To Separation Point, on one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks”

We went online and booked two bunks for Thursday at the Whariwharangi Hut in Abel Tasman National Park. This hut is at the tail end of the Abel Tasman Track, one of seven “Great Walks” in New Zealand, which people from all over the world come to hike. Of the more than thousand back-country huts in New Zealand, the Great Walk huts are the only ones that need to be booked in advance because of their popularity.

Whariwharangi Hut comes at the end — the Golden Bay end — of the walk, and luckily for us, many people bail out before they get that far, choosing to take a bus from Totaranui, the stop just before Whariwharangi. We are lucky because that cuts down on the number of trampers of what many say is the best part of the track. The weather promised to be clear and cloudless.

We do errands in the morning and set out from Wainui some time after noon, reaching the saddle in midafternoon. There is no shade and the track is open to the sea all the way up, but luckily there is a cool sea breaze. Down the other side is easier, and shaded all the way. We arrive at the hut in the late afternoon. Our hut is lovely and “historic,” set in a clearing near the beach, two storeys, two little balconies, two nice stone chimneys (didn’t take a photo but there will be one on the New Zealand Department of Conservation – DOC — website — here).

The collection of trampers at Whariwharangi Hut gather around the big table munching their bags of gruel while emitting a rising pitch of comment-hilarity-reply-shriek of laughter, like a precursor of Thanksgiving. Two Canadians from north of Toronto who were biking NZ oot n’ aboot for two months. An Italian and a German. Two Asian women each exploring New Zealand on her own. An Englishman and a Kiwi woman who’d just divorced their partners, had met 30 years ago on a New Zealand tramp, giving it a go again. He chopped extra kindling and scrubbed the food prep area–tidy to a fault. Four grumpy older Germans stuck to themselves and played cards together. Soon after eating and cleaning we climb to our room to get some shuteye. With the boisterous conversation below it is a little like sleeping over a pub, but  after the fresh air and leg stretching of the day we are soon dreaming. The sky is so studded with stars it seems dripping.
Five wekas, large flightless birds easily mistaken for kiwis (except wekas are NOT shy), explore the hut and environs. Each group — trampers and birds alike consider how tasty the other, or other’s things, could be. A weka pecks at the plastic bag sticking from my pack, knowing plastic bag means food. “All I see is drunsticks,” says Peter the Englishman. We’re reminded of Thanksgiving.

Next morning we set out along a row of huge grandfatherly macrocarpas — Monterrey pines, gone wild in this climate, growing huge, that line the beach. The flotsam and jetsam that lines this empty beach is all natural:

I walk the length of the beach looking; not one piece of plastic seen. Last year when I was here a huge whale had washed up right here and stunk up the whole east side of the beach. Now all that I find is one vertebra. Here is a closeup of the nonsynthetic bric-a-brac:

We begin climbing the headland, then the trail takes us inland,  soon we reach the ridge. Looking back with binoculars the entire 26 km length of Farewell Spit can be seen(but not in this photo!), stretching across the horizon. Just above the plant gowing on the right is a tiny blip which is a grove of trees an original lighthouse keeper planted near the tip of the spit years ago, and the actual spit end is a kilometer or so further on to the right.

The track heads through lovely bush

and groves of manuka

then after a few km turns off toward the spur to Separation Point, our destination (meanwhile the main track leads along the coast). We get nice views of Mutton Cove and beach along the ridge.

As we come along the ridge we begin to hear a periodic godawful noise. It sounds like a penguin or seal or seabird colony. For my part (for the record), I said “I have NEVER heard THAT before!” It gets louder and louder the closer we edge along the ridge. Soon we come out on a bluff, and, looking down, see seals playing along the shore. Hmm…

The smell of seabird and seal poo in the air, we leave our packs and start to clamber down the cliff edge. Below us is the point and a large flat area where several white birds are parked, motionless.

Partway down we encounter explanatory signage. The white birds are FAKE gannets, and the awful noise comes through a loudspeaker! It is an attempt by the Janszoon (Abel Tasman’s middle name) Society to start a gannet colony on Separation Point. We are asked to stay away if we see any REAL gannets. After studying a while, I see none, and decide to scramble the rest of the way down. I find a cleft in the rocks,

acess to the sea, and clamber down.  A seal pops his head up to look at me.

I head in for a dip while a nearby shag ignores me, never moves. The water is warm!

On the hike back we find a shady place to lunch. In the afternoon we see the light showing through the rock sea cave at the point near Tata, through which we had swum and kayaked before.

We arrive home before 6pm, famished and tired. Eat, shower, bed; a day well spent!

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