Located at the north end of New Zealand’s South Island, Abel Tasman National Park is situated between the two beautiful bays, Tasman Bay and Golden Bay. The park is New Zealand’s only coastal national park. The park’s namesake comes from Abel Tasman.
In 1642, Tasman became the first European explorer to discover New Zealand, and his first anchor point was in the adjacent Golden Bay. In 1942, the park was officially opened to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Abel Tasman’s visit. The size of the park has gradually increased over the years, but today, the Abel Tasman National Park sprawls for 225.3 square-kilometres, making it the smallest of New Zealand’s National Parks.
The northern portion of the park, north of the Takaka and Riwaka Rivers, is primarily hilly, forested land. The park also includes a number of islands found in Golden and Tasman Bays, including, the Tata Islands, Tonga Island, Adele Island, and Fisherman Island. The golden sandy beaches, turquoise water, abundant bird life, and wonderful hiking tracks make Abel Tasman National Park on of the country’s most popular.
Abel Tasman National Park: What to Do
Despite is relatively diminutive size Abel Tasman National Park is packed with activities for visitors. Within the park, guests can enjoy hiking, kayaking, cruising, canyoning, sailing, birdwatching, and a variety of excursions ranging in length. The sheltered bays are perfect for a variety of boat related activity. In fact, kayak is one of the most popular ways to experience the park.
There are no roads within Abel Tasman National Park, so visitors either have to enter the park via trails, or by boat. There are a number of kayaking companies that run guided tours from Marahau, Kaiteriteri, and Golden Bay. If you are an experienced kayaker and would rather lead your own tour, that is possible as well as kayaks can also be rented for independent use. It is very common for kayak to be a visitor’s primary means of transport when visiting the park, combining a mix of sightseeing by kayak with track walking. The cam waters of the bays are also great for sailing, or cruising out to one of the islands situated in either Tasman Bay or Golden Bay.
Mountain biking is another relatively popular pastime in Abel Tasman National Park. There are two places in the park where mountain biking is permitted. The first is on a section of the Moa Park Track, from the Rameka Track turnoff to the Wainui Track turnoff.
Open year-round, this track is accessed from the Canaan Downs carpark and can be used year-round. This track links with a mountain biking track that is currently under development that runs right along the Canaan Downs Scenic Reserve. This link allows this track to serve as a circuit track. The link track is mostly complete although some additional further work is being carried out to improve it. The second location that is suitable for mountain biking is on the Gibbs Hill Tack. However, this track is only available to mountain bikers between May 1st and October 1st.
Along with kayaking/canoeing/boating, walking is one of the most popular activities for visitors to Abel Tasman National Park. There are a variety of tracks within the park that range in length and are suitable for a variety of ability levels. Here is a quick guide to the shorter walks within the park.
1) Gibbs Hill Track: This is an advanced track that is suitable for both walking and mountain biking. Although mountain biking is only allowed in the winter months.
2) Harwoods Hole Track: This walk will take about 45-minutes each way. At the end of the track is Harwoods Hole, which is the deepest vertical shaft in New Zealand. Difficulty: Easy.
3) Totaranui Walks: There are a variety of short, intermediate, and long walks around Totaranui. Difficulty: Intermediate.
4) Wainui Falls Track: This 30-minute walk provides stunning views of the native foliage as you walk along the Wainui River towards Wainui Falls, the largest falls in Golden Bay. Difficulty: Easy.
In addition to these shorter walks, Abel Tasman National Park is home to two longer, multi-day hikes, the Abel Tasman Coast Track, and the Inland Track.
Abel Tasman Coastal Track
The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is one of the more popular walking tracks on the South Island of New Zealand and one of the highlights of Abel Tasman National Park. The track itself is of an easy-intermediate grade and runs for 51 kilometres. The track runs right along the coast and offers wonderful views of the northern coastline of the South Island. Along the way, walkers will have the opportunity to see and explore, should they chose, a myriad of quaint coves with beautiful turquoise water and golden sand.
During the summer months, the water is a very comfortable swimming temperature, so feel free to take a break from your walking for a quick dip in the ocean. In certain coastal areas, particularly on the headlands at Separation Point and near Tonga Island, you can find fur seals. Additionally, little blue penguins return to the islands just offshore at night. Visitors can also commonly see dolphins frolicking in the water just offshore.
