Nelson: Glam tramping the Abel Tasman

By Sara Bunny

Sara Bunny goes back to nature without having to rough it.
A bridge in the Abel Tasman National Park track.
A bridge in the Abel Tasman National Park track.

To this city slicker, getting among the great outdoors conjures up thoughts of weird packet food, gut-busting hill climbs, blisters on top of blisters, and the sturdy but unattractive khaki-toned hiking kit.

That was until a recent trip to the Abel Tasman, and discovering "glam tramping". Along the lines of "glamping" (glam camping), it's getting back to nature without the boring bits.

You get to wander remote paths amid stunning scenery, but with a comfortable queen-size bed, a hot shower and a glass of wine never far away. Win-win. I'm the first to admit, reading the intrepid-sounding itinerary, including long bush treks and sea kayaking, had me worried.

The sun comes out over Awaroa Inlet, in Abel Tasman National Park.
The sun comes out over Awaroa Inlet, in Abel Tasman National Park.

Holidays usually mean lying on a sun lounger but I was booked in for a three-day Wilson's guided tour through the Abel Tasman National Park, and was excited to explore
one of the country's Great Walks. The Wilson's tour boat set off from Nelson's Kaiteriteri Beach as our group, six strangers from around the world, fumbled for our cameras. Soon we're cruising past sandy coves, pausing at Tonga Island to watch pudgy black seals lazing on the rocks before heading north to Totaranui.

Once we arrive at the top of the park, our guide, Sam, sets off at an easy pace and we're quickly enveloped by a canopy of green. The next two hours of wandering feels blissfully peaceful.

You don't need to be a mountain goat or endurance athlete to navigate the gentle dips and rises. Sam tells us about the nikau palms, matai and rata trees, we listen to the bellbirds and stop every so often for obligatory selfies.

At Awaroa Inlet, we check into our overnight digs at Meadowbank Homestead, just as ominous grey clouds roll over. Before long, we're happily ensconced and enjoying the warmth of the fire, sipping wine and feeling slightly smug about our 9km walk, as the wind rattles the windows and the rain surges in from the sea in horizontal sheets. Some members of our party turn pale at the thought of venturing out to choppy seas, so we shelve plans for a kayaking excursion and decide to forge ahead on foot the next morning. Despite the weather oscillating between drizzle and torrential downpour, the track is still stunning. Huge lush ferns, bright green and laden with droplets, look ready to engulf the path, and we navigate a swing bridge to the earthy sound of a rushing stream below.

One of the best lookouts on the trail takes in Awaroa Inlet, the home of the beach New Zealanders bought through a crowd-funding campaign earlier in the year. Looking down on the sandy stretch, we agree it was a good purchase. The sheltered beach is largely unspoilt, surrounded by greenery and only accessible by the small nearby airstrip if you're a rich-lister, or by boat or the coastal track for the rest of us.

The Wilson family has been escorting visitors around Abel Tasman for decades and runs a seamless operation, transporting gear between various pit stops, handing out packed lunches in brown paper bags, and popping up as if by magic with bottomless cups of hot drinks for the, ahem, rugged adventurers.

Abel Tasman National Park, South Island.
Abel Tasman National Park, South Island.

Bolstered with caffeine, our motley crew trudges towards our next stop, Torrent Bay Lodge, as the heavens open. Wilson's tours operates Meadowbank Homestead and Torrent Bay Lodge, and guests can choose to stay either one or two nights at each. The lodges are as far removed from a DoC hut as you can imagine. They have well-stocked drinks fridges and Wi-Fi should you need to connect to the web while reconnecting with nature.

With the sun out and the sea calm, we spend our last day on the water in double kayaks. Despite our collective lack of experience, we're soon scooting past rocky outcrops and small secluded beaches like pros. Out on the open water of the marine reserve, we even navigate an area called the "mad mile" (which isn't too mad), without anyone going overboard.

A few days later, I see a Facebook photo from one of the Canadians in the group, featuring our tired, happy and thoroughly pampered tramping crew lined up on the beach like seasoned explorers. We may not be serious hikers, but we were all refreshed and elated by our escape to New Zealand's smallest national park.

With barely a blister among us, no doubt we've all gone home and embellished our stories of ruggedness, just a bit.

Out and about in Nelson

If you have a few extra days to spend in Nelson, you'll find feasts for the tastebuds and arts galore in this bustling region.

Where to eat

For generous plates of gorgeous food, don't miss Hopgoods Restaurant. The food is high end and the welcome is warm and down to earth.

Where to drink

With more wineries than you can shake a stick at, you don't have to go far for a good drop in Nelson. Popular spots include Mahana, Waimea, Neudorf and Seifried Estate.

What to see and do

• Light Nelson is an annual festival that transforms the Queen's Gardens from July 8-12. The free event is held in winter to make the most of the clear, dark nights, and boasts interactive light installations and a range of live performances.
• If you like to get on yer bike, the Nelson cycle trails include safe urban pathways, as well as the family-friendly Tasman's Great Taste Trail, and the back-country Dun Mountain Trail.


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