The next morning came way too early. We had a loooong day of hiking ahead of us, which meant waking up at 5:50am. We grabbed our gear and headed downstairs to repack everything (trying to be courteous hiking buddies unlike the Germans sharing our chamber). After some brief struggles with our sleeping bags (they are almost too fluffy to fit into our packs) we were out the door and heading south. Without the Separation Point detour, we made very good time and rolled up into Totaranui in around 2 hours 15, instead of the estimated 3. We at our breakfast at the Ranger Station there before continuing south. Time was very important on this day because we had two crossings that could only be made during low tide. The low tide mark for the day was 12:20pm, which gave us a window of around 10am to 3pm to get through both crossings.
The first of the two crossings was the tidal bay at Awaroa. About an hour-and-a-half after we left Totaranui, we found ourselves staring across a vast flood plain, covered mostly in ankle-deep water. Boots came off and watershoes went on and we started across. The footing was a wet sand/mud mix intermingled with hundreds of empty shells—pretty much what you’d expect to find at the bottom of a shallow bay. There was some animal life present in remaining tidal pools, mostly small crabs and the like. Very little bird life during the time we were there, but it was supposed to increase as the water came back in. About three-quarters of the way across the bay, the water got significantly deeper (above the knee) so we had to stop and roll-up our pants to keep them out of the water. Beth’s watershoes proved to be abject failures, as they were trapping sand and shells against her soles and making it very painful to walk. She had to stop multiple times in the deeper section to try and clean them out. Balancing on one leg in the middle of knee-high cold water with a 30+ pound pack on your back is not a fun activity. She might have been a little cranky.
But we made it across and dried/cleaned our feet in the grass on the other side. There was a DOC hut there where a lot of the people we had stayed with last night were stopping, but we were pushing on towards Bark Bay, another 4 something hours of hiking. As we came off the flats, we ran into Ursula and Dan going the other way. There was a hilarious (for me) misunderstanding when Ursula asked us how far it was to the campsite with the W. Now I thought she meant Whariwharangi, where we had started, but she really meant Waiharakeke. So I told her it was more than 3 hours away (which was how long it had taken us to get down) and the look on her face was a combination of incredulous disgust and resignation. However we cleared up the misunderstanding, which meant they really had less than an hour left of hiking. We exchanged email addresses and talked about trying to find a way to meet up on the North Island later in our trips.
We got slightly lost coming off the flats, but found the trail and headed up to Awaroa Lodge. This is where the fancy people came to stay, complete with ensuite bathrooms and a restaurant/bar. I wanted to buy two bottles of beer to drink on the beach after we finished our hike, but they refused to sell them to me with the caps on. So angry. We got briefly turned around again trying to find our way out of the Lodge complex, but were back on the trail soon enough. After that, it was just straight hiking. Up hills and down across beaches. Beth’s feet had predictably started to blister, so she wasn’t in the best of moods and we weren’t making the best of time. The second timed crossing was a tidal river down at Onetahuti. We made it there around 2 (with an hour or so to spare before the tide came in far enough to make crossing impossible) and it was a very quick crossing, followed by an incredibly long beach hike in the sun. At the other end, we retreated into the shade of a campground and had a late lunch. We were finally able to hike without worrying about an extra time table.
From there it was about two hours into Bark Bay. There was a low tide track we could have tried to take that would have cut around 10 minutes off the hike, but we weren’t sure if it was passable, so we opted to just push forward on the high tide track. We got the hut and selected our bunks. There were no single bunks here, but we snagged two places next to each other in the row of bunks. We walked down across the tidal flats to the beach and dipped our feet in the water. In the short amount of time we were down there, the tide continued to aggressively roll in and we had to walk much farther out around the flats to make it back to the hut. They had a shower off in the woods and we went out to have a bracingly cold wilderness shower. We sat and talked about the rest of our trip. The next day was supposed to be close to 8 hours of hiking followed by almost 6 hours of driving down to Franz Joseph. Even assuming we were on the trail by 5am (which would have meant 2 hours of hiking with headlamps), we wouldn’t arrive back in Marahau until 1pm and that was assuming that Beth’s feet held up. As an alternative, we called around to the different water taxi places in Marahau and found one that would pick us up from Bark Bay at 11:30am the next morning and have us back in Marahau by noon. Seemed like the best bet, so we booked our package.
Having that dealt with was a huge weight off our shoulders, so it was time to have dinner. Similar to the night before, but with tofu instead of mussels. Since we did not have an early wake-up the next morning, we stayed up later and then wandered down onto the tidal flats to look-up at the magnificent night sky. From the darkness of the park, you could see the Milky Way in all its glory stretching from beach to mountains. We tried to take some pictures, but without a tripod to aim at specific things, I don’t think they came out too well. And then bed.