Abel Tasman is another one of New Zealand’s many gems and should definitely make it onto every traveller’s itinerary. Even with limited time, a day in the park is totally worth it! You will be greeted by beautiful golden beaches, sculpted granite cliffs, kilometres of native bush and the world-famous Abel Tasman coastal track.
One of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks
Highest point / elevation: 200m
Time: 3-5 days with many 1-2 day options
Track: Very well maintained and easy to navigate tracks.
Tides: Tides rise and fall by almost 5 meters along the Abel Tasman coastline cutting off some of the tracks along the walk. While most low tide routes have a high tide alternative (beware it adds extra time to your journey) you can only pass through the Awaroa Estuary during low tide. You can comfortably cross 2 hours either side of low tide.
Check tidal times here https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/nelson-tasman/places/abel-tasman-national-park/things-to-do/tracks/abel-tasman-coast-track/tide-tables/
Difficulty: Easy to moderate: While some hills take you up and down along the track it is generally pretty flat. Most hills don’t exceed 100m elevation. You will likely cover no more than 400m elevation per day. That being said a moderate level of fitness is required as you will most likely cover a minimum of 15km in a day walking.
Facilities: Along the track, you will find a mixture of DOC huts, campsites, some private lodges and backpacker accommodation in the form of anchored boats in the bays.
There are toilets at each campsite. Filtered drinking water is available at the DOC Huts: Anchorage, Bark Bay, Awaroa and Whariwharangi. All campsites have running water but it must be boiled before consumption.
There are no rubbish disposal facilities in the park and all rubbish must be taken with you.
If you are planning on camping or staying in a DOC hut please note that there are no cooking facilities available and you must bring your own gas stove.
There are no shops so stock up on all your supplies before starting. Don’t forget to bring sunscreen and insect repellent!
Accommodation: There are four DOC huts (Anchorage, Bark Bay, Awaroa and Whariwharangi) and 19 campsites. Bookings can be made via the DOC hut website (https://bookings.doc.govt.nz/Saturn/Facilities/SearchViewGW.aspx?placeId=429)
There are some private lodges which can be booked through www.booking.com
When to go: The park is open for hiking all year round.
During the summer (Dec - Feb) expect average day temperatures of 23 degrees and night temperatures of 12 degrees.
During the autumn (Mar-May) expect average day temperatures of 19 degrees and night temperatures of 8 degrees.
During the Winter (June - Aug) expect average day temperatures of 13 degrees and night temperatures of 4 degrees.
During the Spring (Sept - Nov) expect average day temperatures of 19 degrees and night temperatures of 7 degrees.
Please note to always bring sunscreen with you. The temperatures may appear to be on the lower side but the sun in New Zealand is very intense with skin burning happening as quick as 12 minutes. There is plenty of shade on the trail but you will spend time walking in exposed areas or relaxing on the beaches.
Trail Start/End: The most popular way to walk this trail is from Marahau in the south to Wainui in the north. Ferries can be organised from many of the bays to take you back to the trailhead. There are no ferries from Wainui and a bus transfer must be organised.
Ferry's can be organised from Marahau or in the neighbouring town of Kaiteriteri going to and from many different bays along the trail.
Getting there: Nelson is the closest city to Abel Tasman national park.
Plane: You can fly from most airports in NZ directly to Nelson.
Drive: The drive from Nelson takes approximately 1hr and 15m.
Bus: You can bus from several routes towns and cities on the south island. Check the Intercity Bus timetable for routes and times. (https://www.intercity.co.nz/travel-info/timetable/lookup/NSN) Scenicnz Abel Tasman also run buses from Nelson (https://www.scenicnzabeltasman.co.nz/)
By Ferry: The Interislander and Bluebridge both operate car-carrying ferries that travel across Cook Strait to connect the north and south island. The ferry departs from Wellington and arrives in Picton. You should allow three hours for the ferry ride and another three and a half hours to drive from Picton to Abel Tasman.
