Partially clothed bodies line the sandy beach at Anchorage Bay Campsite. The sun is strong but the wind fierce, leaving people braving a swimsuit or some fully covered. To my right girls giggle and Kung Fu around a curious bumblebee and next to them a couple spoon on a blanket. In front of me are twenty bright yellow kayaks waiting to be picked up after gliding around holiday goers. The water is calm with no surf; just mini waves tickling the shore. Anchorage Bay is the first, or last, bay along the Abel Tasman Park and popular with the local seawards and international yacht travelers. Only six large white boats are anchored in the bay, a modest number compared to the fifty or sixty boats during the peak of summer. A few beaches are enclosed in the bay but empty of life. This was my last beach on the Abel Tasman Great Walk.
I was taxied to the first campsite via boat from the tiny town of Marahau. From the office a group of us rode in the boat while pulled by a tractor on the main road. Jason, the captain, navigated the narrow roads squeezing past other tractors and large RVs. On the sand we bumped along the low tide until we reached the water. The ride was like an organized tour, stopping at Split Apple Rock and Tonga Island Reserve to see a few fur seals. Jason was unenthused by the glittering water and paradise of an office. His monotone voice described how the softer rock falls from the headlands to create the golden beaches and how there are several private homes in the park, purchased pre national park. After the two-hour boat ride we landed at Totranui, the most northerly point in the park that boats can access. I set up camp and snoozed on the beach until the sun fell behind me and the hundred other visitors.
As I was packed up camp the next morning I made the mistake of leaving my oats on the grass. Scavenging the campsite were birds that look like kiwis but are skinner, faster and more annoying. My assumption of the oat thief was confirmed when a German backpacker said that he saw a weka bird try to sneak away with his banana. I began searching in the surrounding bushes looking for the culprit but only finding empty wrappers scattered on the ground like a teen bedroom. Added to the loss of my breakfast, I miscounted the days of the walk and packed two nights worth of food and three days worth of lunch instead of three nights and four days. The camp office provided overpriced dry food for the unprepared but I, of course, didn’t bring any money. Now without breakfast I began rationing like a star on Survivor writing in my notebook:
2 apples Dec 22: 1 wrap, 1 apple, Half Tuna
2 wraps Dec 23: nuts, apple, Half Tuna
1 tuna stir
rice Dec 24: nuts, wrap
I also managed to forget utensils, which meant asking someone every night to borrow a spoon for a few hours.
An organic garden, maintained by the lodge, was on the track and enclosed in a short brown picket fence. A hand-painted sign hung on the door that read, “Please ask gardener before taking produce.” I did not see a soul in sight. I entered the gate and began scavenging. The gardener must have been on a long holiday because most of the produce was wilted and sad. I managed to find some kale, one decent potato, spring onions, lettuce, a few lemons and lots of plums. I had become a weka, stealing food from the unawares, but my actions were obvious as I was shifty eyed and continuously crouching.
“How ya goin?” I hear someone shout. Frantic, I search for the voice’s owner. An attractive man was standing on a quad staring at me. We had to shout across the fence because neither of us dared moved from our position.
“Good!” I reply a little too enthused.
“Is that for…?” He was unsure about me.
“It’s just a little bit,” I hold up my hands filled with greens validating my response.
“Is that for the lodge?”
“Yeah,” I quickly broke eye contact and watched the ground until he drove away.
The second campsite, Onatahuti, was half the size of Totranui. Cozier but with more sandflies. I spent the evening with two German girls sitting on the sand watching the waves roll away and toward us. They offered me a cigarette, but I politely declined. The next morning was lazy in order to make a tide crossing and over breakfast I met Lisette from Spain and Marina from Belgium. I told them about my unfortunate packing and encounter with the pesky bird. Without hesitation they were putting crackers and peanut butter, a carrot and biscuits into my hand. They made my trip one hundred percent more enjoyable. I thanked them profusely and started on my way happy that I didn’t end my walk early with a water taxi back to Marahau. A side trip took me to Cleopatra’s Pool, a small pool of river water walled by large granite boulders. The sun was not strong enough to warm the water, which required bravery to enter. Instead I asked a man traveling with his family to take a photo of me hand standing on a large boulder set above the pool. He was awkward with my phone as he waited for my “1-2-3.” We attempted this precarious photo ten times until he got a decent shot.
My last night was at Anchorage campsite, very popular amongst the day goers and one-night visitors. After returning my borrowed spoon for the night I was stopped by a DOC ranger, Steve, who was the Ken Barbie doll in flesh. His light brown hair standstill against the sea breeze; skin tanned to perfection with dark freckles giving his arms and cheeks more weight; muscular frame comparable to a dancers, lean but strong. He checked my reservation then invited me on a private glowworm expedition that night with his friend who was visiting from Germany. Once the sky was dark, around 10pm, I found the DOC cabin following the sounds of guitar playing. I had emerged onto the set of a ABC series swinging open the brown picket fence onto the soft grass lit by a string of lights around the wide porch and Steve sitting on the front steps, barefoot, playing the guitar. The air was warm and I sat next to him, one step lower and looked out to toward the bay.
“I never thought I’d be here mainly because my Dad was, is, an officer,” Steve said.
He was offered a job working at the Anchorage Hut two and a half years ago and has worked in the park ever since. The tide was high and the cave with the glowworms was inaccessible without swimming and no one was eager for a late night dip. Instead we went to a hidden cave only a few sandy steps away. The cave fit only two people at crouching level and Steve’s friend was afraid of creepy crawlers so she stayed outside because a few feet from our heads were cave wetas – very ugly creatures. There were a few glowworms scattered about, visible in the dark by a steady bright green light. We were attracted, just like prey, but soon the damp air urged us to leave the mini cave.
I had an early start the next morning and Steve walked me to the trailhead, making a point of slipping off his sandals once he reached the sand. The endless blue my friend to the right as I descend into the woods for the final stretch.