Spring awakening in nature

JOHN CORBETT
Last updated 05:00 20/10/2013
Peppers Awaroa Lodge

REMOTE RETREAT: Peppers Awaroa Lodge in Abel Tasman National Park.

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The Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle is a multifunctional beast. As well as ferrying hikers to and from the national park, it stops for passengers to take photos of seal colonies and Ice Age rocks, and skirts around little blue penguins doing their aquatic thing.

This morning, the shuttle is also carrying a load of supplies: crates of milk, cartons of free-range eggs, chilly bins of meat and seafood, and sacks of rice. All are destined for Peppers Awaroa Lodge, in the northern section of the Abel Tasman National Park at the top of the South Island.

The lodge can only be reached by water, by air, and on foot from the Abel Tasman Coastal Track.

Ninety minutes up the coast from Kaiteriteri, the sea shuttle turns towards a beach, where lodge staff are waiting to collect the supplies.

Minutes later everything is packed into covered trailers towed by Yamaha Rhino 660 offroad vehicles and we power up a boardwalk and along an unsealed track into the forest.

Heavy supplies such as vehicles, equipment, diesel and LPG for the lodge's generators are brought in over the ranges from Golden Bay on a road which is rough and unsealed for the last 12 kilometres, and ends several kilometres from the lodge. From there, supplies are transported by barge, then unloaded on to the Rhinos.

At 22,530 hectares, Abel Tasman National Park is the smallest of the nation's national parks, but one of the loveliest.

Opened in 1942 on the 300th anniversary of the visit of Abel Tasman, the first European explorer to reach New Zealand, the park is renowned for its coastal walking track and the hundreds of sheltered coves and beaches that make it a summer paradise for swimming, sea kayaking and sailing.

It's two days before the lodge opens for the summer season, after its annual closure from late April to late September.

In the past week, general manager Suzanne Wells has thoroughly inspected the site, including the private walking trails that lead off from the property.

Meanwhile, newly appointed executive chef Jon Monaghan has been busy writing menus, checking supplies, and testing the kitchen's seven ovens.

Trained at the Ritz London and the Ritz Paris, the New Zealand-born chef has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants and cooked for luxury overland safaris in southern Africa.

Ben, the twentysomething food and beverage manager, has the job of ensuring that the lodge's expansive lounge areas - currently a forest of stacked tables, chairs, sofas and other furniture - are spick-and-span.

He is busy cleaning all the windows in the main restaurant and conservatory, and spring-cleaning and setting up the lobby lounges and their adjacent verandas and courtyard.

Rene is the lodge's master-of-all-trades, maintaining the generators and much else around the property. Assisting him is Adam, the young porter and gardener.

Today, Rene and Adam are waterblasting and tidying the walking paths near the lodge, while Suzanne prepares rooms for the first guests.

Next week a commis chef will arrive to help Jon in the kitchen and a sous chef also starts shortly. At the peak of the holiday season, the lodge will employ up to 20 casual staff, but for now the task of readying the large property for business falls to four people.

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It's opening day, and a family of four arrives for lunch in the spruced-up courtyard. A trio of young women with backpacks materialises next and then a group of South Americans who thought Abba Lodge, the lodge's backpacker accommodation tucked away down a trail, might be open. Next week. They'll stay in a DOC hut tonight.

Suzanne is running on adrenalin. The staff correctly calculated the tide times for the barge crossings last night, but the supplies were far heavier than expected and the barge had to wait until full tide to return. She got to bed at 3am and was up again at 6am.

A stay in a remote wilderness setting like this one makes you realise just how much work goes on behind the scenes so that guests can savour their time out. There is no cellphone coverage, no newspapers and no TV (although there is wi-fi).

The surprising thing is that after the first day, you don't miss any of it. All the techno-clutter and chatter attached to your life falls away. You slow down, feel calmer, and pay attention to things that really matter.

Fact file Air New Zealand Link flies to Nelson from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Palmerston North several times daily, airnewzealand.co.nz

Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle operates four daily water taxi and scenic cruise services to Abel Tasman National Park from Nelson and Kaiteriteri, abeltasmanseashuttles.co.nz

Peppers Awaroa Lodge, peppers.co.nz

John Corbett travelled with the assistance of Peppers Retreats, Resorts and Hotels.

- Sunday Star Times

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