Hami Tangiora recalls a wonderful three nights and four days on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track with 7 month-old son Brixton, and partner Amelia. This article is part of FMC’s Outdoor Community campaign, celebrating and encouraging Family Tramping. If you’ve got stories, tips or encouragement that you’re willing to share, please get in touch.
There’s so many things that make this track great for families. There are many sheltered campsites and huts scattered along the track, some of which are less than an hour apart. Sea shuttles and water taxis are able to drop off and pick up from most of these which means people can start or finish the track wherever they like. The region is well known for its glorious sunny summer days and even in winter it is still fairly mild and settled. The track is very popular all year round so if something bad were to happen you are never too far away from help. And being a New Zealand Great Walk its tracks, huts and campsites are all very well maintained with filtered drinking water available at the huts.
In preparation for this trip, a month prior we spent two nights camping at Kohaihai up by Karamea. This was to help our then 6 month old baby boy Brixton get familiar with sleeping in a tent and also so we could figure out exactly where he would sleep. We decided to have him sleep above our heads as we thought that would be safer at his age. We dressed him up in 2 layers of merino jumpsuits, a merino beanie, his sleep sack and then wrapped him up in one of our down jackets. It was September and the temperature in the tent dropped down to 6 degrees Celsius during the night. Despite that he slept really well both nights and only woke once or twice, usually from the sound of us getting in and out of the tent. Both my partner Amelia and I agree this exercise has been a huge success and upon returning home we immediately started planning our first multi day tramp as a family.
After much deliberation we decided we would walk the track from Totaranui to Marahau over 4 days. Walking it in this direction was the best option for us as we planned to spend a couple of days exploring Golden Bay before hand. With most of the Great Walks there is always a bit of a logistical exercise involved getting back to your vehicle. We used www.heaphytrackhelp.co.nz to pick up our car from Totaranui and drop it off at Marahau. It’s a bit on the pricey side ( $200 from memory ) but it was nice having the car waiting for us at the end and not having to then drive over Takaka Hill again. Another option is to get a water taxi from Marahau up to your chosen starting point which of course could be any of the numerous bays, huts and campsites. Or if you’re really keen you could always walk back via the inland track.
Day 1 Totaranui – Awaroa 7km 3hours
We liked the idea of having a relatively short and easy day to start with so decided we would start at Totaranui and then spend our first night at Awaroa. Awaroa Inlet can only be crossed safely 1.5 hours either side of low-tide and that wasn’t until mid afternoon. This was perfect for us, it meant we didn’t have to start walking until midday. We set off along Totaranui’s golden sand beach, the first of many that Abel Tasman National Park is famous for. Amelia carries Brixton is his Ergobaby carrier on her front. On her back she has a 40 litre pack with some of the bulkier but lighter items such as sleeping bags and mats plus everything Brixton might need throughout the day.
It was mid October so still a month and a half shy of summer but with fully loaded packs on and a cloudless sunny day we warmed up pretty quickly. It wasn’t long before we came to our first short but sharp zig zag ascent. Throughout this walk there are quite a few of these which can actually be quite hard work. We take regular breaks around every half hour or when needed. These are usually only for a few minutes to re-hydrate and assess how everyone is doing.
After a fairly leisurely 3 hours we arrive at Awaroa Inlet and even though the tide is low we still cross it with caution. On one occasion we find ourselves in shin deep water which Brixton finds rather entertaining. He had pretty much slept right up until this point. Arriving at our campsite we find there is only one other tent set up. There is usually fewer people at the northern end of the track as the water taxis only go up as far as Totaranui.
The time is roughly 3:30pm so once we’ve set up camp, had some afternoon tea and put on dry nappies we go and explore the area. It’s always nice to have some time to chill and relax before having to worry about getting dinner ready. Awaroa is a nice grassy campsite with plenty of trees to provide some shade and loads of bird life both in the forest and around the inlet. This is also where the crowd funded beach is located.
For our dinners we have either Absolute Wilderness or Back Country Cuisine freeze dried meals. These are really tasty and easy to prepare but do take up a bit of room in the packs. Once they’re eaten they can be squished down to a very small size. Brixton is 7 months old so is still mostly on breast milk but has also recently just started on puree so we carry a few packets to boost his meals.
The nights are quite a bit warmer up here than it was down at Karamea a month earlier. With this in mind we put Brixton in one full length merino jumpsuit plus one long sleeve merino top and beanie to sleep in. We then place him inside a thin sleep sack and zip him up in a down jacket. If he got hot ( which he did occasionally ) we could simply unzip the jacket a little or remove his beanie and he would still have the hood of the jacket to keep his head warm.
Day 2 Awaroa – Bark Bay 13.5km 5.5hours
Once everyone has had some brekky and we have packed up our campsite we are on our way. It’s about 9am which is the time we aim to get away by each morning. It’s overcast and balmy but after an hour the sun breaks through and starts to warm things up.
During the mornings we have Brixton facing in so he can have his morning nap, and then in the afternoon he faces out which he much prefers. Climbing up and over Tonga Saddle we get some good views of Awaroa Inlet.
The mornings walk is in the forest mostly until we descend down to Onetahuti Beach where we make our lunch stop. We spend a good hour here resting our legs, shoulders and backs and let Brixton have a good stretch and roll around on our picnic blanket. He is starting to crawl so it’s not long until he is off the blanket and scooping up handfuls of sand and twigs to sample.
