Sometimes, you don’t realise how stressed you are until you aren’t. For the first time since October, where I spent two weeks of unplanned travel in Bali, I feel well and well rested, and all because of a few nights of camping. You wouldn’t think camping would make you feel so good, would you? Camping trips summon thoughts of roughing it, of dewy forest hikes and hard tent floors, not thoughts of leisure and pleasure. Though this is exactly what my sister and I did in Abel Tasman National Park last week and I feel great for it.
Located at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, this gorgeous, natural, popular park and hiking trail is one of NZ’s 9 great walks. The trail is all coastal, the highest you’ll ascend is 200 metres, and spotted along the track are dream beaches. The kind of beaches you have on your screensaver while you sit at your desk responding to inane emails on petty issues.
Armed with a torn out and scrunched up Lonely Planet map of the track, and a backpack full of tuna, apples, crackers and trail mix (in which we picked out the nuts and chocolate and left the dried fruit), we hit the track on January 2nd. Sensibly not too hungover from New Year’s celebrations (moderation is so much easier when there’s a reason for it), we walked for a mere hour to locate our campsite. I had wanted to camp at Anchorage Bay with the huge half-moon beach, but campsites were already booked solid in early December and Coquille Bay was one of the last available. But I think it worked in our favour – we were camping almost right on the beach, and civilisation; a hot coffee and a power point - were a short walk away, something we did when a full day of rain was forecast. Does that still count as camping?
Three days on a quiet, rustic beach… the kind that looks like your favourite childhood beach – small and overgrown but well loved by its transient guests. With the summer sun on our backs, we spent idle afternoons reading and watching kayakers roll by on calm currents.
I had one last swim the night before we left, the dulcet tones of the Spanish speaking campers flew down on the wind. The ocean jade in the fading light, frigid but soothing on my hiked-out, aching feet. The water murky but not dirty, more like smoke and mystery beneath the surface.
That night, on a pesky mid-night toilet run, I glanced upwards to note the most detailed, starlit night sky I’ve ever seen. Bisected by the milky way and almost alien for being so unfamiliar, but too tired to properly enjoy, so after a moment of star struck wonder, I returned to bed – or rather to sleeping bag.
Now, it’s home again, home again, jiggety-jig and the restfulness is still here; it’s not just the break from work, it’s the break from all the demands on my time, the things to be done, people to see and boxes to be ticked on a never ending to-do list. Free time is something precious, you know? To be able to read a book continuously until complete, to just be and let time pass without feeling the need to fill it.
I had a frank chat with my sister Alice about this and she said “it’s good to be busy if they’re things you want to be doing, I love filling my day with all the things I love to do”. And I see her point, I do, staying busy is one of the three secrets to happiness after all; have someone to love, something to look forward to and something to do. A simple answer to a complicated question, I know, but keeping busy does keep people happy so long as that ‘busyness’ is enjoyable. Am I chasing my thoughts in circles here?
It could be the digital diet that had me feeling well. Although we weren’t entirely without connection in Abel Tasman, we had to limit our phone battery (and expensive NZ data plans) so that restricted how much screen time we saw, without going full hog digital detox, all or nothing. Forced balance is still balance, right?
For daily Instagram photos all this year with more photos from Abel Tasman going up this week, check out my account.
What you’ll need to know about Abel Tasman National Park
First, decide how you want to visit the park and how long you’d like to spend there. Do you want to do a day walk to Anchorage bay (8hrs return) and stay at accommodation in Marahau, the town at the park’s entrance? Or Kayak there and then walk back? Do you want to walk in, camp overnight and then walk back, or would you like to walk the whole thing over three nights, camping as you go? It’s a big park and if you’re not an avid hiker, I’d recommend just one or two days in the park.
Book and pay your campsite online before you enter the park, so you’ll need to work out where you’ll be in the park on which nights.
There are taps at all the campsites (that we saw anyway) and popular beaches along the track, but they require sterilizing the water first – boiling if you’re bringing pans, or iodine tablets (bought at camping/hiking outlets) among a few other methods. We actually drank a little of the water straight from the tap (there was no discolouration or taste impurity) with no adverse effects, but better safe than sorry.
You’ll need to bring enough food into the park to last the time spent there, so stock up at the supermarket in Nelson. There’s a little convenience store on the waterfront in Marahau, but choice is few and overpriced. There are a few cafés around Marahau, best by far was the Fat Tui burger truck, a five minute walk from the park entrance and a great way to make up for the calories spent in Abel Tasman.
If you’re thinking about staying overnight, an option that I wanted to try but was unfortunately booked solid over New Years was the Aqua Packers boat docked on Anchorage bay, that provides BBQ dinner and breakfast, with dorm and private rooms available.
To get the Abel Tasman, catch the intercity bus from Nelson, a $20, 2 hr bus ride that drops you off right at the park entrance, or drive southwest on highway 6 before making a right hand turn onto SHW60 the drive is well signposted, like the rest of New Zealand.
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