We grew up in a landlocked state. We admit our ignorance when it comes to the seas. We had no idea that farm tractors were used in the absence of harbors!
We scanned the horizon of Sandy Bay but saw no boats, no marina, and no harbor on our drive into Marahau, NZ, a small town just outside Abel Tasman National Park. How strange, we thought, since the next morning we were to take a water-taxi from Marahau to Anchorage for our hike on the Abel Tasman Coast Track back to Marahau. Where were the boats, the water-taxis?
The next morning we gathered at the Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi office, and, when our name was called, we were led out to the parking lot where a tractor was parked. A large trailer with a boat perched on top was hooked up to the back of the tractor. We were helped up into the boat, where other passengers were already seated. While the boat – a water-taxi — was still on the trailer and the trailer still in the parking lot, we were handed life jackets and instructed to put them on. We wondered, “Is this a joke?” Only after all passengers had fastened on their life jackets did the tractor started up. So, out of the parking lot and down the road we all went – twenty or so people wearing lifejackets – sitting in a boat perched on a trailer, being drawn by a big farm tractor. The tractor driver wore a shirt that said in bold letters, “Skipper.”
The tractor stopped at a ramp sloping down into the sea.
The Skipper backed the tractor slowly down the ramp until the boat reached the water’s edge.
Our Skipper locked the brakes, climbed off the tractor and into our boat. He signaled an assistant who appeared from a parking lot. The assistant released the boat and it floated out onto the shallow water. He hopped back onto the tractor to drive it back up the ramp. Our Skipper piloted the water-taxi out to deeper water and then set a course between the rocks for Anchorage.
On that early morning, Sandy Bay was filled with water. The tide was in. It had been so easy for the tractor to back down the ramp a few feet and let the boat float into the water. Later in the day the tide was out. The sea was so distant it could just barely be seen from that boat ramp.
During low tide, the tractor drove down the ramp and pulled its trailer a very long distance, across the now exposed flats, out to the water’s edge to pick up returning boats filled with people.
At low tide, the bay is a vast expanse of sand and mud flats. Signs announced “cockles – 75 per person limit”. People were walking on the flats out in the bay, buckets in hand, to gather cockles. We tried cutting our hike short by walking across the sand flats instead of the road. We made good time until the sand disappeared – replaced by a muddy surface. After a few oozing steps, Beth lurched forward and fell face-first into the mud, narrowly avoiding a face-plant. Obviously, sand flats at low tides were another topic people like us, who grew up in a landlocked state, needed to learn about.