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Falls River

Swingbridge over Falls River
 
 

THE SKY was overcast when I awoke at 6:20. The tide was well out again and the estuary was a desert. There were small waves breaking on the beach a long way out. I walked along the sand bar and crossed the stream at the end, where I had swum in phosphorescence only hours earlier. Now it was just a gently running ankle deep stream.

Cloudy morning at Bark Bay
Cloudy morning at Bark Bay

The tide had turned and was starting to come in. A fair swell was coming into the bay and breaking into small waves on the beach. It was evident the sea away from the bay was getting rough and a low pressure system was on the way bringing wind and rain with it. Gannets stood perched on the low trees and rocks waiting for their breakfast to swim by.

I walked along the beach passing the now dry channels that had been streams of water flowing out from the sandbar after the last high tide. The braided channels of coarse sand exposed large fragments of white shells. Once I reached the southern end of the beach, I put on my boots and headed up the short bank to the main track.

Main trail heading south
Main trail heading south

The track leading from the beach clung to the side of the very steep forested bluff as it headed towards the headland about six metres above the water. Below me the waves swirled around  the rubble of huge boulders. Although the growing terrain was almost impossibly steep, thick forest of black beach, with its distinctive strong sweet honeydew smell filled the salty air.

Although it was quite dark under the thick cover of trees, the track stood out very well over the white granite in between the black fungus that had fallen onto the surrounding leaf litter.

As I continued heading along the track, the far headland started peeling back exposing the larger Tasman Bay. A few hundred metres offshore were the dark rocks of the reef protecting the bay.

About ten minutes after leaving the beach, the track suddenly turned right to head up a gully. It split into two. The main track went uphill into the start of a steep ascent towards a small saddle unseen towards the southern bays of the park. The lower much narrower track steeply descended to a small beach below.

Estuary at Meddy's Beach
Estuary at Meddy's Beach

I followed the lower track down to Meddy’s Beach, where waves were breaking on the cream coloured sand sweeping between the small rocky headlands on either side.

The beach occupied the end of a small gully where a small stream cascaded from the thick forest above into a placid lagoon which covered about half of the beach to the slope on the far side. A small stream dribbled out of the end of the lagoon but was absorbed into the sand before reaching the level the waves were breaking to.

The side of the lagoon was carved straight into the rock, with a sharp level boundary to the vegetation marking the extent of the high tide.

Meddy's Beach with Bark Bay beach behind
Meddy's Beach with Bark Bay beach behind

Looking out from the beach I could see the far half of the main beach, nearly a kilometre distant now. The headland appeared longer here, but it wasn’t enough to stop the swell from coming in.

Upon leaving Meddy’s beach I followed the short steep track back to the main trail. Upon reaching the junction I continued following it heading up the dark mossy forest with trees covered in epiphytes. The track was steep and narrow, with the intention of gaining altitude as quickly as possible. It was a slow trek for about five minutes before I reached a small bridge crossing a plunging funnel of moss covered rocks. The sound of the small stream protruded through the cracks between the rocks. Only during very heavy rain does the water become visible.

The track continued steeply for another ten metres or so before the forest suddenly gave way to manuka scrub and the track almost completely levelled. It continued ascending for another five minutes before reaching a small junction at a low saddle.

At this junction a side track led to a view point at the headland. I had been there a couple of years ago and it had long overgrown. It went up a small hill in front of the saddle. The main track descended straight from the saddle down a gentle slope over a maze of manuka roots that had once been underground, but with hundreds of thousands of people walking over them over several decades, they were a good five centimetres above ground now. I negotiated my way through the roots until reaching another junction.

The main trail turned right to follow the contour of the next bay. The rough side track went almost straight down the bluff towards a small beach I could see through the thick vegetation. The signpost said this was the entrance to Sandfly Bay.

Mouth of Falls River with Pinnacle Island
Mouth of Falls River with Pinnacle Island

I slowly climbed down the steep track through the thick scrub. It was interesting here the beach being called Sandfly Bay. The beach on the other side of Bark Bay that unfortunately cannot be reached by track is called Mosquito Bay. Fortunately with the overcast skies and moderate wind, I wasn’t going to be getting either today. I had insect repellent on anyway just in case.

Upon reaching the bottom of the trail, I scrambled down a couple of huge boulders down onto the beach. Just a few meters ahead of me was the mouth of the Falls River, running across the sand. The water was still flowing outwards, but I knew pretty soon the tide will be high enough to start flooding the long lagoon behind it. The water patterns in the sand around the strewn dark granite boulders indicated the current will get very strong. Beyond the end of the lagoon the beach swept for about half a kilometre to the next headland.