Parking: You can park for free at the Abel Tasman Car-pack. https://goo.gl/maps/A1kLUCeREWMcVJRG9 It is not secured or monitored so parking is at own risk and all valuables should be kept out of sight.
Some of the water taxi providers offer parking as part of their service. Check with your provider.
What to bring: (information is taken from DOC hut site)
Huts on the Abel Tasman Coast Track don't have gas cooking facilities and lighting. Remember to take a portable stove and fuel, and candles with you.
Backpack (40–60-litre size for multi-day hiking)
Waterproof/plastic pack liner
Sleeping bag (3–4 season)
First aid kit (including insect repellent, sunscreen, blister kit, personal medication e.g. antihistamine for allergy to wasp stings)
Survival kit (survival blanket, whistle, paper, pencil, high energy snack food)
Safety equipment relevant to the track and time of year (e.g. map, compass, tide timetables)
Drink bottle (1-2 litre capacity)
Eating and cooking utensils (knife, fork, spoon, plate, cup, pot/pan/billy, cleaning kit, tea towel)
Matches or lighter in a waterproof container
Torch/flashlight and spare batteries
Booking confirmation letter and ID
Portable stove and fuel
Sandals or aqua shoes for walking in water
If you're camping...
Earplugs for communal bunkrooms
For multi-day walking, you'll need at least one set of clothes to walk in and another dry set to change into at night. Walking boots or firm footwear (should be comfortable and well broken in)
Socks (wool or polypropylene)
Shorts (quick dry material)
Shirt (wool or polypropylene)
Under layers, top and bottom (wool or polypropylene)
Mid-layers (wool or polar fleece)
Raincoat (waterproof, windproof with hood)
Over-trousers (wind and waterproof)
Warm hat and gloves
Sunhat and sunglasses
Extra socks, underwear, shirt/lightweight jersey
Note: It's not possible to dry clothes in the huts. Cotton clothing such as jeans, T-shirts and sweatshirts aren't suitable.
Lightweight shoes for inside the huts
Food & Water: Bring an adequate amount of food with you for the length of your hike and an extra bit in case of emergency! Bring your reusable water bottle which can be filled up at the DOC huts along the hike.
Water taxi providers
Marahau Water Taxis https://www.marahauwatertaxis.co.nz
Aqua Taxis https://aquataxi.co.nz
My Abel Tasman Experience
While travelling through the north of the south island the Abel Tasman coastal walk was number one on our to-do list. Due to limited time, we could only spend a day and a half in Abel Tasman.
Wanting to see as much as we could in one day we decided to do a full long day of hiking and spend the night in the park, enjoy a chilled morning relaxing on the beach and catch a ferry back to Marahau. Whilst on the accommodation hunt I hit the jackpot and found a deal on booking.com for the Awaroa lodge (one of New Zealand's most excluded lodges) for $128nzd for the night for the two of us! Score
After much research and planning, this was our game plan.
Water taxi from Marahau to Anchorage Bay and start from there. From Anchorage, we would hike to Awaroa Bay taking some of the side tracks along the way. Spend the night at the Awaroa lodge, wake early for sunrise and spend the morning chilling on the beach. Then catch a late morning water taxi from Awaroa Bay back to Marahau, grab a well earned veggie burger at the famous ‘Fat Tui” burger truck and continue over the hill to Golden Bay.
We stayed in Nelson the night before the hike which conveniently has big supermarkets to stock up on anything you need before setting off to Abel Tasman. We prepared our breakfast and lunch for the following day and decided to splash out a bit and have dinner at the lodge that evening.
We woke early and drove from Nelson to Marahau. We arrived a little early and stopped at Hooked on Marahau to grab a coffee. There is a store attached to the cafe, which we luckily remembered to buy sunscreen in and I believe it is the last store before entering the park.
