A small pot of porridge and no hope – An Abel Tasman experience

So, today I would like to talk a bit about some interesting things I experienced while hiking the Abel Tasman Track.

A friend of mine, who was mentally confused enough to want to travel with me during my last two months in New Zealand, decided it was also a good idea to complete the track with me. I felt quite bad as I hadn’t done any of the Great Walks in New Zealand, so I agreed to join them. The autumn had already started so we didn’t have much trouble finding some space in the huts, which normally one would have to book well in advance.

At this point, I would like to recommend to anyone keen on walking this trail at some point in their life to do it during autumn. Well… this still depends on the weather but in my case, it was the same as it was in summer – fucking unpredictable, but despite one day of heavy rain, we had absolutely stunning weather. Another big advantage is the loneliness (every person who walked the Tongariro Crossing or Mount Ngauruhoe knows what I mean). Normally everything is just so crowded, it’s like they have free beer at the end of the track or cocaine or something, – it’s just madness. When I’m going to spend some time in nature I definitely don’t like the feeling of queuing up – I want peace; a rest from being surrounded by humans, and all these things are possible when you choose the right season. I have no idea what the Able Tasman National Park is like during spring, but I really recommend autumn. Still not convinced? Well, these words will: Less fucking sandflies.

IMG_6824.jpgSo we did all this online booking stuff (which felt really weird because normally I don’t have to go online when I want to go outside), prepared ourselves and did our planning and organisation. At this point I have a little more advice; do your homework! If you are well prepared it’s a wonderful and relaxing experience, but I have heard many stories from people who just started their track without any proper information and trust me – it IS useful to know when it is high or low tide, or how to light a fire, and what it means to live without electricity and the Internet for more than ten minutes. Even if we don’t know each other – and I don’t want to sound like your mother (I could make excuses if your mother has a manly, deep voice, long flowing hair and a love of metal) – but people have done some stupid things in the past… and you don’t want to end up as a Kiwi tourist story (unless you want to amuse a Kiwi pub filled with drunken bogans at your own peril).

IMG_6759.jpgI was very excited because I’ve never done something comparable to the track before and so this adventurous vibe was floating in the air… a bit like when someone is about to peel a mandarin orange and the whole room suddenly smells like Christmas (Hey guys, Tom here. Would just like to point out that the last comment is possibly the most German thing I’ve read all day, and I’m in Germany. Back to Axel now…).

The first thing which surprised me was just how much stuff I was carrying in my backpack, because when you are wandering around for five days straight you only take the things that you really need, so I put all of my unnecessary stuff in a bag to store it in a hostel near the park entrance and had to laugh because the whole thing was bigger and wider than my backpack. At this point, I felt like a magician because I simply couldn’t understand how I was able to store all that shit in my backpack. Maybe it’s just because at some point during your travels you don’t realise anymore what exactly you own and carry. Maybe a backpack is a magical space where the laws of physics, time and space don’t exist; we just don’t know yet (I thoroughly believe that the people in charge of research in this field are spending all of their money on plane tickets instead). I just heard a tiny, gleeful voice inside my head (though no need to worry about my mental health here) that whispered: “at some point, you have to put aaaaall this stuff back in your backpack – have fun!” Since I’m pretty experienced in repression, I ignored that and carried on.

After the last pair of underwear and pair of socks were safely buried in my backpack, we made our way to the water taxi since we planned to do the track in reverse. If I haven’t annoyed you enough with my misguided advice yet, here is my next attempt: Do the track backwards. Why? Well… you start with the hardest part (in my opinion) and when you are not a tent person, you will also start with the “worst” hut. What I liked about this is that everything gets easier and better with every step you make, which can be helpful for your much-needed motivation. Another good reason is that you don’t have any time pressure. As long as you reach the next cabin during daylight (if you are the lucky owner of a torch not even that gives you a limit) everything is fine AND there is no added stress because you have to be aware of catching your water taxi in time to get back to Marahau as you finish your trip there at the park entrance instead. The best point though, is the people you meet on your way at the end, because everyone just started their walk and is still fresh, motivated and cheerful. Compared to that you, who feel like a Vietnam veteran who smells, is dying of starvation, and is aware that their travel companion is planning to eat you as you have no more stories left to distract them from the hunger, and you can look these greenhorns right in their eyes and think “I already survived for five days out there… will you?”