Mouth of Falls River at Sandfly Bay
Mouth of Falls River at Sandfly Bay

The grey sea was breaking reasonable sized waves onto the beach. Offshore was Pinnacle Island, a small upward arrow shaped island jutting out of a small reef. The grey cloud almost completely obscured the dull outline of the Richmond Ranges and lower Marlborough Sounds.

Looking up the lagoon the water swept behind the sand bar to the headland on the other side before continuing up the long gully from where the river was flowing from unheard.

Beach at Sandfly Bay
Beach at Sandfly Bay

I decided to head left around a small headland safely above the river, where I reached a small beach from where I could see the headland between here and Meddy’s Beach. The waves were breaking quite heavily on this beach and large areas of bedrock made it seem a little unwelcoming. It was a quiet little paradise to be completely flooded in the coming high tide in a few hours time.

I walked along the foreshore back to the river, then followed it upstream looking up the now placid estuary behind it. From there I returned to the main track scrambling up the  steep trail.

The forest was dark and thick following the north side of the gully above the long estuary mostly unseen. The sun shines to the north, so this side of the gully in any bay gets little sunshine, so it has a different microclimate to the south side of each gully. The forest was much thicker and covered with a sub canopy of tree ferns and supple jack – an endless spider web of impenetrable vines.

Falls River at swingbridge
Falls River at swingbridge

The track through here wasn’t easy either. It was quite rough going over the roots of the larger trees following the very steep sided bank going up from the river.

Finally I saw the swingbridge up ahead. It was the largest bridge in the entire park, going from one precipitous bluff across the river to another precipitous bluff on the other. The swingbridge marked the boundary between two very different zones of the river.

Downstream the river ran very placid through what was obviously tidal estuary. The water had been blocked off somewhere downstream, most likely at the mouth where I had been before. The golden sand was interspersed with numerous trunks of trees washed down from floods past and deposited here. They were all black as death slowly rotting away in the corrosive brackish water. Trees towered on either side of the river.

Looking upstream from swingbridge
Looking upstream from swingbridge

Upstream it was totally different. The river cascaded down giant boulders at quite a steep slope. There wasn’t much water in there though, so the grey boulders ran down the steep valley like an old landslide. The surrounding forest on either side was well established rising into the steep hills.

The Falls River is well named. It runs its entire length down cascades, with frequent waterfalls coming off Moa Park plateau over a thousand metres above me, and ten to fifteen kilometres away. It is a very difficult river to traverse. There is one track heading up from Torrent Bay about two hours away from here, where you can reach a part of the river further upstream, but otherwise it is almost impossible. The river has only ever been scaled down its length once before, and in that journey the explorers often had to divert wildly away from the river.

Swingbridge over Falls River
Swingbridge over Falls River

The swingbridge makes light work of crossing this difficult river. There is a track I discovered a few years ago that leads down to a crossing over the small boulders. The crossing would be relatively easy now, but after any heavy rain it would be impossible to cross the torrent.

I found a small ledge to sit on above the swing bridge. From there I had a good view down the length of the bridge as well as looking upstream up to where the boulders were as big as large houses.

After a few minutes at the swing bridge, I decided to return to Bark Bay where I would spend the rest of the day before heading north tomorrow. I followed the track back along the heavily forested gorge above the Sandfly Bay lagoon that was soon to fill.

Bark Bay
Bark Bay

Once back on the top of the saddle between the mouth of the Falls River and Meddy’s Beach, I followed the track up towards the lookout. I recalled last time I had been here there was hardly a view at all, but perhaps it had been cleared. That was not to be. There was no view at all across Tasman Bay above the thick kanuka scrub.

I returned to the saddle, but found there were two small patches from where I could see the beach, sandspit, estuary and the small island in Bark Bay. The catamaran which had sailed in last night during my swim in phosphorescence was sitting on the dry mud flat near the waterfall, along with another boat. I wondered if they were heading out with the tide today. The turquoise grey water gently churned in the bay as the deep green forested hills provided an excellent backdrop to the bay.

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Date:

 

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Latitude: Longitude: Altitude:

07 January 2007

 

Abel Tasman Nat Park

New Zealand

 

40°55'S
173°03'E
0 - 80m ASL

 

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