Abel Tasman Adventures: Crossing Awaroa Inlet

Remember how in the Oregon Trail computer game when you reached a river you were always given a choice to ford it or not, and you always chose to ford it thinking “Yeah, it’ll probably be okay, and it’s so much faster,” and then you and/or your oxen always drowned? That choose-your-own-fate decision screen was at the forefront on my mind on the first night of last week’s tramp in Abel Tasman National Park. I’ll write about my whole four-day hiking adventure later this week, because it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had here in New Zealand, but there was one moment on the trip that is worthy of its own post as the most terrifying experience I’ve had while travelling to date.

For the most part, the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, is a fairly relaxed hike, with well-defined paths and only a few hundred metres of elevation climb over it’s ~60km (we did about 50km due to our schedule and a slip that made the trail north of Anapai Bay inaccessible). However, there is one section that is far more than a leisurely walk in the park: the Awaroa inlet crossing.

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Anapai bay beach

Immediately to the north of Awaroa hut is a river mouth that can only be crossed two hours either side of low tide… unless you want to swim. I checked the tide tables for the day we were beginning our hike from Totaranui campsite, about 7km north of Awaroa, and believed that low tide was around 5pm, meaning we could cross sometime after 3pm. Unfortunately, I was informed by the water taxi operator who was transporting us from Marahau to the start of our tramp that I had actually misread the table; the low tide that day wasn’t until 9pm. No worries, we thought, we’d do a couple of side trails and when we reached the start of the crossing we could easily chill out for a few hours on the beach until it was time to cross.

At first, things went according to plan. We arrived in Totaranui and hiked north to Anapai beach. After returning to Totaranui and stopping for lunch, we continued on for two hours or so until we reached the Awaroa inlet shoreline around 4:30pm. When we arrived, we thoroughly understood why crossing before the allotted timeframe was not going to happen:

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