"And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home."
Wendell Berry

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Abel Tasman Coastal Track

I've really had some comically bad weather for hiking.

I set out from Nelson for the Abel Tasman Coastal Track on Friday. It's one of the Great Walks, so you have to book the huts ahead of time, and since it's the holidays and the busiest time of year, the two huts that were left were very far apart, and I had to do the track in two and a half days instead of the suggested four. When I heard that it was supposed to rain ALL weekend, I refused to be deterred! After missing the trek in Tongariro, I wasn't going to cave to a bit of drizzle.

The hike began at 9am. The first thing I learned: water resistant is not even close to water proof. I was absolutely drenched within ten minutes. Fortunately, it's summer here, so I was only wet and not cold and wet. And once I was soaked, I didn't mind the rain so much. The whole track was still really beautiful, way up in cliffs and forest along the coast, and because of the rain, I hardly saw anyone else. I've found that I feel a lot less lonely by myself in nature than I do in cities; New York has often felt like the loneliest place in the world, but in the woods I'm fine.

I listened to The Hours and A Single Man soundtracks for part of my seven hour tramp through the downpour, which added a certain drama to the whole endeavor. Phillip Glass can make even squatting to pee feel epic.

I met some wonderful people in the huts--lots of Swiss and Germans and Kiwis--and we played Uno until late into the night (okay, until about nine, when it got dark and we all hit the sack). I also met a really sweet newlywed couple from London who I shared a beer with at an upscale cafe that randomly appeared in the middle of the track--hoping to see them again at Doubtful Sound in January.

The second day was sunny (apparently New Zealand's weather predictions change as regularly as Michigan's) and ideal for hiking. After a few hours out, I had some time to kill so that I could make the river and estuary crossings at low tide (there were four), so I lounged on the beach. After twenty minutes of not seeing a single soul, I swallowed my usual embarrassment and went skinnydipping in Tasman Bay, with penguins and fur seals looking on disapprovingly. Living la vida loca* here! It's known as "the gold coast" because granite deposits turn the sand a rich bright gold (through a process that Emily Elert could probably explain far more clearly than I...).

The wildlife was out in full effect throughout the track. I had bellbirds and warblers singing their little hearts out, I nearly stepped on a possum (an opposum?) that reared back on his hind legs like a tiny bear and hissed at me, and I realized a second too late that I was very near some oyster catchers' babies, which resulted in the parents chasing me out in a flying frenzy, latching onto my backpack and trying to peck me to death. It was straight out of Hitchcock*.
Day two, though sunny, was a super long hiking day (eleven hours), so the ol' legs are really getting the work in before Everest. The last four hours were less fun, mostly because it was on a poorly-marked path through dark forest, and I didn't see another soul the whole time. And the last hour was misery as more storm clouds moved in with the quickly-approaching dusk and I had no idea how much further I had to go. I also started seeing what I believed to be a trail of blood, but which might've been berry juice. Of course I took this to be an ominous sign. If it was in fact blood and not berries (too dark to tell for sure), the sign was probably "Hey! I'm a friendly hiker with a nosebleed who is just ahead of you. Congrats--you're headed in the right direction and we're in this together!" But naturally, I took it instead to mean "Hey! I am a crazed killer who is leaving the blood of my last victim as a warning: you're next!" I felt like Ralph from The Lord of the Flies,* and had horrific visions of a stick sharpened at both ends.

Of course, I did finally make it, never learned the source of the dark fluid, and then hiked out in the rain again this morning. I met a nice American from Connecticut on the bus back, and we might travel together for awhile (would be great to have company), and I'm back in Nelson, blessedly dry and squeaky clean at last.

*Note: When left to their lonesome in the wilderness for a relatively long period of time, I'm sure many people spend their time pondering philosophy and the meaning of life. I seem to instead spend my time meditating on pop culture. Hrm.
**Note #2: All photos taken early in second day during good weather!


  1. All your talk of hiking, scenic beauty, communing with possums, and skinny dipping makes me feel like a lazy fool. You will come back a child of nature, strong and resilient. I will be suffering from gout.

  2. And you look amazing in your photo. What's that expression? Is that happiness?

  3. Aw, Connifer. How I miss you! I will come back a child of nature who is ready for a stiff New York drink with friends. Take comfort in the fact that when I am lonely and world-weary in March, you'll be a crazy, happy bride in Vegas.