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Awaroa Inlet

THE DIRT road leading from Onetahuti was unlike any track I had walked on so far on this trek. All the trail I had walked on so far between the other side of Onetahuti and the Falls River was narrow, negotiating its way through thick rainforest over steep terrain. Here the track was easily wide enough to drive a quad bike, and maybe even a four wheel drive vehicle along.

The track was initially moderately steep, quickly rising up above Onetahuti Beach. A few minutes later I reached a small gully which had the remains of a short track heading through to Shag Harbour, the site of on old camping ground that had closed years ago due to the fire risk in the scrubby headlands.

There was no forest here, just scrub standing about three metres high. Even the gullies had scrub, albeit a bit thicker. This area had once been farmland and was beginning to regenerate. Forests here in the cool New Zealand climate take thousands of years to regenerate.

Richardson Swamp
Richardson Swamp

Looking down back towards the beach a small plain spread out swinging around and heading a fair way inland. This was Richardson Swamp, the largest swamp in the park, being a good square kilometre. The track was rising around the edge of the swamp. Across the swamp was a good view over Stony Hill. The swamp had low scrub of small bushes covering it, so there was no way of telling how wet it was down there. The surrounding hills rose out of the swamp as if it were a small green sea. The trees and scrub on the hills was a lot larger than the scrub on the flat swamp.

Ahead there was a low point about a hundred metres above the back of the swamp. This marked the saddle I was heading towards. I was already a good sixty metres above sea level now, and the slope of the track reduced to a gentle rise continuing towards the saddle. Whoever built this road must have constructed it from Awaroa on the other side and had underestimated the grade needed to get down to sea level. This resulted in the last part of the track being quite steep.

The manuka scrub thickened denying me of any more view of the Tonga Roadstead, where I had spent the past two and a quarter hours. It was already ten o’clock so the tide would be a good half of the way in by now.

It was very quiet up here, devoid of bird life and too far away from the small waves breaking on the beach. There were no flowing streams up here, just low dry fords at the end of each small gully. This area would have once been cleared for farmland, but the granite soil here is very poor and the terrain very rough for farming.

After a rather long walk up the dirt road track, and not having passed anyone yet today, I reached the top of the saddle. From there the track divided into two.

The old track followed the gully straight down the hill. This used to be the only track, going through private land towards the Awaroa Lodge where I was going to stop in a couple of days time.

The new track continued at the same altitude, about a hundred metres above sea level (topographical maps say that Tonga Saddle is one hundred and two metres above sea level). It had been built about eight years ago when the owner of the land in Awaroa didn’t want the increasing traffic of hikers going through there any more. The new track stayed at the high altitude up to Venture Creek. The farm must have eventually changed hands though and now hikers are once more allowed to go through the shorter route through the farmland.

I followed the new track knowing there were better views from here. The scrub was very thin as the track followed near the top of the ridge, very gradually rising. The track had been constructed about eight years ago by a small bulldozer, and was still in excellent condition. There had been talk back then that the entire track should be cut like this for easier maintenance. The narrow track I had travelled up to as far as Onetahuti was hard to maintain, requiring access by foot or occasionally by motorbike to maintain.

Awaroa beach and inlet to Anapai Headlands
Awaroa beach and inlet to Anapai Headlands

About ten minutes after leaving the saddle I reached the highest point of the track, at about a hundred and twenty metres above sea level. At this point I was at the end of a small spur with a park bench at the edge of a good view towards the northern coast of the park.

Directly outwards and below was the long sweeping forested sandbar of Awaroa Beach. The tide was already too far in to see any of the beach now, but beyond it were several sweeping hills going into the sea. There I could see Waiharakeke Bay and Goat Bay, with their steep headlands. I will be going through there early tomorrow morning. Further along the coast was the long sweeping beach of Totaranui, concealed at the far end of the Anapai Headlands with cloud hanging low over them. On the other side of the headlands was Anapai Bay, where I will be setting up a base camp tomorrow night so I can explore the more northern parts of the park.

By now it was completely overcast. The promising sun that had successfully broken through at  Onetahuti now became elusive again.

I continued walking along the track that had now started to descend very gradually. I went around the back of another gully, and upon reaching the end of the next spur, I once more had a clear view. This time I could see the front end of the Awaroa Inlet, by far the largest estuary seen to date. The sun was now shining in the estuary highlighting the very bright yellow sand and the very inviting turquoise water that was flooding it. I could also see Abel Head, at the end of the Awaroa Heads.

