Hiking the Abel Tasman: Tips for Amateurs
This blog is a wee bit special. My colleague in nutrition Sara Lake and I had similar footwear-related misfortunes befall us on our Abel Tasman adventures, so after commiserating and kicking around some ideas, we decided to collaborate on a "tips for noobs" post, as we both wanted to share our experiences in the hope that others might avoid some of our mistakes! Of course both being nutritionists, there is also a lot about food in here, but also some really great tips on footwear selection (our shared pain), packing light and personal hygiene.
If I’m being completely honest, as excited as I was about tramping the spectacular Abel Tasman coast track, I was especially enamoured with the subject of tramping food! I had already begun collecting blog articles about dehydrating food from various websites and putting together a loose menu plan for the trip. A year before I bought a dehydrator on special from a local appliance store (a Sunbeam Food Lab DT6000) and had already dried a whole season’s worth of apple slices and some home-grown nectarines. But the idea of preparing an entire dehydrated meal was some next-level stuff for me. Fortunately, my interwebs browsing had given me a place to start experimenting. Did you know you can dehydrate pasta sauce? Me neither.
First up, breakfast
I do love porridge, so this was a fairly easy decision for me. Porridge is so versatile, you can flavour it so many ways, and I dehydrated a range of fruits to have a bit of fun with flavours. Cherries were easy to do, bananas were surprisingly delicious, but the blueberries, well, that’s a “no” from me unless I can figure out a less labour-intensive way of drying out their insides. I already had loads of dried apple slices from last year’s efforts, and dates are also nice in porridge for a caramelly sweetness. You can read my other blogpost about drying fruit (and other stuff) for instructions.
I also chose two breakfast recipes from Paul Garland’s excellent book “New Zealand Backcountry Cooking” - Kiwi Mountain Muesli and Power Porridge - which were both quite delicious and involved minimal preparation in the morning. One of the ingredients required for the Muesli was no longer available (the Healtheries LSA Super Fruits) but I used standard LSA and a couple of sachets of Viberi blackcurrant powder instead. I did find the generous portions of both the porridge and muesli a bit on the large size for me, so it definitely pays to work out the correct serving size for you at home before the tramp, and maybe increase a little to account for the extra exercise you’ll be fuelling.
If you weren’t a big eater, then those flavoured instant porridge sachets you can buy could be an option for you, but I like a pretty filling breakfast.
Snacks and lunches
I have put these under the same heading for a reason. In Sara’s previous blogs on her Abel Tasman experience (you can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here), she found that a range of no-cook options worked best for lunches. It’s fine unpacking all your cooking equipment at the hut ready for dinner and leaving it out for breakfast the next day before packing up again, but going to the effort of unpacking, cooking, washing and packing up while on the trail was also a bridge too far for me. So we packed some wholemeal Salada crackers, Babybel cheeses, a stick of salami, a small jar of pesto (goes quite runny so double-bag it), and made sure we had a large plastic plate, a sharp knife and some wet-wipes at the top of a pack. Pulling up at the beach at Tonga Quarry and whipping up some delicious crackers was as easy as pie. Our son assumed the role of “water boy” for the trip, and would take my Grayl Geopress bottle and systematically refill everyone’s water bottles whenever we stopped near a tap (I go into water in a bit more detail later). I also made a batch of muesli bars (another Paul Garland recipe), and a big bag of scroggin with lots of different nuts and some M&M’s that we decanted into small press-seal bags every morning for each of us. We certainly never went hungry!
Something I did find super-handy was buying a little pouch from an Army surplus online store that I fixed to the waist belt of my pack. In this I put my scroggin and a muesli bar, along with my phone (for photos), a lip balm and my sunnies. No need to take your pack off to grab your snacks! My daughter went full fanny-pack and bought a very cool item from Mountain Warehouse into which she fitted all the above as well as insect repellent, sunscreen and a small water bottle! Very “Camp Mum”.
Dinner and Dessert
I love a hearty one-pan pasta meal – only one pot to clean up - and that seemed a great place to start. But the standard option takes way too long to cook, and conserving gas (so you don’t have to carry any more of those iso-butane cannisters than you need) is key. I also wanted it to contain beef mince to tick the protein box, but how to achieve that in a home dehydrator?
