Stepping onto a stretch of beach in the Abel Tasman National Park was like stepping into one of those beaches you only see in luxury holiday brochures. One side of a beach would have clear turquoise water gradually darkening in colour in the distance. The other side was lined with rolling hills of native New Zealand “bush” – that’s “forest” for those not conversant with Kiwi lingo.
This stunning corner of New Zealand can be hiked along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track – one of the 9 great walks of New Zealand.
Nine months ago, I was told about these multi-day Great Walks by Working Holiday Starter. I thought there is no way I am hiking with a heavy backpack uphill for several days! Only crazy people do that! However, after seeing so many unreal photos of the Abel Tasman National Park and doing thorough research for backpackerguide.nz, I knew that the way to really experience the park is to spend multiple days there. Plus, when you spend a few months in New Zealand, it’s hard to not get caught up in the outdoorsy lifestyle. Anyone who has done a Great Walk has awesome stories to tell, so I had been inspired by hearsay, particularly by these two.
How long does it take to walk the Abel Tasman Great Walk?
The full track is 60km lasting 3-4 days. Davin, Just Popping Out for a Bit’s biggest/only fan, and I made a 2-day trip only doing Apple Tree Bay to Awaroa, walking approximately 38.9km.
Our overnight stay was at Bark Bay, meaning we walked 7 hours on the first day, including side trips and beach laziness. On day two we intended to go to Tortaranui but we underestimated how “high” high tide was. Literally, the only way to get there would be to swim or cross at low tide. FAIL! So after four hours walking that morning, we ended our quest at Awaroa.
Coastal Track features
There’s a common misconception about the Abel Tasman Great Walk that most of the walk is on beaches. In reality, you walk in coastal forest. The first half of the track involves steady climbs to pretty views out to sea, small offshore islands, and even Marlborough Sounds.
Side trips you have to take are Cleopatra’s Pool and the Falls River Track to Cascade Falls. The former is an easy 10 minute trip off the Coastal Track to a natural water slide. The latter is a steep and adventurous climb. The climb looked brutal to do with a backpack so we abandoned our packs in a bush. After about 30 minutes, we reached the fairytale-like Cascade Falls. The sun shone at the top of the falls like it was a gift from the heavens. Davin and I had to wipe the tears from our eyes.
Back on the track, the further we delved into the national park the better and more beautiful the beaches became. All beaches in the park are safe to swim in.
More walking and walking until we reached Bark Bay, our overnight stop! It was a pretty beach to spend the night with the tide braiding between sand dunes. The large Department of Conservation hut spooning rooms were full when we got there except for the “VIP” side cabin. We were surprised how decent and clean the hut was.
As we had a dinner of leftover pasta bake on the beach, we witnessed a shocking incident, leaving the camp in a very sobering mood.
Despite a dramatic night, we started the next day to an incredible sunrise.
From Bark Bay to Onetahuti was the most difficult climb, especially with tired legs, red raw blisters later to be infected, and a backpack. I now have legs of steel.
More climbs awaited after Onetahuti but this was soon forgotten when a sign was spotted to a freakin’ cafe! Davin practically ran at the sign of coffee.
Who would have thought that such a posh establishment was in the middle of nowhere?! We were able to enjoy a drink and the lodge receptionist kindly organised a change of pick-up with the water taxi, as there was no way we were swimming to the next part of the track. The water taxi picked us up from the beautiful Awaroa beach. It was like a ride of victory on the hour-long water taxi ride back, revisting beaches along the way.
Transport to the Abel Tasman Great Walk
It’s easy enough to get transport into Abel Tasman National Park from Nelson, Motuweka, Kaiterteri and Marahau. We booked a return coach and water taxi with Sea Shuttle, who picked us up from our hostel in Nelson. We were dropped off at the water taxi in Kaiterteri then water taxied to Apple Tree Bay. The following day we were picked up by water taxi at Akaroa beach and returned the same way to Nelson. For all that, it was around NZ$100.
Top tips for the Abel Tasman Great Walk
As my first multi-day hike, this was going to be a learning curve. This is what I would have done differently:
- Tighten your hiking boots! Be prepared for blisters with plenty of plasters. I got grose blisters, which got infected with sand.
- Take a sleeping bag. I was trying to reduce the weight of my backpack by just taking a sheet and warmer clothes. Despite it being summer, the hut wasn’t warm enough.
- If you want to do the whole track, stay at Awaroa Hut one night so you can do the tidal crossing early the next morning. Low tide for us was 8am and 9pm.
In conclusion, Abel Tasman is the bomb. I have never been so glad to change my mind and do something different. I am still buzzing three days later.