Ready, willing, Abel
One final park & ride
by Thor Iverson
One adventure awaits. Just one more commune with nature, before we jet off to Sydney and the bustle of the urban life. We don’t know what we’ll find there. There’s more to do here, of course…wine tasting, food, perhaps even a restful afternoon on a beach. But on a trip punctuated by the relentless beauty of the wild and framed by its inexorable seduction, this is the final chapter.
But first, we have to get there.
It’s a beautiful day in Nelson; unbroken blue both above and below the horizon, and warm (but not overly so). We wind through houses, light industry, and commercial avenues, then emerge waterside to parallel glistening bays, and finally twist into verdant hills, forests, orchards and vineyards pockmarked by habitation. Perhaps every tenth building offers fruit and vegetables for sale, while many of the remainder feature artisans of myriad trades. We even pass a Steiner School. Unfortunately, the delicacy of our road precludes much sightseeing, a condition that only grows as we approach our destination. Soon enough, we find ourselves on another of the precarious, cliff-winding heart attacks (here somewhat mitigated by lush, rainforest-like vegetation) that substitute for roads in New Zealand. Thankfully, it very quickly drops back to sea level in the sedate and largely empty hamlet of Marahau, one of the southern gateways to majestic Abel Tasman National Park.
As strange as it may sound, we’re here to catch a taxi.
Yeah, I’m the Tasman
The seamlessly-integrated tourist experience that is New Zealand reaches some sort of apex here: 1) Come by land, sea or air to this tiny village (or nearby Kaiteriteri). 2) Pick a destination, somewhere along the coastline of the park. 3) Book an Aqua Taxi and hop aboard. 4) Hike, kayak, wander, or just relax on one of the dozens of beaches. 5) Choose a pickup hour (or day) and location, and the taxi will be waiting. The one impediment: tides, the schedules of which must be watched to avoid extensive delays and detours.
It’s an amazing achievement in tourist engineering, and even more so because it leaves the park itself relatively unmolested by infrastructure. There are, of course, well-maintained public bathrooms (as there are everywhere in this country), and a few secluded structures, but that’s it. The only real disadvantage to this easy access is that the park’s perimeter can feel almost bustling, but “crowded” here takes on a very different meaning than it does in most of the world’s locales.
Our water taxi loops around Split Apple Rock while our driver gives us two explanations for its existence; I prefer the latter (“it’s a leftover prop from The Lord of the Rings”). From time to time we zigzag to avoid frolicking sea lions, but otherwise it’s a straight buzz along the shoreline. The sea is almost impossibly blue, but it’s also surprisingly calm, and while the boat is small and prone to sharp movements, the ride itself is relatively easy. Deposited in the warm waters of Bark Bay, we stop for a moment on land to dry our feet, then begin our southward hike.
After all our earlier walks, this relatively sedate stroll seems almost absurdly easy. (Much more demanding hikes are available through the tangled and mountainous interior of the park; the coastal paths are quite gentle.) Up and down harbor-side cliffs, through softly-draped forests, and past rocky outcroppings the path wanders, all the while overlooking the vivid azure ocean and the intruding, intense swirls of green and blue that flow down from the park’s heights. Fantails and robins flit at head-level through the riotous tangle of vegetation. Every so often, we emerge onto the warm golden sand of a beach; some popular, some isolated. A brief picnic is taken on a sun-dried rock outcropping high above the bays and beaches.
It’s a marvelous walk, but it’s a little too short (or, as is more likely, we overestimate our transit time), and we arrive at Torrent Bay far in advance of our taxi’s arrival (in fact, the previous boat is just leaving). With a beautiful beach at our disposal, however, there’s little reason for concern. Theresa reclines while I amble, catching the incoming tide rushing through a treacherous inlet at one end of the beach (which is, in truth, more of a peninsula or spit than a traditional shore-slope). As it comes in, bright purple bivalves, shells that look very much like scallops, and immense green-lipped mussels are deposited in seaweed-tangled piles amidst foamy rivulets, then washed away again by the ever-accelerating churn of water.
Eventually, and unfortunately, it’s time to leave. We hear the water taxi before we see it, but soon enough it sputters to a rocking halt a few dozen feet from shore. We splash through the warm shallows with our fellow refugees, suffused with melancholy. It seems like we’re leaving something behind.
The organoleptics of memory
Back at the villa, Theresa assembles a quick dinner of pork cutlets with figs, plus some local asparagus. Wines with our meals, now coming as they do from the breadth of our journey, are liquid memory as much as vinous refreshment…every sip a reminiscence, every aroma better than an album full of photographs. Of course, some memories are better than others.
Peregrine 2004 “Rastasburn” Riesling (Central Otago) – Well-watered mixed rocks and metals, with more excitable notions of lime zest and grapefruit juice, plus a complexing bite of green olive pit on the finish. Lightly sweet but quickly “dried” by buoyant acidity, this finishes much longer and more austerely than it begins. A very interesting wine.
Copyright © Thor Iverson.