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Our Travels in New Zealand Part 3

Author: Mal Part (More Trip Reviews by Mal Part)
Date of Trip: March 2007

Chris recalled that “Little India”, the restaurant we’d used in Dunedin, had a branch in Nelson and I took little persuading – an Indian it was, and much enjoyed too.

Day 32 - A Day on the Beach

After waking late and an even later breakfast we drive off to Tahanuhui Beach; about 2 miles from downtown Nelson. Sand, sea, plenty of toilets, a café on the beach, a picnic lunch, a few sea-side shops and some reading and writing soon see off the bulk of the day, and we make our way back by about 3pm. More reading and writing at the motel and it’s time to get ready for dinner – oh, how time flies. Another Thai and its early to bed – we have a full day planned for tomorrow.

Day 33 – Chris’s Birthday Treat

Abel Tasman National Park is a 40-mile drive from Nelson – it’s the smallest and most visited NP in NZ. Set with two sides to the ocean, the park is mostly native forest and a Mecca for walkers, bird watchers, kayakers, boat enthusiasts, campers and adventurers of all types. There are no public roads into the park but, uniquely (to us at least), is a water taxi system that gives sea-borne access to various beaches, coves and walkways.

We are booked with “Southern Exposure” water taxis for an initial ride from Marahau to Tonga Bay, real name Onetahuki Bay, but simplified by the white men our water taxi-driver tells us. But, I’m ahead of myself….

The water taxi office is hidden away in the very small and very spread out town of Marahau – we fail to locate it and have to ask the way from a Southern Exposure tractor driver working in the harbour. Ever helpful, as are all Kiwis, he radios the office and we get two bits of information: There’s no need to go to the office, “We’ll sort out payment later”, and, we are the only people booked onto the 10-30 taxi to Tonga Bay, so we’ve been ‘consolidated’ onto the Abel Tasman Water Taxi’s boat leaving at the same time. We are to go to their office and speak to Susan; our skipper will be Glenn.

All set, we meet up with Glenn in the car park – he’s half Maori and half Irish, and was born in Australia. In the summer he skippers the water taxi, in the winter he works for DOC culling wild boar in the forests. What a tough life! He tells us to get in the boat and put on our life jackets. I should explain that the boat is still in the car park, hitched to a tractor. When everyone’s aboard, we are driven to the jetty and backed into the sea ready to go.

The sea is calm – as flat as a pancake. Glenn fires up the engine and we’re away. Water taxis are general-purpose speedboats – ours has 14 seats but the largest boats have up to 44. We are fast, and Glenn is a good skipper, so we enjoy the 50-minute ride (including set-downs and pick-ups) to Tonga Bay.

Our plan is to walk from Tonga Bay to Awaora Lodge and then pick up a return taxi to Marahau (where our car’s parked). Glenn points out the walkway to the Lodge and tells us that it’s under water – it runs from the end of the beach, but a river outlet is swollen by the tide and stands between us and the land beyond. Glenn tries to manoeuvre his boat to get us to the dry side of the walkway but fails – he’s afraid of grounding the boat on the sand – and the tide’s going out to make his job harder. He drops us on the beach and tells us that in an hour or so, the tide will be down low enough to walk across to the walkway in knee-high water. With that, he’s gone.

There are two girls also stranded on ‘our’ side of the river inlet, and an ever-increasing number on the other side. The two girls have settled in for a bit of sunbathing; it’s a wonderfully sunny day, and the beach is beautiful. Eventually, two people on the other side venture across – they have only small bags and it’s no problem for them to carry them above their heads – they get across with water coming up to their midriffs only, so we decide to do the same.

Chris has her bathing costume on, but I’m in shorts. My underpants are wet for the rest of the day.

We’re soon done with the 1-hour walk to Awaora Lodge so Chris decides on a swim in the sea and I take a walk along beach at Waiharakela Bay (mostly to try to get my shorts and underpants dry). Once done, we return to the Lodge for lunch and … serendipity; Chris has been looking for duck on every menu since we’ve been in NZ, but without luck. But here, on her birthday, at Awaora Lodge, in Abel Tasman National Park, we have warm duck salad on the menu – she orders it, and a glass of Sauv. Blanc; while I have seared red snapper and a beer. Delicious.

The return water taxi is expected at 2pm, so we’re back on the beach at 5-to-2. The tide’s going out now and our taxi can’t get in because of a sand-bar just off-shore – our new skipper (Jeff) beckons us so we wade the 20 yards to the boat, and it’s wet shorts and underpants again – I give up!

We make several pick-ups on the way back and at one stop – Torrent Bay – a party of three who’d booked the taxi are not there? Jeff announces that we’ll wait awhile, and suggests a stroll or a swim – we wade ashore and paddle in the wonderfully clear, warm water. I figure that the salt water will help cleanse and heal my glacier graze.

All accounted for, we make our way and are soon back at Marahau and being towed up the beach by tractor. The tides way out now and it’s about ¼-mile between the sea and the beach road and car park – it all adds to the fun, being towed by a tractor, on a boat, across the sand and through the shell beds.

It’s an easy 40 miles back to Nelson and, since its been a bit of a tiring day (sea, sun, sand, swimming/wading and walking), Chris decides to delay her birthday dinner – we dine in the motel on fish and chips, since they were so good first time around.

Day 34 - Back to the North Island

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