"You can't come to New Zealand and not do a Great Hike", says Fiona, spreading an enormous trekking map out on the dining room table, "There are nine of them, and one starts just down the road. You've got to do it". Then, lest we have any different ideas about how we plan to spend the following day, she adds "There's a bus that leaves at 9.45 that'll take you to Tataranui. Then you can walk back. It'll take you about 4 hours".
It sounds a good plan. We'll spend a full day hiking part of the 60-km Abel Tasman Coast Trail, one of the country's famous "Greatest Walks". We've even found a home for Matilda for the day - she'll play with a same-age girl at a neighbouring family we've got to know quite well during our stay in Golden Bay. The only problem is we oversleep the following morning, and don't wake until 9 AM. There's no way we can make the bus. Realising we can now only cover half the intended route, we resort to Plan B. We'll drive to the start of the coastal track, walk some 10 km to Whariwharangi Bay, and then hike back on the same track.
After a short initial climb, the track soon levels out and we're enjoying delightful views of the estuary, which we've just been driving along before parking our car. Climbing a little higher, we can see the entire length of Golden Bay, stretching right up to Farewell Spit, the narrow strip of sand at the northernmost tip of South Island. I'm hit by the feeling I've often had in this country - that everything is somehow so familiar. Cut out the beautiful ocean backdrop, and you could easily feel back near home, somewhere in the Swiss Alps. The only other difference, of course, is there are no cow bells clanging.
To savour the view just a while longer, we stop on a bench and hungrily tuck into avocado sandwiches smothered with Fiona's home-made paneer cheese. The feeling that this could easily be paradise is driven home as we sit talking about the pictures we've seen of Germany over the last few days. Facebook posts by friends back home describe the grey, dank, damp winter they're having in Europe. As we sit in the shade of fantrees, it seems strange to think that when we arrive home late March spring will be well on its way and the garden will hopefully be awash with daffodils.
The scenery on the walk changes at almost every corner. One moment we're trekking through thick bush, the next instant we're walking through tunnel-like vegetation. As we turn the corner on the path above we suddenly see the sea again, and a number of beaches which can be reached only by boat or foot. We head for perhaps one of the most beautiful of them all, Whariwharangi Bay.
Where bush meets beach - Whariwharangi Bay
While we're sitting, just enjoying watching the waves unfurl and crash in a carpet of foam, a group of girls - they look German to me - appear on the beach, all carrying enormous backpacks. No sooner have they dumped their bags in a pile than they're touting their mobiles around, busily taking pictures of each other jumping up and down in front of the waves. None of them actually go into the water. Then all of a sudden they disappear. All this happens in a whirlwind speed of less than three minutes.
One and a half gannets