We drove to the Aqua Taxis centre, parked up our car out back in their customer parking and waited until our names were called out and we were shown to our boat. We jumped aboard the boat in the car park and the boat, being pulled by a tractor took off for a short journey along the road to the beach to be brought out to sea!
Due to the large change in tides, the tractors have to drive quite far out to set the boats off during the low tide! Once our boat was set free our first stop was Split Apple Rock, which is a giant granite rock that has been split in half and looks like, well you guessed it, a split in half apple! Our driver pulled up close to allow us to take some photos and gave us some brief information about the landscape, why they get beautiful golden beaches and the stone itself. After a couple of minutes at the rock, we set sail again.
The weather was perfect, warm but not too hot, not a cloud to be seen and a light breeze. The crystal clear waters were sparkling with reflections of the sun as we enjoyed our first views of the pristine Abel Tasman coast. It was right about then that I knew we were in for a massive treat!
Our driver made his next stop at another point of interest. He turned off his engines and let the boat drift just off the coast of Adele Island and we looked out for seals. We spotted a few enjoying the heat of the sun on the rocks. Again the driver shared with us some of his local knowledge and we set sail again.
We arrived in breathtakingly beautiful Anchorage Bay, quickly whipped off our shoes and while trying to navigate the waves jumped out of the boat and made our way onto land. A lot of the other passengers on the boat were planning on walking back to Marahau (via a viewpoint) to complete a one day hike which seemed like a nice option if you have limited time.
Anchorage Bay is a beautiful stretch of golden sand beach surrounded by native bush, nestled up in one of the many bays along the coast. We would have loved to spend some more time here and take some kayaks out but we had to get a move on as we had a lot of walking ahead of us!
We set off on the high tide track from Anchorage Bay to Bark Bay. The track led us through beautiful native bush, over a long swing bridge and gave us some magnificent views of several bays including Torrent Bay. We met and greeted some other hikers along the track but didn’t meet many. We took a quick detour to the Cleopatra’s Pools which are a series of beautiful pools filled with moss-covered rocks set in a dense forest. The detour added an extra 20 or 30 minutes to our journey but was definitely worth checking out. We arrived at the beautiful golden sands of Bark Bay hot, sweaty and hungry so decided to stop and enjoy our packed lunch while taking in the surroundings.
After lunch, we set off towards Awaroa Bay via Onetahuti. We crossed the Bark Bay estuary and the path steeply climbed and brought us back into the bush giving us occasional views of the coastline. We reached Onetahuti, a rustic beautiful stretch of beach. We enjoyed some time on the beach and continued towards Awaroa, crossing a stream and then onto a boardwalk that took us over some marshland and back into the bush. After a short while walking we reached a fork in the path which pointed us in the direction of the Awaroa Lodge. We followed along the path to the lodge seeing signs for a skyline track along the way.
We checked in, dropped our bags in the room and left again to check out the skyline track for sunset. On the way up the track, there was swing which made for some cool photos and the view from the up top over Awaroa Bay was pretty nice but the clouds had rolled in and we didn't get much of a sunset. We headed back to the lodge, showered and went for dinner. Unfortunately, as it was just outside of high season some of the facilities that the lodge offers, which includes an outdoor pizza kitchen and bar were closed. There wasn’t a great atmosphere in the main restaurant or bar after dinner so we decided to chill in our room and watch a film.
We woke for sunrise, but the weather reports weren’t the best and we were too lazy to get up and go down to the beach so we hit the snooze button. We got up a couple of hours later, ate the on the go breakfast we had brought with us and headed down to the beach and chilled while we waited for our boat. There seemed to be a bit of commotion in the area but we didn’t pay much attention. We were collected by our boat and had to take an alternative route home as Prince Harry and Meghan were in town and spending that night in the park!
We sailed back to Marahau, got our car and headed for the much-awaited Fat Tui burger. We had heard some great things about this food truck and it didn’t disappoint. After munching down our (massive) veggie burgers we hit the road and headed over the hill to Golden Bay. You can read about our experiences here.