IMG_1552 - Version 2.jpgAnother important factor is food. First of all, you are very limited because you walk all day and you have to carry everything. That was also a new experience for me because when I’m hungry I grab something to eat, but that doesn’t work unless you wish to end up spending the last two days in the wilderness in a wild and hungry state. I found it interesting to subdivide portions into what I was allowed to eat each day. I also learned, depressingly, that I’m very tall and my bodyfat percentage is comparable with a tree, so I’m running out of energy very quickly when I’m not eating enough.

Since I walked and carried a lot I realised something; besides the stunning nature around me and the marvelous company of my friend I had to admit that my daily highlight was based on two things:

  1. the small pot of porridge I shared with my travelmate for breakfast
  2. the warm can of ravioli for dinner

This may sound really stupid but this was the most wonderful thing I could possibly imagine for five days of my life. Therefore I was also able to understand my grandfather a bit better who always used to finish off his plates as clean as possible (this behavior was a leftover from his time as a captive in a Russian prisoner-of-war camp). In that short amount of time, I learned to appreciate food a lot more, especially when you know you won’t, and can’t, get more. This is a good experience in my opinion and I’m thankful for it, since not everything is self-evident. I don’t remember if this happened during our 3rd or 4th day but at some point I remembered that I still had a package of brown rice with me and because the both of us were still hungry after our single can of ravioli we decided to cook some – which wasn’t a good idea because, as some of you might know, brown rice is a bit special as it takes even more time to cook than “normal” rice. After a while of hungry waiting we realised that the whole thing would take too long, and that we might run out of gas, and no gas meant no porridge and no warm ravioli, and since a warm meal for dinner was a huge motivation to continue our walk, we thought twice about wasting our gas cartridge on a depressing and mediocre hipster bowl of brown rice. The thing we tried afterwards was to cook the rice on the top of our oven in the cabin, however, the heat was simply not enough. So after a while sitting in the dark, hungry and in silence, we agreed that we were desperate enough to eat the half cooked rice. This is something I would only recommend when you are really hungry because the taste was something I don’t want to talk about. The same goes for the texture.

Another thing which changes your sense of daily behavior is the absence of electric gadgets, 24/7 entertainment/communication and electricity in general. Sounds obvious right? Well for me it was an interesting observation compared to the normal routine I practice every day. First of all, you go to bed very early… like… really early. Normally I have no problem staying up until 10 or 11 pm every night and since Abel Tasman I know why; we are permanently surrounded by an enormous impact of information, input and communication; scrolling through the internet, messaging all the time, checking news and occupying our minds with senseless cat videos has become as natural as breathing for us. Without internet and electricity, all these things get wiped off your timetable of life and you feel really embarrassed because you realise how strong your behavior relies on them. The normal Abel Tasman evening started with cooking dinner before the daylight disappeared, otherwise you have to cook with a candle (yes I’m aware of this unique chance for a candlelight dinner joke, but I won’t indulge in that sort of behavior). Basically, the candle was the only source of light we had, besides of the dim gloom from the oven. At this point, I was slightly surprised since we were the only people who brought a candle with us (another point for your checklist – be the enlightened owner of a candle!). By the way, if you want a cheap moment of power flowing through your evil heart – be the only one with a candle, because when you decide to go to bed everyone remains in darkness and horror (basically people remain more in darkness than horror – bed sheet ghosts might change the tables, but I haven’t tried that yet). After having the highlight-of-the-day-meal we normally warmed up a bit more near the oven beside each other and enjoyed the warmth which slowly crawled up our feet, legs, and back until it was too dark to see more than the dancing black shadows around you. So we had our little power of evil moment while blowing out the candle and tried to get comfy in our ice cold sleeping bags (that’s the night’s friendly reminder of the upcoming autumn). This was around 7 pm, so as you can see, normally I would’ve stayed up for three or four more hours.

IMG_6711.jpgIn reverse you wake up when the first sun rays are spreading themselves through the landscape and start to illuminate the world once more. To put it simply, it felt great! Honestly, we are all getting up early for university (I’m aware of the fact that this might be a bad example) or our jobs even when the sun hasn’t risen, or we go to sleep hours and hours after sunset. With this captured as “normal” in our society, it felt so good living inside this natural daily cycle (have I ever mentioned that I might have been a damn good hippie in another life?), simply based on sunrise and sunset. I was never a big fan of sleeping in late because, in my opinion, it feels like you steal lifetime from yourself (if this philosophy doesn’t make any sense to you at all it’s fine – I won’t judge) you could use way better. So this experience was kind of precious to me because it made me question which things are really valuable in our lives… and which things just pretend to.

– Axel @ indieroad

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