukeko kill ducklings so they'd likely kill weka chicks too. 

And looked who else popped up- a regular visitor at Kaiteriteri- a male California Quail with his partner. I've only spotted the two birds although I've heard a few calling but there are nowhere near the numbers we saw at Kaiteri.

It's not only the humans who are whitebaiting in the estuary...

...this Kotuku/White Heron is a regular visitor snatching at the small fry swimming up the channels...

...that weave their way through the Jointed Wire Rush.

Along with a pukeko who was also grabbing at the whitebait swimming past in the clear water.

While walking around the edge of the estuary I disturbed a weka digging for and munching on tiny crabs. 

I'd noticed a track through the estuary when I was looking at the google map of the area so yesterday afternoon I went exploring. The 'track' was on an embankment with a fast flowing stream on one side and a swamp on the other and I had to fight my way through so much gorse it wasn't funny. It left the road back near the entrance to the park and reached right out into the estuary coming to an end not too far from the north end of the campground and just across the reeds from where we are parked. The deep stream and high tide stopped me from heading home this way. 

I was very excited to find some deer prints in the sand about three quarters of the way along and could see where they'd walked down to a bush and munched the ends off it. There was also a wide swathe of bent reeds through the swamp where I think they may have made a quick exit. 

But best of all I saw five highly secretive Fernbirds/Matata, one carrying nesting material. More like a mouse than a bird, Matata creep silently through the undergrowth very rarely making an appearance above. I heard them 'clicking' long before I spotted the first one, but then one made a dash across the sand from a bush on the embankment down into the reeds, looking very much like a mouse with a feathered tail. I sat quietly for about 20 minutes before this one made an appearance from out of a gorse bush. It soon flitted across and down into the reeds too.

 Totaranui, what a great place to bird watch!