Friday, 29 August 2014

Totaranui- Abel Tasman National Park

As mentioned in the previous post we took a tiki-tour over to Totaranui to check out the DOC campground and have a look around the top end of the park which we’d only seen from the boat when we did a tour from Kaiteriteri a week or so ago.

The road was typical “off the beaten track” which we’re getting very used to travelling now; a narrow winding gravel road up and over a range. There were quite a number of slip repairs and a few very narrow sections with wash outs down into steep ravines below. Once over Pigeon Saddle and heading down the other side a small section of the bay at Totaranui came into view. Unfortunately it wasn’t a very nice day, it had rained all night with showers on & off all morning and the cloud hung low along the range.

Down at sea level it was a surprise to find this grand entrance, an avenue of trees leading to the beach & the DOC information centre. I had seen the trees from the boat and wondered how they came to be there. 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. And of course this was the only way people arrived, there were no roads back then.

Gibbs established a farm of over 7000 acres and supplied Nelson with milk & dairy products. He also built two holiday cottages that he rented out to holiday makers. Even back then this coast 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!

The campground is huge, it is the most popular DOC campground in New Zealand and over the summer holiday period there are over 1000 people in camp. Today there was just us, a few pairs of Paradise Ducks, each with their own picnic table, and this couple asleep on the beach! I’m assuming they can’t afford the $20 to pitch their tent in the campground.

The campground is partitioned off into blocks, sheltered by native bush and lettered from A to Z with at least two-three dozen camp sites in each section. We walked right around the campground, the beach out front and along the estuary at the back. There was some great sites tucked out of the way but we decided that it would be better to stay here when there were a few more people around. We like it remote & wild & we like it without crowds but this was ridiculous, not a soul in site except for the sleeping beauties out front. Maybe we'll come back during the summer if we come this way again.

We found a picnic table that hadn’t been taken over by a pair of resident ducks (they were in the grass in front of us) and had our lunch overlooking the avenue of trees while being attacked by a hoard of sandflies; the first ones we’ve come across since summer.

And just to prove how popular this campground is, take a look at that number on the counter above the toilet door! And it only moved half a notch each door opening so wasn’t counting two for one.

Up the road and behind the estuary is the Ngarata Homestead. Ngarata was built in 1914 for the Pratt’s son Bert, the Pratts purchased the farm in 1892. William Gibbs’ original homestead was also located along this ridge but was burnt down around 1924 after which Ngarata became the main homestead.

Ngatara was built in the very modern (for the time) Californian Bungalow style and is one of the very first examples of this style in New Zealand. The homestead now belongs to the Crown who purchased the land & property in 1948, it’s maintained by DOC and is used for school educational camps.

The view from the extensive & broad veranda, The Avenue can be seen in the distance. Old photos on display show women in long flowing petticoats & skirts with parasols walking in the gardens and looking out from the veranda. What a grand but isolated life they would have lived. Nowadays the track for the Able Tasman Great Walk passes right by the house.

We left Totaranui and headed back up the hill and as we passed the turn-off to Awaroa (another remote camp on the Abel Tasman Walk) we decided we’d take a look down there, we backed up and turned down the track. Which was just as well because that was when we came across the motorhome that had slid off the road.

Once things were under control and the travellers were waiting for the tow truck, we continued on past them and down to the Awaroa Estuary. The road down was extremely narrow and once we got to the bottom there were two fords to cross and a whole lot of sand covering the road. This section was prone to flooding and going by all the debris, a flood had passed through recently.

From a grassy carpark beside the estuary we could see across to the DOC hut & a lodge located in the bush below the hill. Walkers on the Abel Tasman must cross this estuary at low tide, there is no high tide track like we had on the section we walked. Around the back of that hill and located on the beach are a number of baches (holiday homes), they can only be reached by water and their dinghies were lined up under the trees on the shoreline below the carpark. Talk about getting away from it all. Not only a 20km gravel road to drive but a 3km dinghy ride at high tide before you're home and hosed.

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