The frond of the giant fern, ten metres high, danced in the wind. It seemed like the plume of a warrior returning to reclaim his kingdom.
And how fitting, for the indigenous flora of New Zealand is slowly reconquering this area that has been devastated by fire, imported plants and animals and unsuccessful attempts at farming.
We hiked or “tramped” – to use the local terminology – the trails of the park in the antipodal fall. The crowds and the heat were gone – although even at the height of summer neither get oppressive here – and we were able to enjoy the groves of manuka, beech and other native trees in their autumn beauty.
Most of the time we tramped the Coast Track. One minute we would be in the almost prehistoric ambience of a fern floored forest amid towering kauri and kahikates trees. The trail’s vista would then suddenly open to reveal stunning views of immense sandy beaches intersected by rocky granite headlands. It was not unusual to see dolphins, penguins and seals frolicking offshore. The land seemed truly enchanted with waterfalls spilling into tranquil lagoons and flora and fauna, unknown in the northern hemisphere, abounding.
The Coast Track took us across many tidal inlets. It is possible to walk across these usually within two hours of a low tide, so checking with a tide table is advisable.
Awaroa is the largest and most fascinating of the estuaries and tidal inlets. Its sandbanks, mudflats and clear shallow winding streams are a mixture of patient and scurrying life. For an hour or two either side of a low tide the sea is off-stage in this sandy drama and shut out by the white arm of the sandspit.
The park owns and maintains several tramping huts and even more campsites. Pots and utensils may be available in some huts, but this is not to be relied upon. In the busy summer season huts may be overcrowded so camping gear should be carried.
No reservations are taken for the huts which operate on a first come, first served basis. Huts and campsites have a two night stay limit.
Other activities in the coastal area include sea kayaking, fishing, swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving. With a permit, hunting for wild pigs, goats and deer is allowed in the park.
The Canaan region in the southwest corner of the park is caving country. Here, hundreds of thousands of years ago, streams now long vanished, cut a 50 metre (150 feet) wide, 250 metre (750 feet) deep sinkhole in the limestone, marble and granite. It is the deepest straight drop in New Zealand and is known as Harwoods Hole.
Abel Tasman National Park is 134 kilometres (80 miles) from Nelson (population 34,000), the closest city, where you’ll find a range of hotels and motels to suit all tastes and budgets.