A mostly regenerating forest and the biggest hill south of Totaranui on this track section. Echoes of the pioneers with the granite quarry at Tonga and the stories of hardships of the Awaroa settlers. The walk along Onetahuti with the bright orange sandflats at the northern end, plus the viewpoint into Awaroa are the highlights.
Check tide times https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/nelson-tasman/places/abel-tasman-national-park/things-to-do/tracks/abel-tasman-coast-track/tide-tables to work out if you have to take the high tide track, or if the low-tide track is an option at Bark Bay.
Water taxis have coastal access at Bark Bay (bigger boats use Medlands Beach, 10 minutes south). Awaroa is also a pick up point, either at the southern end by the gantry or middle of the beach.
The track around Bark Bay near the hut is towered over by some of the largest kanuka and mamaku you will ever see. These giants are growing in just the right spot on a debris fan of double dug soil, facing north and in a well-watered coastal climate. Cross Huffam Stream, a memorial to the father and 4 sons who lived here at the turn of the century, farmed and built boats. The wife and mother had died so the males were never educated in laundry skills. Rather than wash their clothes, an oft-required task given the dirty work of sawmilling and farming, the men preferred to work in their Birthday suits and only dress when visitors announced their arrival with a shrill whistle or a blast on the ship’s horn. This mental image deleted, continue around estuary - with more sumptuous views of paradisiacal waters framed with languid fern fronds - and the highlight of the bridge by the waterfall at the far side.
The track heads into a long inland section, rising towards a low saddle and an upland bog. This was part of the route followed in the early days of travel, when the bread basket of Awaroa supplied smaller settlements along the coast. Rusting iron posts and rails are sometimes exposed at low tide on Tonga Beach, with discarded rocks from the old quarry littering the shoreline by the old wharf site. Then it’s 20 minutes over the hill to Onetahuti.
Follow the beach for its entire length. At high tide with an easterly swell this may mean wet legs. The real danger is if it’s stormy and logs are clattering against the shoreline. These could potentially bowl you like a skittle and break a tibia, so if in doubt, wait. Oystercatchers and gulls browse the orange sands at the northern end and Tonga Island sits like a giant turtle in the middle of the beach horizon. Cross the swanky bridge over the creek and head up the hill.
This wide track climbs on a gentle gradient, harking back to the days when it was the main horse track between Awaroa and Tonga at the time the quarry was in full swing. At Tonga Saddle the track drops to Awaroa, past the lodge on its way to the beach. The main track however sidles well above the beach to another panoramic viewpoint. Views north stretch over Awaroa and recede past the northern beaches to Totaranui and beyond.
It’s a big sweep around the valley to the bridge crossing Venture Creek. The last few remains of rotting timber which protrude through the sands at the estuary edge before the settlement of Awaroa. The ship’s remains echo the transition from boat to road, but also remind us that boats of 30 tons would regularly enter the port of Awaroa during the heyday of the ‘Blind Bay Hookers.’ These coastal craft were the lifeblood of the regions, transporting fruit, wool and timber along the necklace of coastal ports, connecting communities for which road travel was plagued by mud, ruts, swamps, rivers, washouts and frustration.
When Awaroa was the food basket of the coast, over 300 people lived on the flats behind the beach. The land had been surveyed in 1852 and bought up by private owners. The land stayed as private title, even after the formation of the National Park in 1942. Today local and not-so-local families use the isolation and location for family summer holidays. This is why you find houses in a national park. This bit is not technically National Park.
The mouth of the estuary is a powerful spot. Deep blue water on a bed of golden sand. Shell banks mottled with large flocks of oystercatchers and gulls. Confused water of estuary outflow versus marine inflow. It’s a place of change.
South Island ▷ Nelson Region ▷ Abel Tasman
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Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