Situated in the north central part of the South Island is a little slice of heaven known as Abel Tasman National Park. They say New Zealand has it all, and it’s so true. In a matter of about an hour, we went from miles upon miles [or kilometers rather] of vines to winding through mountains with deadly drop offs, to rolling green hills saturated with sheep, and landed at a jungle-like paradise, complete with blue-green waters and golden sandy beaches. This is a true story.
The Abel Tasman is the smallest of the National Parks in NZ, and it includes an Inland Track and the infamous Abel Tasman Coast Track, which is considered one of the nine “Great Walks” here. It’s a big deal.
- 51 km track (32 miles)
- Plus lots of side tracks along the way if you like to explore
- Easy-moderate hike [with well-maintained paths]
- Takes 3-5 days to tramp from Marahau to Wainui Bay
- 4 huts along the way where you can stay
- Also a variety of campsites
From day trips to 5-day treks, the Abel Tas has so much to offer. I was overwhelmed with all of the options and had a hard time deciding on the best way to experience it all. Fortunately [or unfortunately] my opportunities were limited as winter is nearing. Less daylight means less time for tramping and kayaking, and colder weather and camping don’t mix too well together, unless of course you’re an avid camper. [Full disclosure: I am not.] Butttt, off-season meant paths and beaches pretty much all to ourselves – I’ll take it.
So after lots and lots of research, a change in plans, and some spontaneous decisions, we arrived in Abel Tasman and booked some things without thinking twice. (Off-season also allows for procrastination).
We only had a couple of days and knew we wanted the best of both worlds with walking and kayaking, and we got just that for under $100.
Day 1: Water Taxi to Anchorage. ($35)
About noon, we boarded a small water taxi and set sail for Anchorage. We stopped at Watering Cove, a small little bay to drop off some other passengers before we continued onto Adele Island to scope out some baby seals and their mamas basking in the afternoon sun. After taking a hundred photos we carried on to Anchorage Bay, which looked like something out of a James Bond movie, and I was waiting for Halle Berry to strut out of the sea at any moment. Take a look.
Note: if you water taxi further, it can cost up to $47. Check out prices and other Aqua Taxi Services here.
Next Phase: Hike from Anchorage to Marahau
After scoping out the beach at Anchorage, we set off on our 12.4km hike, which turned out to be closer to 16. We decided to do a side hike to Cleopatra’s Pool, which we had heard was pretty cool. We thought we were faster hikers than we really were, but it was definitely worth the extra hour.
After the pools we backtracked and got on the path to Marahau, with still about 12km ahead of us. It was a gorgeous 70 degree and sunny day, so we were ready to conquer the route. The path weaved in and around the rainforest with frequent glimpses of the picturesque bays and turquoise waters. It was a fairly easy hike, and the path was well groomed. Along the way, signs pointed you in the right direction, and narrow “off the beaten” paths led you to even more breathtaking views. I admit my legs got a little sore near the end, but I kept pushing forward anxiously awaiting what was around the next bend. And let me tell you, it never disappointed. Little bridges carried you across streams and waterfalls, and with the birds singing I sometimes felt like I was in the Hunger Games communicating via mocking jays. Since it was May [NZ’s fall/winter], we pretty much had the track to ourselves, only passing about 10 people the entire 15+km. Talk about tranquility. It took us about 4-5 hours from the time the boat dropped us off to when we got back to where we were staying, and the last little bit of the track graced us with cotton candy sunset reflections over the Tasman Sea. I still have to convince myself Abel Tasman is a real place. Although it felt good to put our feet up and enjoy a bottle of wine at the end of the day, I wish we could’ve hiked even more of the track. It lives up to its One of the Great Walks title and certainly left me wanting more. [Gives me an excuse to go back :)]
Day 2: Freedom Kayak around Southern Abel Tasman ($60)
They say the best way to experience Abel Tasman is from the water. And they were right. Paddling through the blue-green waters, exploring coves, and getting up close to seals was unforgettable. We started our morning off about 8am with Kahu Kayaks and our great guide Jon who told us how not to fall out of our kayaks. He got us set up with a 2-person kayak, life jackets, paddles, a map, dry skirts, and even a flare, ya know, just in case. It was low tide so we had to walk really far out in order to get our kayaks in the water, but Jon helped us all get set up. With James in control in the back and me in the front we paddled off. When I say we, I mean James. Just kidding – I helped. Our first destination – Fisherman’s Island. The saying, objects are closer than they appear, didn’t exactly apply, but we made it. The island seemed so much closer, but it took us about 45 min to paddle out there. That was the hardest part of the trip, but oh so worth it. And everyone else freedom kayaking was way behind us, so that made me feel a little better about losing feeling in my arms so quickly. We paddled all around the island enjoying the beach views and carried on to Adele Island for more sandy beach viewing. We found a perfect little one to take a break on and enjoy some brekkie. After resting up, we paddled along the island in search of seals. We got about 3 feet from one seal, at which point I started to freak out a little thinking it was going to jump on our kayak and tip us. It didn’t.
