Extending around the coast from Marahau to Golden Bay at the northwestern tip of the South Island, the route passes many glorious beaches, crosses frequent streams and winds over headlands through luxurious bush. Along the way you'll see a great variety of birds, seals and dolphins. The waters are an incredible turquoise and the sand is golden. You have to pinch yourself to make sure you're looking at reality and not a screen that’s been Photoshopped.
It would have been about 25 years ago when I first walked this track. I remember it was spring and I had been working a gig at the Nelson A&P Show. In those days I did a lot of cooking for the Deer Farmers’ Association.
Farm-raised venison is a wonderful meat but as it’s so lean it does require a few skills to get right – namely not overcooking it. Three long, hot days of cooking hundreds of kilos of venison over a gas barbecue and spreading the word of the virtues of farm-raised venison, and I was done – well and truly cooked.
I knew I just needed to go bush. One of the punters at the show was touting the amazing beauty of the Abel Tasman and how beautiful the track was, and that was all it took. I grabbed a paella pan (yes, a really heavy Danish cast iron one), my cooking knife, some rice and a bag of seasonings and headed over to Golden Bay in my rental.
I spent the first night at the old Telegraph Hotel and managed to persuade the girl at the front desk to lend me a sleeping bag and a rucksack (we're talking 25 years ago and Takaka was even more of a hippy escape then than it is now so it was an easy ask!)
Into the rucksack went a warm jumper, my toothbrush and toothpaste, some insect repellent, a box of matches, a torch, a few bits of fruit, my bag of rice and the spices and seasonings I had packed in a little plastic bag. On the outside, the deadweight of the paella pan. I’d been told there were huts along the way that you could sleep in, so off I headed, leaving the car at the start of the track.
Back then the track at the Takaka end was not that appealing – a thin clay path through prickly gorse. But the views were amazing, and as I came around the top of the headland the most stunning beaches and coves appeared. There were mussels and sea lettuce aplenty and it was easy enough to put together a kind of rough, tasty paella to eat for each of the two nights I camped.
It’s not very often in life that you get the chance to step off and take some time out on your own, to be at one with nature, but in New Zealand we have to be luckier than almost anywhere else. We have no creepy crawlies or snakes, and so many amazing parks like this one make for easy access to wilderness experiences.
I probably wouldn’t do it on my own these days, but back then it was the most wonderfully freeing experience, and just gob-smackingly beautiful. After three days and two nights I was me again.
Heading back there with Bucky to go crab fishing and cook paella for the third episode of my television series Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures brought back all those wonderful memories, and in the recall of the simplicity and beauty of that trip all those years ago (albeit with the world’s heaviest pan to lug around), a real sense of peace and ease with the world.
These days thousands of people either walk or kayak through this remarkable coastline each year, but back then it was incredibly peaceful and so easy to forage for my dinner. Just imagine if I’d had a crab pot back then – I may never have left!
To see behind-the-scenes photos, recipes, video clips and the menu from this episode see the TV pages of my website.