I found a couple of recipes for a savoury dehydrated mince on the Wilderness Magazine website (I thoroughly recommend subscribing to this awesome magazine):
…and went about creating a recipe that suited my tastes and needs. Once it is dried, the mince rattles, which is a strange sound for mince to make, but it rehydrates in the pasta meal beautifully. I also needed to dehydrate some pasta sauce, and decided to take the advice of one article I had read to use a couple of jars of commercial pasta sauce. I could have made my own (and likely will once this season’s tomatoes are plentiful), but I was on a dehydrating timeline. As for the pasta, I used “angel hair” pasta which cooks in 3-4 minutes, so it was perfect for this dish. You could also use small quick-cook pasta spirals if preferred. You can read more about my dehydrating adventures, and check out the recipe for my One-Pot Pasta meal.
That took care of one dinner, what’s next?
I found another site that talked about cooking rice then dehydrating it. Weird, huh? Sounds like cooking rice then “un-cooking it”, but it makes sense when you think about it. Rice takes around 12 minutes to cook, and I didn’t want to do this separately in camp before making my Bacon and Veggie fried rice dish. Cooking and dehydrating the rice first saves time and cooking gas. I was keen to pack this dish with some veggies too, so dehydrated some corn, peas, diced carrot and diced red capsicum, packing this separately from the rice. The final touch for us was a small pack of bacon, but I elected to cook this in a separate little frypan and it made quite a tricky clean up after, so I think next time I would chop the bacon up, and fry it in a little oil in the big pot first to prevent sticking, and set it to one side while I took care of the rice and veggies in the same pot. You can find my recipe for Bacon and Veggie Fried Rice here.
For another dinner I chose another recipe out of Paul Garland’s “New Zealand Backcountry Cooking”, his Beef and Vegetable Broth. I didn’t pack the dried onions the recipe called for, but I used my savoury mince which had onion in it already. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to eat this meal, as we had to leave our tramp early – see the section on tramping footwear for details… But I can thoroughly recommend heading to Paul’s website “Campfire Creations” and ordering this book. There are so many delicious options for breakfasts, snacks, lunches and dinners, and even desserts!
Speaking of desserts, we had Paul’s Steamed Ginger Pudding one evening, and a family we had spent time with at the previous two huts had quite a laugh as we steamed a pudding and then proceeded to dish out chunks of it from the oven bag! Paul kindly shared this recipe in an interview with Radio New Zealand back in 2015. I admit to tweaking his recipe a little and putting twice the powdered ginger in as I do love ginger…We just served the pudding with some milk made with double the normal amount of milk powder, but the two sauce options he provides do sound gorgeously decadent!
My husband bought me a very flash water filter bottle for Christmas a couple of years ago, and it’s the bees’ knees. It’s a Grayl Geopress. This bottle did double-duty during the trip (it was my drinking bottle as well as our water treatment equipment), but we also had a Sawyer mini filtration unit with us too. The Grayl bottle is a bit heavy at 450 grams, and probably overkill for a Great Walk, but it certainly gives you total peace of mind. If you were keen to keep pack weights as light as possible (more about that from Sara soon) the Sawyer unit at 60 grams, plus a lightweight water bottle to decant into, would be a great option.
Right, enough about filling our bellies, let's get some tips from Sara about footwear, packing and personal hygiene!
Shoes and Sandals
Talk to any lightly experienced tramper and you’re bound to get a shoe story. Further, at any hut, there’s bound to be someone applying the blister packs and walking gingerly. Shoes matter, a lot.
The thing with walking shoes and boots is, fitting well at one hour may become murderously tight at four hours when your feet start to swell. It’s important to trial your intended footware over a few hours, preferably with a pack or weighted vest on to replicate the longer tramp conditions.
Chatting with fellow trampers, a few key tips settled in:
Trial and error. There’s no one brand that is best for everyone.
Find a shoe store that can assess and fit your shoe. Some even have fake rocks to try walking on! This sets you up for success.
