After resting up for a couple of days in Blenheim and devouring one too many McDonald’s meals, we got moving towards our next major stop – world famous Abel Tasman National Park, 175km away.
We rolled out of Blenheim on Day 9 into a non-relenting headwind which made sure our speed remained at a measly 12km/hr. With the effort we were putting in we would normally be going at least 20km/hr!
Thankfully after we passed Renwick our path turned northwards towards Havelock and we were rid of the dreaded headwind. Havelock impressed us both with its large and totally unexpected lake, its quietness and green surrounds. However there was no time to linger, it was on to the equally impressive Pelorus Bridge before dark.
In Pelorus Bridge there was only a campground, cafe, and as you’d expect a bridge. Not much infrastructure, but it was a protected scenic reserve and the campground encircled by dense rainforest impressed us so much we decided to stay two nights. We filled Day 10 hiking (or should I say ‘tramping’ as it’s called in New Zealand) through the forest to a lookout and relaxing down by Pelorus River.
Not only does Pelorus Bridge have the scenic factor though; it was also the location Peter Jackson chose to shoot the ‘barrel scene’ in the movie, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
The next day proved to be one of the most challenging, memorable and rewarding days of the whole trip! It was a battle, although the day started out so promising.
Just before we left for NZ I discovered a 4WD/mountain bike/walking trail that cut directly from Pelorus Bridge to Nelson, known as Maungatapu Pass. It looked promising, only 37km along a quiet gravel road rather than 55km of busy highway riding.
The day started with sunshine and as you can see from the photo below, we were happy to be back on the gravel. We were oblivious to what lay ahead.
About an hour in we reached the official start of the Maungatapu trail and it kicked up something fierce and we were quickly forced off our bikes and into the slow grind of pushing our bikes up. From here on the trail just kept rising up and up for 8 long long km. I didn’t know the elevation gain at the time but I now know that we climbed and descended about 1400m along this rough road.
Soon the clouds were overhead and the rain began. We quickly got our rain jackets on but that didn’t stop us getting cold.
After an uncomfortable lunch in the rain we got back onto our wet saddles and set off again. In the last few km towards the summit the trail got especially steep and rough. It was impossible to ride. As we grit our teeth, bowed our heads, and trudged on the views were quite impressive. It was like we had left NZ and had been transported to the remote hills of Thailand. The clouds hung low and the tree covered mountains continued rolling off into the horizon.
Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos but the rain and conditions were just too much. We eventually crested the top of the Bryant Range after something like 5 hours! The way down was equally steep though and with small streams carving their way down the trail we continued walking.
Shortly we stopped.
Matt said, “Daniel, I’m really cold! My hands are throbbing. This is the coldest I’ve ever been in my life.”
I was almost as cold too, so I got us to put on our fleeces underneath our rain jackets. After Matt’s numb fingers seriously struggled to do up his jacket’s front zipper we decided to take further action. We bundled under the tarp, started the stove and got some hot water into us. At least this helped us enough to get going again and back down to lower and warmer altitudes.
When the suns rays shone upon us about an hour down we just stood there and soaked it up. It was one of the best feelings and moments of all. The simple act of feeling the suns warmth was all we wanted at that moment. It was bliss.
We arrived at Maitai Valley campground relieved, tired and wet. We’d slogged for 8 hours and gone only 37km. The campground attendee saw our state and said we should go have a hot shower and come back later to pay. The 50 cent chocolates they had disappeared in a flash as well. Memorable!
The following day, Day 12, was my favourite day of the trip up until that point. 87km from Nelson to Marahau, mostly following the brilliant Great Taste Trail along the coast which even included a short ferry ride from Rabbit Island to Mapua. The weather was perfect too! You couldn’t find two chaps anywhere in New Zealand who appreciated the weather more after yesterday’s struggles.
We arrived in Motueka and booked a double kayak rental for the next two days in Abel Tasman. From here it was just a tough 2.7km climb over the range to Marahau, the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park. We finished off this long day with the best ‘drop’ of the trip, Old Mout Cider. Went down an absolute treat!
Leaving our bikes with Old McDonalds Farm we were free to explore the famous Abel Tasman known for it’s pristine beaches and lush forests.
To start with, kayaking was bloody hard work. Our back muscles were not conditioned to this kind of work. A couple of hours in and we got some rythym going, it was great. We were free to pull into any beach we fancied.
We camped that night up at Bark Bay and went for a short walk up the popular Abel Tasman coastal track. We agreed that this place would be like paradise to inland Europeans who rarely see a beach, but to us beach spoiled Aussies it didn’t attract such a fuss. Make no mistake though, it was pretty damn beautiful and I’m a hard critic since I’m not a real beach fanatic.
On our 12km paddle back to Marahau the next day we passed by Adele Island where we saw many seals sunbaking on the rocky shore, and even diving right beside our kayak. It was pretty special seeing these wild animals so close and with pretty much no one else around. Two days very well spent I’d say.