There is a short 5 minute walk to a small waterfall and some cool little sea caves down on the beach which we explore.
From here the track heads inland again for the next 4-5 kilometers all the way to Bark Bay. We time it just right with the low tide again so we are able to cross the estuary to our campsite. Alternatively there is a high tide track which only adds on another 15 minutes. Bark Bay is much bigger than any of the campsites we have passed so far with a maximum number of 80 campers permitted per night. We are one of the first to arrive sometime between 3:30 – 4:00pm. It’s important to make sure everyone feels comfortable with the chosen campsite so we have a good look around before deciding on a spot to set up. We opt for the northern end, away from the fire pits, toilets and shelter.
By early evening there is about 20 other campers and from what we have observed they’re all foreigners. While ‘cooking’ our freeze dried meals by the shelter we have a few of them come over and chat with us. Their eyes open wider as they are pleasantly surprised when they see Brixton and give him the warmest of smiles. He is happy to lap up the attention and smile back at everyone. By the time we take him away to bed he has charmed most of the campsite.
Bark Bay is a sandy beach campsite and there is a couple of fire pits there for people to sit around. During the evening we hear a few people chatting beside the one closest to us but they don’t wake Brixton. When we are at home we have the sound of the ocean playing quietly in his room to help him sleep and drown out noise from the rest of the house. Even though we are now camped next to the ocean we still play it quietly for him from our phones until we are both inside our sleeping bags. Everyone has a pretty good nights sleep.
Day 3 Bark Bay – Te Pukatea Bay 13km 6.5hours
All of our fellow Bark Bay campers are either heading in the opposite direction to us or getting picked up by water taxi and heading back to Marahau. So as we set off we bid them farewell and safe travels. The day once again starts out overcast and balmy but the sun will eventually come out as it usually does up here.
Not long after departing Bark Bay we have our first side trip, a short walk up to a lookout point overlooking Sandfly Bay. There is a lot of ascending and descending on todays section of the track. After a couple of hours we come across a bench seat which sits above Torrent Bay Village and decide to have an early lunch break here. Many other trampers and walkers pass us here and most are quite surprised to hear we are on our third day of tramping and camping with our 7 month old.
This is our biggest day of walking as we have to take the high tide track around Torrent Bay and we do a second side trip, this one up to Cleopatra’s Pool. Here we see a lone kekeno/fur seal playing in the river. After dipping our feet in the crisp fresh water we push on again up and then down to The Anchorage. It’s much busier here than on any other part of the track. There are sea shuttles and water taxis coming and going, loads of sea kayakers and many people basking in the sun along the beach. This spot is very popular with people doing day trips from Marahau. And it has the largest campsite on the track with room for 100 campers per night. There is easily around 30 tents already set up. But we only spend a few minutes here to have a quick rest and drink. We still have another 30 minutes to walk to our final campsite for the trip, the equally beautiful but more secluded Te Pukatea Bay.
We are all pretty relieved to finally get to our campsite and have a wander around the beach. Throughout this entire trip weka have been trying to get into our stuff and while we are exploring the beach one finally succeeds. The weka somehow manages to pull Brixton’s nappy bag out of our packs and runs off with it leaving a trail of fresh nappies. This could have been disastrous had it happened at the start of the trip and we hadn’t been able to retrieve the nappies. We eventually manage to get them all back thankfully without having to go too far.
Te Pukatea Bay is the one pictured on the cover of DOC’s info brochure for the Abel Tasman Coast Track. It is a charming and picturesque bay facing to the east. We share this campsite with only 3 others who all go about their business quietly without interacting with us or each other. Since it is our final night on the track we treat ourselves with a yummy Back Country Cuisine dessert – strawberry ice cream which tastes incredible but is more like ambrosia.
Day 4 Te Pukatea Bay – Marahau 13km 5hours
We wake around 7am to the sun rising right in front of our tent so we opened the door to let its warmth in.
It was a magical scene, one which we all just soaked up for as long as we could. After we’d had our final brekky we go for a short walk up to Pitt Head and get some great views of our quaint little bay and then we’re off. We take our time walking this last day trying to savour every last minute on the track but also because we are a little bit tired. It’s been a big few days and the packs don’t feel any lighter, probably because used nappies weigh more than new nappies.
There is a lot more people on the track and many of them only have day packs. They all look pretty impressed when they see us with our big packs and Brixton in the front pack. We stop at Apple Tree Bay for our last lunch break. There is about 8 other people there along with a couple of grey ducks which Brixton tries to share his lunch with. We cross the bridge over the Marahau estuary and arrive at our car bang on 3pm. We are all extremely pumped and proud of ourselves for having just completed a 4 day tramp and camp with our little champ!
A few lessons we learned from our trip;
- take an extra dry bag to carry all rubbish including used nappies in, this will keep the smell locked in
- we allowed for 6 nappies per day for this trip but at the end we had plenty left over
- make sure everyone has their own water bottle and boil babies water the night before so it has time to cool
- make sure everything fits in packs a couple of days before embarking on the tramp
- use a down jacket as a make shift sleeping bag for baby
- carry a few plastic bag ponchos which can easily be modified to fit safely over baby if the weather turns nasty
- keep your belongings securely hidden away from the weka
- carry a personal locator beacon
- be patient, everything takes longer when tramping with a baby. If the DOC sign says 4 hours then allow for 5.