Further around the track was another clearing. The view across the bay had gone by now, but there was a clear view of Venture Creek below me, flowing around a small forested sandbar into the main estuary. I continued along the track where I got a good view up the long forested ridge towards the top of Stony Hill, where the old track from Bark Bay used to go over.

Venture Creek
Venture Creek

The track suddenly started descending steeply into a long gully. The scrub quickly gave way to a forest of large trees and a subcanopy of tree ferns. After a few minutes of steep decent, I saw a large crystal clear stream gently running over a bed of large stones. This was Venture Creek.

A long well constructed wooden bridge with bird netting over the boards preventing any slippage marked the end of the steep section on the track. I walked across it, then followed the somewhat rougher track above the far bank for about a hundred metres until I came out of the forest into a placid sandy mud flat.

I climbed down a short wooden staircase into the small side estuary which was quietly flooding from the incoming tide. Very gentle waves were lethargically flowing upstream adding more water to the inlet. In front of me were four small yachts beached on the dry muddy sand, but not for much longer. On the other side of the flooding stream were a few people exploring. These were the first people I had seen all day.

It seemed strange to be returning to civilisation after several days living wild. I could see houses in the scrub above the estuary now, and more on the sand bar. As I continued downstream the water flooding the estuary confined me tighter to the side.

Remains of the Venture
Remains of the Venture

I passed the spot where the hulk of the Venture, a local ship that gave this creek its name, was sitting in the sand now submerged in water. The rib cage of the large boat was all that remained, and even that had been worn down almost to the sand line.

I rounded the sand bar that separated Venture Creek from the main estuary. The mouth of the estuary was completely flooded now, with just a thin slither of sand rising in front of Cave Point at the other side. It was a steep headland. When the tide is very low, you can hike straight across here from where I was standing. That would save quite a bit of time climbing over the Portage where I will be going late this afternoon. It was 11:50 AM.

Ten minutes later at midday, having walked around the soft coarse sand above the water of the estuary, I could finally see the hut. I had gone around Timber Point, a rather featureless scrubby point that had once housed a saw mill. There used to be quite a community living here. Now it just contains numerous holiday homes.

I had often passed here, but have never explored the area. Today I was going to explore the estuary. Now it stood large in front of me, going a couple of kilometres upstream. I could see where the smaller Awapoto River was coming out. There were more houses across the inlet in the distance, around some flat land. That was the end of a road heading across the northern Pikikiruna Range to the junction of the Totaranui Road just past the saddle then over into Golden Bay. This was the only way that vehicles could get here.

The longer Awaroa River was hidden out of sight behind a large rocky headland and hill that marked the start of Stony Hill, where the track came out.

Awaroa Hut
Awaroa Hut

Ahead of me was the Awaroa Hut. Shallow water had already flooded between me and the hut, so I took of my boots and waded through the water and soft sand. The water across here was no more than knee deep, but it would be far deeper in the main channel now, perhaps a good two metres deep.

The hut was in direct view across the turquoise grey water. Beside the hut were two large orange markers each about half a metre in diameter standing on a single post. These can be viewed from across the other side of the estuary.

The driftwood from recent tides came up the beach almost reaching the bright green grass surrounding the hut. This was the first grass I had seen since leaving Kaiteriteri. Behind the hut was some kanuka scrub with other tree species. A large cabbage tree – cordyline Australis was sitting immediately behind the post with the two large orange markers.

Awaroa Hut
Awaroa Hut

I arrived at the hut just after midday. Looking out from the hut I could see the high forested hills of the other side of the channel of deep water. Across the other side was a large triangular orange marker, appearing no bigger than a big dot from here. Nearby was a smaller marker on a small orange beach showing the start of the track across the portage to Waiharakeke. Before the tide goes out there was no way of crossing over without a boat. I recall hiking here a few years ago when the tide was high. A boy in a tin dinghy had offered me a ride across to the Totaranui track, but I was only going to the hut. He gave me a lift there anyway.

I stopped at the hut for an hour for lunch. There was no one else there. Everyone had either ventured south earlier this morning, and had either taken the shorter track from the lodge over the saddle, or had left earlier and passed me when I was Arch Point. Everyone heading northward would have left the hut in the early morning when the tide was still out to cross the estuary. The route from the south was getting a bit flooded now, so  no one would be likely to come from Bark Bay until this afternoon. Anyone coming from Totaranui won’t be coming across here until early evening.

I rested at the hut eating some lunch out of the pocket of my pack, resting up for the long hike upstream this afternoon.

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08 January 2007


Abel Tasman Nat Park

New Zealand


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