Depending on your fitness levels and how much time you spend enjoying the stops along the trail, the walk should take around 3-5 days. Should you want to take your time, the following 5-day route it recommended:
Day 1: Marahau > Anchorage, 12.4 kilometres. This portion of the track passes through open country before reaching Tinline Bay. It then rounds Guilbert Point before arriving at Apple Tree Bay. You will then pass through beech forest with huge kanuka trees to Yellow Point. After Yellow Point, you will head inland again, passing through small gullies all the way to Torrent Bay. You will then descend into Anchorage where a campground and huts await.
Day 2: Anchorage > Bark Bay, 12.1 kilometres. First, you will cross a low ridge to Torrent Bay Estuary. This must be timed as the estuary can only be crossed for two hours at either side of high tide. The track then climbs up and over two separate valleys before you will reach a 47 metre long suspension bridge. The track then wanders through coastal forest before dropping back down to the sea and the Bark Bay hut.
Day 3: Bark Bay > Awaroa, 11.4 kilometres. After crossing the estuary, walkers trek through a manuka forest before returning to the shore at Tonga Quarry. Just offshore, they will be able to see Tonga Island, which is surrounded by a marine reserve full of fascinating marine life, so go snorkeling! Just past Tonga Quarry is Onetahuti Bay, where you will cross an all-tide bridge and boardwalk across an inlet. You will then follow the track up and over the Tonga Saddle before descending to Awaroa Inlet, home to the Awaroa hut.
Day 4: Awaroa > Whariwharangi, 13 kilometres. After timing the Awaroa Estuary crossing, you will drop into Waiharakek Bay, where there was once an old timber mill. You will then pass through a string of forest, beaches, and lookout points that alternates between sandy beaches and rocky headlands before descending into Wahiwharangi Bay. The hut there is a restored old farmstead.
Day 5: Wahiwharangi > Wainui, 5.5 kilometres. This is the shortest leg of the hike, so take your time. You will pass through more beautiful beaches and inlets before finishing in the Wainui carpark. From there, either arrange transportation to pick you up, or take a water taxi back to Marahau.
Along the track, walkers can decided to either stay in government managed huts or in private, lodge-style accommodation with a tour provider. There are 4 huts and 19 campsites along the way. Reservations are required should you want to stay in any of these accommodations, including the government managed huts and campsites. Additionally, the track is very remote so be sure to bring adequate supplies with you. Be sure to bring equipment to treat water should you need to.
The inland track also connects Marahau to Wainui Bay. However this track is via Pigeon Saddle on the Takaka – Totaranui Road rather than via the coastline. The track is 41 kilometres long and should take around 3 days to hike. The track carries an advanced grade. Here is a suggested hiking plan for a three-day hike.
Day 1: Marahau > Castle Rock Hut, 15.1 kilometres. From Marahau you will follow the Coastal Track until Tinline Bay, at which point the Inland Track begins. You will climb steeply up from the bay into regenerating forest for about 2 ½ hours until you real Holyoake Clearing. From there, you will re-enter the forest and continue climbing up to Castle Rock Hut where you will be treated to wide views of the Marahau Valley and Tasman Bay. There are no bookings required at Castle Rock Hut, it is first come, first served.
Day 2: Castle Rock Hut > Awapoto Hut, 13 kilometres. You will again begin this walk with a climb before the track begins to undulate before descending into Moa Park Shelter, which is surrounded by the tussocks of Moa Park. From here, there are two side tracks leading to stunning lookouts. From Moa Park, the track will cross a small stream before re-entering beech forest. Once you reach Evans Ridge, you will head north and begin a gradual descent to Awapoto Hut. This hut is also first come first served.
Day 3: Awapoto Hut > Wainui Carpark, 13 kilometres. As you continue beyond Awapoto Hut, the track steepens before gradually descending into Pigeon Saddle. From there, the track climbs slightly before passing a turn-off to a good viewpoint. You will then gradually climb up Gibbs Hill, beyond which are the best views of the whole park. From there you will descend back down and join to Abel Tasman Coastal Track to the Wainui Carpark.
Both the Inland Track and the Abel Tasman Coastal Track can be done in a circuit, where you walk there on one and back on the other. Both tracks are very remote and as such, walkers should come fully prepared with food, clothes, and whatever other supplies they might need. The Inland Track has few reliable water sources so either bring enough for the whole trip, or bring water treatment equipment.
Abel Tasman National Park is filled with a variety of accommodation options. There are both government managed campsites and huts as well as private lodge style accommodation. Check prior to making your trip whether your desired accommodation option requires reservations or is first come first served as there are some of both within the park.
Travelling from Abroad?
The park itself is only around 45 minutes by car from Nelson. While Nelson’s airport it only regional, it is regularly serviced by both Wellington and Auckland. Both of these are large, international airports serviced by flights from a variety of countries.