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It is a late night skinny dip with a difference. With every stroke a shower of glowing green light forms in my wake. I feel like a conductor directing thousands of tiny bright glow worms in a synchronised dance.
Frenzied movement heightens the display. We each soon discover our preferred routines, Geoff favours a washing machine movement while Craig manages to perfect his timing so a glittering milky way trails his every move.
This glittering display is marine phosphorescence - heatless light generated by a bio-luminescent reaction to marine algae. Only present on dark moonless nights we’re lucky nature performs on the one evening we are visiting Awaroa Estuary’s Meadowbank Homestead in the heart of the Abel Tasman national park.
Alerted to the phosphorescence by attentive staff at Meadowbank we frolic until the water’s chill finally sends us shivering back to our room. It is the perfect end to what has been a lovely day.
Our self-contained cottage is a haven set in lush gardens with a wooden balcony overlooking Awaroa inlet. The gardens were planted 127 years ago by William Hadfield and his wife Adele, the ancient camellias and rododendrum trees happily co-existing with natives. Love has obviously flourished here, a cabbage tree is carved with initials and a love heart dating back to 1911.
The Wilson family now owns the Homestead. Lynette Wilson is the great granddaughter of William Hadfield who described the site in 1884 as the “finest in the bay”. Those pioneers could sure pick a good bit of real estate when they saw it.
In 1994 the original homestead was rebuilt as an eco-lodge. Guest rooms in the homestead and cottages are all lovingly decorated with photographs and mementos of those early settlers. The cottage is separate from the homestead so you get all the benefits of staying in a lodge but also complete privacy.
Awaroa is a tidal inlet in the middle of the Abel Tasman National Park. The name Awaroa means long river in Maori but given there are two rivers and neither are particularly long locals believe it may have originally been called Awarua – meaning two rivers.
Trampers from the east can arrive to the homestead at any time but those coming from the west must wait two hours either side of low tide to cross the estuary. We arrive on the Wilson’s high-speed catamaran which drops us on the spandspit bordering Tasman Bay and the estuary. Lodge staff barge us across the inlet to the homestead.
It is hard to say when Awaroa is most charming. We arrive in the morning and elect to explore by kayak. The estuary is deceptively large and you could easily spend three or four hours paddling the inlet and rivers. We stop on a golden beach to sunbathe and swim - across the inlet we spy a few other paddlers in the distance but it feels like we have the place to ourselves.
After that burst of exercise it feels completely justified to head back to our cottage for an afternoon siesta. With the sliding door to the deck left open a light breeze flutters the gauze curtain. Bliss.
Woken by the sound of other lodge guests arriving after tramping the Abel Tasman track we get motivated to take a walk ourselves. While they relax in the garden with a hard-earned beer we wander across the estuary which low tide has transformed into a huge expanse of sand.
Oyster catchers and banded dotterels share the beach with us. It is an easy hour-long stroll across the inlet, up the beach and back along the bay. The knowledge a three-course meal will be ready when we return spurs us on.
We share one of two large tables with a group of very happy trampers. I feel a flash of guilt we haven’t put in the same hard work to get to the homestead but that disappears when a plate of beautifully cooked lamb appears before me.
Dinner conversation is varied. We chat to an Australian businessman and his son, two moteliers from Perth, a travel writer and a London banker. But our interesting dinner companions flag relatively early as their five-hour tramp takes its toll.
We are not complaining because it turns out only a small group of us get to experience the phosphorescence display.
Morning arrives way too soon and so does the knowledge our overnight break is coming to an end. The trampers are long gone as we relax over breakfast and wait for the catamaran pick-up. Next time, we’ll definitely stay longer in this beach paradise.