Sheltered from the winds and cold fronts by the mountains that protrude from the top of the South Island, the Nelson region enjoys more hours of sunshine than any other part of the island. New Zealand.
And it's almost all sunshine as we explore Nelson's alleys and as we travel along Route 60, aimed at Takaka and then at the sharp northern edge of Te Wai Pounamu (Emerald Waters), so the Maori treat the lower half of the kiwi nation.
A few kilometers outside the suburban area, the scenery is already as bucolic as one would expect. Wide valleys follow, lined with an almost fluorescent green pasture and bordered by forested slopes full of furrows.
When the route approaches Tasman Bay, it reveals other of those furrows, inverted, that unroll down to the calm ocean. Two hours later, we arrived in Puponga.
Meeting the North Threshold of the South Island
To the east extends the Farewell Spit, a spit of sand that encloses Golden Bay and, by the way, New Zealand South Island. We leave 60 for Wharariki Road.
We started to wind in the opposite direction and heading north, between hills now covered by a low forest of trees manuka why, in which this dense undergrowth was sacrificed to the grass that also feeds the ovine army of the New Zealand.
We follow the brownish flow of the Wharariki Stream through meanders and whimsical horseshoes. On one side and the other, the herds graze balanced on slopes cut by fences from which, at intervals, there are mini-groves of dracena palms and some of these cabbage trees lonely.
By that time, Wharariki Road had lined up with the northern coast. A café and a car park announce the detour to the homonymous beach.
The Way to the Vast Tasman Sea
We continue on foot, guided by the creek, until the trail opens onto a stronghold of white dunes and reveals a beach as far as the eye can see.
We climb the dunes. In a flash, the breeze that once flowed lightly between the hills turns into a raging gale. We see the dry sand flying at great speed and covering the sand compacted by the low tide in a grainy mist.
The Sea Retreat granted temporary access to such a trio of Archway Islands. We advanced towards it but we could barely control our steps. We felt our faces lashed by the stray sand and by the spray of the waves that spread, violent, and twisted to the east by the mad ones westerlies.
We surrender to the aggressiveness of the atmosphere. We only peeked an intriguing nook or two among the great Archway boulders, after which we retreated to the shelter where the car had been.
Lost in lonely antipodes, the New Zealand it has always been subject to the harshness of the (little) Pacific ocean and agents in general. When they glimpsed it and began to explore, European navigators went through successive afflictions.
As it had already happened on the southern edge of Africa, they skirted the peninsulas, the capes, all the adversities until they brought their discoverers and colonizers to good port.
Abel Tasman, the Dutchman who got ahead of the competition, did it exactly where we were going. Tasman left Batavia (now Jakarta) in 1642. He passed through the island Mauritius and discovered the Tasmania. He proceeded east.
A Troubled Encounter
He saw the coast of the South Island, which he will have followed until confronting the imposing Southern Alps and returned to “ascend” to the latitude of Cape Farewell, to the north. Rounded it and to the top of the South Island.
On the east side, he found the calm sea of the Golden Bay. There he detected a series of bonfires and smoke indicating the presence of indigenous people from the Maori Ngati Tumatakokiri tribe.
When the sun rose again, Tasman sent support boats in search of a better anchorage and a place to get water. It re-anchored in an inlet now called Wainui Inlet, at the southern end of Golden Bay.
In this process, the Maori followed the movements of the newcomers and sought to ascertain the extent to which they represented a threat.
Finally, they sent one of their canoes to meet the outsiders. In his logbook, Tasman recounts what happened then: “a warrior blew an instrument several times and we sent our sailors back to play music for them”. You Maori they would not, however, be disposed to a musical duel.
The sounds they emitted to the Dutch would have the purpose of driving them away. The indigenous people would believe that those white beings would be patupaiarehe, mythological ghosts that would lead women and children to them.
The Mythological Version for the Confrontation
Other interpretations argue that Tasman anchored precisely in the cove where the cave of a taniwha Maori, an imaginary reptilian monster that the tribe feared the whites would awaken. Given these anxieties, the response of Tasman and his men turned out to be inappropriate.
More Maori joined the first. Reinforced, they finally challenged the foreigners. Afraid of losing control of the situation, Tasman ordered a pre-emptive cannon fire.
The rumbling startled and drove the Maori to land. The next day, the Maori returned in force and confronted the Dutch, probably with an intense haka. Tasman will have interpreted that it was a reception ceremony.
