Totaranui Beach from the Headland Track, looking South to the string of beaches, ending in Awaroa.The Abel Tasman National Park is a large block of native forest in Golden Bay. It is best known for the string of golden sand beaches on its Eastern edge, stretching about 65 km in a line from Marahau in the South to Separation Point in the North. A track follows this coastline, winding along the beaches and over headlands between them, providing a 4 day walk of exquisite beauty. There are huts and campsites spaced along the track, and a winding, single lane dirt road leads to Totaranui, a beautiful beach about 10km from the Northern boundary of the park. Totaranui has a large Department of Conservation campsite.
Clemency's family arrived in New Zealand from England in 1962 and in 1963 went to Totaranui for the first time, when the national park was only 15 years old and the programme of reforestation from farmland had only just begun. They returned annually and spent about a month there, camping, like everyone else, on the beach in old canvas 9 x 9 tents.
Totaranui was a place of growth and safety for Clemency. As a newcomer to this country it became for her a spiritual and emotional home. I met her at the end of 1972. In early 1974 I went there for the first time, to the delight of most of Clemency's family and to the disappointment of one or two of the other young, hopeful male campers. I too was captivated and charmed and smitten with this sublimely beautiful corner of Aotearoa. We returned annually, and after our children arrived, took them to this place so dear to us. When we moved to Hamilton in 1985 the trip South became too problematic, so we found other remote and beautiful spots: in the Ureweras, on the Coromandel Peninsula, in Northland and on the East Cape, but nothing could compare to Totaranui. Nothing had that perfect mix of golden sand, forest, warm weather and solitude.
We came back to the South Island in 1998 and eagerly returned in the first summer holiday, but were devastated by what we found. Our beloved Totaranui had been discovered, and during January was packed to overflowing with caravans and camping trailers. There were speedboats. There was a waterski lane. There were stereos playing loudly and the burbling throb of generators. There were jetskis. F*&%$ing JETSKIS! in Totaranui! It was like discovering a hot dog stand in the Sistine Chapel. We quickly left, and never returned to camp there, although on 3 or 4 occasions we took packs and a tent and walked the track. We stayed a day or two in the trampers' area of Totaranui, but never longer. It was just too depressing.
Then last year my brother Alistair told me he had gone there in mid March and it had been just like the old days. The weather was warm, the sea clear, and the campground sparsely populated. We decided to return this year.
The weather was warm. I swam every day and we walked all the day hikes. In all the time we were there I never once heard an outboard motor. There were perhaps 50 occupied campsites in a space designed to accommodate 800, but there was a steady stream of young people on the track, speaking a variety of languages and carrying packs. We went to bed and rose again with the sun, fought the sandflies and watched the birds. We were home. It was wonderful.