Day 8 – Waking up in Abel Tasman felt incredible. I could not have asked for a more gloriously perfect day. The region is famed for its unfailingly steady weather, and today it held up to its reputation. As has been my challenge with this entire trip, I struggled in choosing between the many different options and potential activities for the day. So I took a little trip down to iSITE, the strand of info centers across NZ, to pick someone’s brain and beg for help deciding my plan for the day.
There were two major things I was keen on. One was a trip up to the northernmost point to walk around Wharariki beach. My remote-places-to-visit guidebook reckons the beach has some of the most dramatic vistas New Zealand has to offer. The other option for the day, was to tramp through a 6-7 hour track of north Abel Tasman park. I really couldn’t go wrong with either choice, but my decision fell on a couple fantastic lines from my guidebook: “Compared to Abel Tasman’s bright and inviting beaches, Wharariki is dark and mysterious. Abel’s beaches are like a pretty cheerleader, whereas Wharariki’s beckon like a moody, tattooed and tempestuous woman.” Like is attracted to like, so off I went to Abel Tasman! Ha. Nope, Wharariki of course.
Grabbed a quick breakfast and puttered around for a bit. It was important to head to Wharariki (pronounced with an F by the way – like Farariki) during low tide because only then would you get the full splendor of the arched rocks visible off shore. Low tide today was 1:50pm, so I was in no rush. I exchanged some moneys at last. Don’t know how, but I’ve been winging it without NZ cash this whole time. LOVE NZ money. Not only are there adorable animals on every bill, but on the front there are women! So refreshing. The ladies at the bank good-humoredly poked fun at America’s attempt at using color, i.e. a splash of pink on some bills.
On the way to my car after visiting to the bank, I met a sweet horse who, I expect, thought I brought sweets since he rushed over and kept nudging me. Animal fix satisfied, I hopped in the car to make the hour drive to remote Wharariki beach.
This place is another one of those that is probably best understood via images, but I’ll attempt some words. The walk there took about 25 minutes through a hilly farm studded with sheep and cattle. The beach is deceptive. It seems like a nice beach, but not necessarily super impressive upon first glance. Once you clear the dunes and stand on the flatland of exposed low-tide beach and look up at those monstrous almost mythical rocks out to sea… well then it’s another thing entirely. I walked the length of the exposed portion of the beach, taking my time to explore caves and just sit and stare and marvel. It was a wild place, that somehow inspired fear while even in the safest perch. Winds howled in my face, not at a steady clip, but unpredictably so that you’d be walking around perfectly confident in your ability to put one foot in front of the other without falling when a sudden rough gust would challenge your certainty.
Like many places in New Zealand, I would have liked to stay there much longer than I actually did. I had my books with me and it was early enough that I could have. But she was a moody lady, was that Wharariki beach. I was on edge the whole time I was there. It was also the closest I’ve come to being completely alone on a hike since I’ve been here. There was the whole tide thing to consider, and that is no joke. I certainly didn’t fancy getting caught out there at high-tide, at the mercy of what seemed a pretty merciless place. I lingered as long as I dared. The rocks were inviting to people like me who like to hop along sea-side formations, but they turned out to be treacherously sharp upon closer inspection. A false move and you’d be bleeding all over the place. Nonetheless, I gingerly made my way to the top of a big one and nestled in so I could be afraid in relative comfort. When should I head back? Soon? I wasn’t sure.
There’s a fine line between danger and adventure. And sometimes it’s just dumb luck that keeps you from danger. And sometimes it’s terrible luck that sends you unwittingly to your doom. I reflected on the 6 people who died this week in a freak helicopter accident on Fox Glacier. I’ll be there in a few days. Should I take the ride on the helicopter? It’s the only way to get on the glacier. But the accident. We try so hard to control our mortality when it’s so obviously out of our hands. It’s the same futility of looking for something misplaced over and over in the same spots that you’ve already checked time and again. You know you won’t find it there, but you have to look. Similarly, we know we can’t control what the fates have decided for us, but in a ritualistic almost superstitious way we can’t keep ourselves from trying. Then again, there’s just plain stupid and careless. Where’s the line? What’s living and what’s tempting death? I don’t know. It’s hard to say I guess. Might there be a difference though, in meeting your end on the drive home from work vs. jumping out of a plane? Maybe. Maybe not. 30 years is far from wisdom. Perhaps in time the answer will come. If I’m granted the luxury of time.
After my adventure I felt chastened and very human. Bug-like, one might say. Very squashable. I’m making this all sound like it was a terrible experience. Far from. It was important and good. Powerful. Being alone only made the experience that more potent. I hurried off the beach, looking back often and worried about the rising tide. As I started my walk back through the farm the tempestuous lady showed her moody stripes. The sky darkened and a light spray of rain flanked me on my way. A curious visit was this trip to Wharariki. I enjoyed it greatly.
Back at the car park, a hobbit-esque cafe waited for me with all the comforts that can be found in a well-made cup of hot chocolate. I drank eagerly.
The drive to my next stop – leaving the northern Golden Bay area and heading to the more traditional Abel Tasman stop, Marahau – was spent in contemplation. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my accommodations, the Ocean View Chalets, are probably the nicest I’ve stayed in yet. My room is a self-contained lodge that smells like freshly chopped wood and looks out onto a field where horses lazily graze. Idyllic.
I grabbed some dinski at the only restaurant in the area. Nice enough, but nothing to write home about. The beer was a solid ale. Tonight, I’m in for a heavy sleep plagued/blessed with tangled thoughts inspired by that complicated lady. Tomorrow, cheerleader sunshine.