Off grid road trip : Abel Tasman National park, Awaroa Bay
Abel Tasman National Park is hands down our favourite summer spot in NZ. Theres heaps to do there, sailing, kayaking, trekking from beach to bays, diving off the boat, trail running. We have been blessed to have already done all of the above, so this year we decided to go even further into … the more remote side of the park.
Hello Awaroa bay, 26 private dwellings, 2 exclusive lodges : Medowbank lodge and Awaroa lodge. Accessible times at the whims and fancies of the tide. You could either trek from Bark bay, when its low tide, take a water taxi or kayak. All pre-arranged way ahead of arrival.
Ya know that saying difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations? We’ve all heard that before, and while it applies to a multitude of situations, this time it was pretty literal. It was a 3h over the ferry, (Wellington to Picton) and then a twisty winding almost 5 hour drive through Picton, nelson, passing a few beautiful wineries in the Marlborough wine region.
Past that, you've got a rollercoaster ride over infamous Takaka Hill. I always feel ill going up and down this monstrosity and by the time I end up on the other end I am usually grouchy and nauseous. Still, the sadistic side of me thinks someday i might try cycling up. Bet it would be a doozy!
Because of the remote location, the last part of the journey was on an unsealed road, and it was ponderous going the last 40 minutes. It was a relief to get out of the car and stretch our legs. Even my usually cheery husband was a grumpus!
We met Geoff and Bella at the inlet, pilled in the boat with our groceries and togs, and cheered up a whole lot from then on! Firstly, Bella was really friendly, and gave us a warm welcome , and also garnered the attentions of 2 other gorgeous boys, a blonde and a brunette who came by to say hello, were extremely friendly and boisterous. I oogled and waved shamelessly at them while my husband turned adoring attentions on Bella.
Oh... didn't i say these 3 were of the 4 legged variety? What were you thinking! Yes we're suffering from severe dog withdrawal i.e Cue us waving and cooing hello at all the dogs we meet in the street.
The sea breeze was a welcome change from the dusty atmosphere of the unsealed road, one we relished and felt more alive. As Geoff pulled out and we were speeding away to their place, he told us proudly Awaroa is the most beautiful part of AT. Bella took her boat skipper duties seriously and did some fantastic balancing act on the till of the boat all the way home.
As the cliffs and rocky bays went by, the water took on beautiful hues of aquamarine and turquoise . It was so clear you could see right through, like glass. The sun's rays danced merrily reflecting on the surface of the sea, making it sparkle and glint like diamonds.
As we neared Awaroa, its beauty took our breath away. Sea gulls and terns circled overhead, the sky was a cloudless blue, the weather was a perfect summers day.
We hopped off the boat and made our way up the stairs. The breathtaking sight of white sand spits , the ebb and flow of the tides, the view you got looking out miles away was the kind of scene oft featured in travel magazines.
There wasn't any phone or internet connection, the wooden cabin was solar powered, the bathroom had hot water (hallelujah, most important factor for me) that was gas heated, and the loo, was a peat moss compost.
Ah hah...this would have been our 3rd encounter with an eco toilet of sorts. But i'll file that under loo tales the next time. Its quite an eye opening/eye watering experience depending on how well its maintained. If you are a city pom like us, its a novelty, but erm you might get tired of it real quick.
We were pretty out of it after the long day, so the first day was mostly spent idling, sitting on weathered wooden benches on elevated ground, that gave us staggering views of emerald and blue lagoons. The sound of the waves echoed comfortingly in the background. There was hardly anyone around, which made it all the more peaceful, a balm for the tired soul and peace abound.
The long summer daylight meant sunset was close to 9pm. The tide went out after 6pm that day, and what a different landscape it turned into. Sand dunes with patterns wrought by the outgoing tide, bird footprints in the sand, seashells lined the shore. A gentle breeze tousled our hair , and a feeling of eudaimonia enveloped my being as i strolled along the beach.
