A day alone at Awaroa beach before it passes into public ownership
On Awaroa beach there is quiet. There is no chatter, no birdsong.
The bellowing wind overrides the thrusts of the tide on the remote sandspit. It drives through the forested arms encircling the bay, folding whitened tufts of sea-grass into the even whiter beach, numbing my lips and toes.
As the skipper Darren lets me, his last passenger, off he warns a gale might pick up. "Though it's colder, winter's the best time to visit the park," he says. "You pretty much get it all to yourself."
Dreary and desolate, the Abel Tasman inlet is a far cry from when I last visited in February. New Zealand had just purchased the beach after an energetic fundraising campaign and the mood was celebratory. Nearly 40,000 of us donated. We made the Christmas Day musings of Cantabrians Duane Major and Adam Gard'ner into something people North to South could be proud of.
An eager young reporter, I hitched a boat ride with a T.V crew out here the day Awaroa became public property.
I had never been to the Abel Tasman before.
Quad bikes towed trailers full of champagne on ice down to thirsty tourists on the balmy shore.
They stripped off and dashed into the surf, splashing and joking about taking their "share" of the beach home in their pockets.
I dug my feet under the sand's shelly surface to save them from sandflies and thought about when I would have those sun-drenched waters to myself.
I was elated by the enthusiasm around me but felt a tad guilty reaping the beach's benefits.
Sure, I had thrown a few dollars towards its purchase but I didn't share the deep connection many have with the area.
I wasn't Darryl Wilson, to whom Awaroa is an "ancestral home", a place his family have lived and worked since it was farmland in the 1800s.
Nor was I like Darren, a sixth-generation local, who grew up in the Abel Tasman and learned its secret spots from the rest of the Bisley clan.
I was simply an interloper lucky to have my moment with what was now collectively ours.
The morning of my departure I snapped a picture overlooking Awaroa from the verandah of the Meadowbank Homestead.
To my surprise it's been published online and in print countless times since.
I think for those who hadn't visited themselves, it showed off Awaroa as a collection of Kiwiana – a fringe of Pohutukawa, a boat, a beach.
It made the faraway cape recognisable, a little closer, but today the mood is distant.
High tide is rapidly filling an estuary sandwiched by the shoreline and the hills, erasing rust-coloured rings of coral washed up on its edges.
The beach we bought is being eaten away by water warmer than air temperature.
The few people here are preparing for when the half-mile stretch of sand will officially become part of the Abel Tasman National Park.
Three catamarans for hire bob calmly in the growing tidal pool. Their owners say they usually just visit in summer but they're expecting a bit of business this weekend.
A man wrapped in a thick fisherman's jacket listens to the radio alone atop a giant barge and waits for the current to float it.
It's filled with garbage: cardboard bales, an old bathtub and frosted windows with paint peeling from their frames are all to be towed away.
"Gotta get it cleaned up for tomorrow," the boatman says.
Many of those who gave to buy Awaroa are unlikely to ever visit it, especially in winter.
During the summer crowdfunding campaign New Zealanders were buoyed by a sense of possibility.
To buy a beach for the country seemed whimsical at first but we wanted to secure for anyone what everyone here grew up with.
There's always a beach for us and this one's ours forever.
- Sunday Star Times