A common tactic was to size up a half or whole size.This can make the heel too loose, causing rubbing and blisters, however this can be overcome with inserts.
There are brands now that have a wider toe box, excellent if you’re prone to forefoot blisters. Search ‘wide toe box’ and enter the rabbit hole of ergonomic footwear. You can thank us later.
Don’t assume you need "tramping shoes”. For the Abel Tasman Coast Track particularly, good cross-trainers will be fine if the weather is decent. You’ll have to remove them for tidal crossings, but that’s a small price for comfort.
Good shoes don’t need much, if any, ‘wearing in’.
Take action immediately if you’ve got ‘hot spots’. Blister pack that spot at the first opportunity.
Socks matter too. Wearing a ‘liner sock’ under your tramping socks can act as whole foot blister protection.
On the Abel Tasman Coast Track, it’s worth packing a pair of waterproof walking sandals as your second shoes. These can be worn during the low-tide crossings to protect feet from sharp shells, washed for hut shoes, and are there as your backup if you do have shoe problems. Both Tania and I ended up "socks-and-sandalling" it during the latter half of our tramps! Sexy.
Prior to my trip, the pack was my main obsession. Having never done a ‘carry your own stuff’ tramp before, I was apprehensive. A veteran of back and shoulder injuries, I knew that flaring either of these would wreck my trip.
A week before the trip, I took my intended pack for a quick hike with a 10kg weight plate in it. The result was neck and shoulder pain, so with a few days to spare I headed to an outdoors store and bought a properly fitted pack. The main fitting parameter in-store is torso length. That needs to be spot on.
Then I got on Youtube and absorbed videos on how to adjust it. To summarise, the pack should sit relatively high, with the waist band taking most of the weight. Once the chest strap is tightened, the result should be comfort, even once it’s loaded up. Speaking of which, actually packing that pack is a true skill.
Asking around for packing tips, the best advice I got was to ‘pack light, then remove half of it’. Every gram counts when you’re being a turtle for five days. The rule of thumb for pack weight is that it should be no more than 20% of your bodyweight, so at 62kg, I was aiming for 12kg, but managed to get it down to 10kg, and two of those were water.
Here are my tips for keeping things lighter.
Firstly the weight of your pack itself matters. Packs are expensive, but if you’ve got an old clunker, an upgrade is worth the brass. My new pack is 1.7kg.
Same with your sleeping bag.
Depending on time of year, invest in a lightweight rain jacket.
Dried food and light food, no cans. Eat the heaviest food first.
A microfibre travel towel. These also pack down very small.
Minimal clothes in breathable fibres that stay fresh and dry quickly. I took three tops for layering and two pants, one pair of which converts to shorts. I only wore one set of pants and two tops, but that would have changed if we got rain.
In addition I took a tank top and very lightweight pants to wear for sleeping.
Practice pack. If you are too heavy, go looking for lighter alternatives. This also lets you figure out the best way to pack. I found that having my sleeping bag loose in my pack was better than in its bag.
Ok, everyone knows that tramping can be grubby, but you don’t want to be the stanky one in the hut, so what to do?
On the Abel Tasman Coast Trail there are places to swim, if you can handle the temps. Most huts also have cold showers, again... for the hardy. Otherwise, a single pack of unscented wet wipes is your BFF (remember, you’ll have to carry the used ones out with you). All huts have sinks, so you can use the corner of your microfibre towel to do a wipe down. Follow that with a tooth brushing (baking soda toothpaste) and you’ll be feeling shiny and new after a sweaty day.
Apart from washing when you can, the biggest hack for staying fresh is breathable fibres, in particular merino. To be even more specific, merino undies are the bombdotcom. You can be a sweaty mess, but once the merino clothes have dried, they smell of nothing. It’s miraculous.
So, there’s our tips for amateurs walking the Abel Tasman Coast Track! Hopefully there’s something here to make your trip more enjoyable, but no matter what happens: even if your shoes hurt and you packed too much, we’re sure you’ll have a great time... Or at least collect some excellent photographs and travel stories!
Sara's blogposts on her Abel Tasman experience (and her beautiful photos!):