At blue hour, it was back to our home away from home, while waiting for the stars to come out and play. I had high hopes for the night sky, a perfect "dark sky reserve" if you could call it, being so far away from light pollution. It didn't disappoint. Close to midnight , we ventured out and had a peek. The darkness was absolute. Without the aid of a torch, eyes open or closed made no difference. It was pretty cool turning on the torch and seeing the beam have an actual distinct form.
While it isn't milky way season, the unobstructed view of a panorama of blazing stars in the velvety darkness was extraordinary. A star finding app allowed me to check out constellations, and names of stars which caught my eye. Each one glowed with varying brightness, and i drank it in, feeling small in the vast spectacle of the universe and its many secrets. Of all the scenes, the night sky remains my favourite. We lingered until the chill got to us and then it was a dreamless sleep, comfortably ensconced in blankets and duvets, in the middle of a slice of paradiso.
We had lots planned the next day, so it was with an air of excitement that we woke up, and walked to Elva and Geoff's for breakfast. We had homemade granola, cereal, fruit salad and yoghurt, buttered toast on their deck, while having the spectacular view.
Elva planned to take us mussel picking , something Dan and I have never done, so we were really excited. All aboard the Quad Bike, a big bucket, a trailer attached, and with Bella for company we crossed the dunes at low tide to the cliff on the far side of the main beach. There were little ones higher up the beach, but the huge ones required some scrambling onto the rocks and getting wet wading out. According to the DOC rules we're allowed 50 each. It was fun finding huge ones and wrestling them up from the rock. Meanwhile seagulls cawed disapprovingly at us and circled overhead. In no time at all we got what we came for and headed back to the house.
A prowl around the garden , we found fresh herbs, tomatoes, and Dan set me to work cleaning and dividing up the mussels according to size so he could serve it up 3 ways. Reminiscent of my days as a kitchen slave i was sent to pluck thyme, get water, wash this and that, open all the mussels and pull out this hairy bit. All the boring bits as a lowly kitchen slave saying yes chef, ok chef. IM HUNGRY IS IT READY YET?? (Back to wife mode)
After what seemed like forever, I went to call Elva and Geoff for lunch, who in turn invited Kat and Emma, and then it was really good going so in the end the neighbours came over and we had a seafood feast and a good yarn getting to know the island locals.
Tummies satisfied, we had a rest and then went for a tramp in the woods. It was low tide so we crossed the dunes again to the beginning of a track into a different world. It was slightly damp and much cooler with the vegetation around. The trees formed a canopy of greenery, taking away the harsh glare of the sun. Instead, the sunlight filtered through the gaps, creating a twilight feel. We wandered up the path, native birdsong around us. After some time we crossed over an airstrip and found ourselves at Awaroa lodge. Time for a coffee and chill! Time becomes hard to keep track of when you're off grid, Dan and I hard a yarn about the beauty of Awaroa, plans for the furries to join us, when we would return when milky way season started... and then we suddenly realised we'd better start walking before the tide came in and then we'd have to swim back. Not an option carrying a camera.
We walked a different way back home from the main beach. Had another sit down in a driftwood skeleton tent. Took some photos, picked some shells, and arrived at the spit closest to home, to find that we'd been tardy and it was waist high. Good thing Dan's tall, so we waded through no problem, then sat on the beach to watch the tide come in, while eating chilled strawberries and plums, and some wine, a happy substitute for tea!
The sandflies were getting a tad vicious and annoying so we fled back to the cabin to await sunset. Yet another stroll on the beach, this time in our pyjamas.
Our time at Awaroa passed way to quickly. We'd have liked to stay longer with Elva and Geoff, and do trail running to Bark bay, and Torrent beach. It was idyllic, peaceful, and all the people we met, were warm and friendly. Of the many many road trips we've done in NZ these 5 years, this goes down as one of the more special ones. We already have plans to go back and visit Elva and Geoff when milky way season begins!