After my minor freak out, we paddled across to Watering Cove and along the shoreline enjoying the incredible views of the National Park, and of course, the water lapping against the beaches. I think we stopped at about 3-4 different coves to wander, soak up the sun, and rest our arms. We lucked out with another 70 and sunny day, so snacking on the sand was perfect. From Observation Beach to Apple Tree Bay, we discovered little waterfalls, nooks, plenty of birds and seals, and some of the most incredible beaches I’ve ever seen. The views were absolutely priceless.
The paddle back was a little harder, but luckily we were going with the current, and high tide allowed us to float right up to shore where Kahu Kayaks was waiting to collect us.
I can definitely see how you could spend 5+ days in Abel Tasman National Park, but I’m so glad we got a little taste of kayaking and walking the coastal track in our 2 days there. Abel Tasman looks just as good in the morning as she does at night, and she’s gorgeous no matter how you explore. Plus, depending where you stay, many companies deliver your bags to your hut/campsite. Since it’s a coastal track, water taxis can do the heavy lifting. I told you – New Zealand has it all, especially Abel Tasman.
So whether you have a half day or 5 days, go to Abel Tasman. You won’t regret it. And charge your camera because you’ll definitely regret that if it dies.
What you’ll need
- Bug spray
- Good walking shoes (path is well groomed so nothing too heavy duty)
- Layers – it gets chilly in the shade, but you’ll be sweating in the sun after hiking a lot.
- If you’re staying overnight, you’ll want to bring warm clothes for sleeping, any toiletries you need, and all camping gear/cooking utensils. If staying in a hut, you’ll need a sleeping bag. Make sure to bring enough food for however long you plan to stay. Everything you bring with you needs to be carried out – there are no garbage bins anywhere in the park.
- Wine – because there’s nothing better than a glass at the end of a long day hiking.
Things to Know
- Be aware that not all options are available in the off season. [Due to less daytime, day hikes & kayaks are limited/shortened]
- Much busier in summer and gets crowded.
- All huts & campsites need to be booked in advance, although in the off season there’s definitely more availability last minute.
- 1-2 night maximum stay at the huts
- Flushing toilets and treated water available at the huts
- No fires allowed in the National Park
- The park is very well marked, so it’s pretty much impossible to get lost, and the hiking times posted are pretty accurate [they allow for stopping and taking lots of pictures]
- Huts cost $32/night and campsites are $14/night for adults 18 & up. 17 and younger stay free.
**You can learn more about the Abel Tasman Coast track here and book huts/campsites.
There are plenty of companies that offer day hikes/kayaks, overnight packages, and up to 5 day trips. They all have pretty great reviews, and in general, seem to be similarly priced. Whether you just want to hike or kayak or experience both, or whether you only have one day or want to trek the entire track, Abel Tasman has something for you, and the following can help give you some ideas.
- Wilsons Abel Tasman
- Probably the most well known company and has a little something for everyone, including luxurious Abel Tasman getaways
- Kahu Kayaks
- Marahau Sea Kayaks
- The Sea Kayak Company
All companies offer both guided and freedom kayak options. Freedom allows you to explore on your own and is definitely the cheaper option. With a guide, you get insider knowledge about the park, and things like water taxis, hut bookings/camping gear, etc… can all be arranged for you. Like I said, whatever you want out of Abel Tasman, you can get.
Oh, and you can even stay here during the warmer months. Pretty neat, eh?
I’m already dreaming about another trip to Abel Tasman to explore more. We mainly ventured around the southern end between Marahau and Anchorage, so I can’t wait to go back and wander around Bark Bay, Torrent Bay, and the Tonga Island Marine Reserve, plus cross the swing bridge over Falls River. There’s so much more to discover 🙂 But then again, you really can’t go wrong with Abel Tasman.