After the Maori returned to land, he ordered the sailors to bring the ships closer to the coast. But before they did, a Maori canoe forced a collision with a Dutch dinghy. A native warrior struck one of the crew in the neck with a long spear and sent him overboard.
Four other sailors were killed, the body of one dragged into one of the waka canoes. The sailors responded with musket fire and other weapons.
Finally, convinced that he was not welcome there, Tasman ordered the retreat. Disillusioned, he named the place the Bay of Assassins and noted that “the meeting should teach them to consider the inhabitants of those lands enemies”.
The Competing Legacies of Tasman and the Maori
Tasman continued east. It anchored in the current Tonga archipelago. The Maori only saw other Westerners more than a hundred years later, between 1769 and 1770, in this case, the unavoidable Captain Cook and his men aboard the HM Bark Endeavor. Unlike the Dutch, the British would come back to stay.
As a pioneer, Tasman maintained the honor of several baptisms in the area: the Tasman Sea. Tasman Bay, just below the Wainui Inlet where the confrontation with the Maori took place.
Also the stunning Abel Tasman National Park which we soon set out to explore. We return to Route 60 and the imminence of Golden Bay. We skirt the broad Ruataniwha Inlet, cross the Aorere River, always through a patchwork of alluvial and rural patches of various shades of green. We passed through Parapara, Onekaka and Puramahoi.
The succession of settlements with Maori names attests to the historical predominance of the indigenous people and the respect that, in more recent times, the post-colonial authorities of the New Zealand they won to their owners.
We arrived in Takaka in time to settle in and take a walk as short as the village, perhaps a little bigger than Coriscada, the village in the district of Guarda, its antipode.
The next morning, breakfast dispatched very early, we go to PN Abel Tasman. We drive to Kaiteriteri. There we take a boat from the park that reveals the vagaries of the coast to the jagged cove of Anchorage, under the suspicious gaze of countless cormorants.
Cove after Cove, PN Abel Tasman into
From there, we take the trail that winds through that coastal domain, attentive to the retraction and advance of the sea in its successive contours. The coast of PN Abel Tasman has the most pronounced tides in the whole New Zealand. So that hikers do not end up trapped, they are required to pay extra attention. Some of the sands are golden like we didn't think was possible.
They give full credit to the christening of the Golden Bay above, the one that Tasman was forced to retreat. The sea that caresses them has an emerald green hue that seems to make the sand even more golden. Inland, the ups and downs of the trail reveal incredible colonies of arboreal ferns, several, with crowns high above our heads.
Suspension bridges cross deep gorges, some of them streams of inlets that the high tide fills in at a glance. Here and there, we went back down from the forest to sea level. We pass by lagoons and natural pools that entice us to go back to diving.
This is the case of Frenchman Bay, a comma-shaped inlet surrounded by leafy vegetation that alternates between the white of the drained sandy bed and a soft emerald green that, little by little, the entrance of more dense water. Six hours and 20 km later, we enter Awaroa Bay. We return to the boat that brings us back to Kaiteriteri and to the car. We recover energy.
The Mythological Springs of Te Waikoropupu
With some time to spare, intrigued as to what made the Te Waikoropupu springs so famous, we traveled to their enigmatic freshwater realm. As happened along the PN Abel Tasman, we find ourselves again surrounded by dense forest.
When we reached the end of the new trail, we climbed onto a wooden balcony. The view around us surprises us again. Eight subterranean fountains kept overflowing an enormous blue lagoon delimited by the very green base of the grove.
Its flow was so translucent that, like an aquarium, it allowed us to appreciate the smallest rocky, sandy or vegetable details of the bed.
Visibility measurements carried out determined that it reached 63 meters, just behind another subglacial lagoon in Antarctica.
Some wild ducks there swam and splashed about, we wanted to believe that with doubled pleasure.
As happens in the Wainui Inlet cave where Abel Tasman landed at a bad time, according to the Maoris, this crystalline lake is also frequented by a taniwha.
Huriawa is, in fact, one of the top three taniwhas of Aotearoa (the Maori term for the New Zealand), a diver from the depths of the Earth and the sea, who makes her way of life unlock channels from the deep.
The natives believe that it is in the sacred waters of Te Waikoropupu that it rests from its frenetic activity.
With the day about to end, we decided to be inspired by mythology. We sat on one of the balconies and listened to the muffled bubbling of the springs, the chirping of birdsong and the hissing of the breeze in the vegetation. Abel Tasman unveiled these Maori stops to Westerners nearly four centuries ago. After all this time, Aotearoa welcomes and rewards outsiders as Tasman never dreamed possible.