Hiking the Abel Tasman Coast Track – our tips and tricks!
WOW! That’s just one word to describe New Zealand’s Abel Tasman National Park. Entirely different than the rest of the country, it’s a true hiker’s paradise, either for the experienced trekker or the beginner hiker. Abel Tasman National Park is New Zealand’s smallest national park and located all the way up north on the Southern Island. The park is named after Dutchman (yes, we are proud!) Abel Tasman who accidentally found the beautiful coastline in 1642. After our first visit to Abel Tasman NP back in 2002 we already knew we’d be back here for some further exploration. In 2011 during our six week tramping trip, we finally came back and spent three days on hiking the Abel Tasman Coast Track. It turned out to become one of the most amazing hikes we’ve ever done!
The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, a selection of the country’s best scenic places made easily accessible for visitors. Since we figured it would be a relatively easy track compared to the other ones we’d be doing (few climbs and generally good weather) we decided to go camping rather than staying in the huts, which eventually proved to be a good choice!
Day 1 – Marahau – Watering Cove
Normally, the first day takes you until Anchorage but since we heard from various sources that it’s a very popular place in the summer, we opted to stay at Watering Cove campsite, about 15 minutes before Anchorage. With only 5 campsites for a maximum of 10 campers, this place is a true gem for the outdoor lover.
The night before we started our trek, we camped in Kaiteriteri which is only at a short distance driving from the trailhead. At the small information shop we weighed our backpacks, now that we’re carrying all our camping gear they are much heavier than previous hikes we did, mine is 15kg and Martijn’s is 20kg … more than enough.
We park the car and get going. It’s promised to be a warm day and even though today’s trek is not long, we plan on taking all the time we need because of the beauty we are told to be encountering. After crossing Marahau Estuary it’s time for a gradual climb up to viewpoints of various beaches such as Appletree and Coquille Bay. It’s hard to imagine this is actually New Zealand and not some bounty island in the Caribbean… the trail is pretty easy so far and the atmosphere is very laid back. Every now and then we meet other hikers but most of the time it’s just us. Nobody really wants to get in eachother’s way…
Half way during the afternoon we reach Watering Cove, about 12 km walking from where we started. We pitch up our tent and hang out at the beach. Martijn heads into the water for a swim (too cold for my taste) but instead I just stroll around the beach, enjoying the crashing of the waves and the sound of silence. Soon we are joined by some kayakers who will also be camping here for the night.
The other people on the campsite are an Australian family who live up on the Northern Island and came to this site by kayak. We spend our evening exchanging travel stories over the campfire and by the time the sandflies are killing us, it’s time to go to bed… amazing how quickly it cools down here.
Day 2. Watering Cove – Awaroa Bay
We get up early while it’s still pitch dark. The reason is that the tidal crossing near Anchorage can only be made within 2 hours of low tide. The sunrise is simply gorgeous and we can’t believe how lucky we are to be here. There are few other hikers on the track which means that our aim to beat the crowds has worked.
The crossing is easy as the water only comes up on to our ankles so no need to remove our boots. From here the trail skirts up and down with stunning panoramas all over the bay. After a couple of hours, we reach Bark Bay, a perfect place for a stop. We basically have all the time in the world because we need to wait for the lowtide in Bark Bay once more. We tried crossing with high tide but it seemed impassable, so instead we take a nap on the beach. After waiting for about 2 hours, the low tide sets in. Nowadays, according to the DOC site, there now is an all tidal crossing which sounds very useful to us … the waiting kind of spoiled the day as we were anxious to move on but it was just impossible. Taking a mandatory 2 hour break when you still have a long way to go isn’t ideal, not even when you get to nap in the sun…
From Bark Bay we were only half way and still takes some time to reach today’s final destination: Awaroa. Most of this track takes us through the inland with great views on sandy beaches and secluded coves every now and then. We pass a 47m. long suspension bridge and eventually drop down to the beach again, to begin our final push to Awaroa. The last part of the walk goes over the beach and we sink into the sand an inch or so with every step. Finally we reach the campsite at Awaroa Beach and what can I say… we are pretty exhausted. Maybe combining 2 days and a bit more was a bit too much for today…
Day 3. Awaroa to Totaranui
Our last day on the track! It’s amazing how time flies. It’s an early morning again because of (no kidding) the tidal crossing. This time, the water comes up to our knees and it’s freezing. We cross various rivers and the clouds above our head show us that it’s over and done with the good weather. As we don’t really fancy getting soaking wet during the last bit of our hike, we quickly make our way to Totaranui, where we are being picked up by a water taxi. We arrive pretty early so kill time reading a book and chatting to other hikers. Once we hear the motors of the vessel it’s time to pick up our bags and head to the beach. Yet another epic adventure has come to an end…
Even though we knew this track would be awesome, we still were surprised. By the stunning beauty, the incredible vistas and the silence. We knew we wouldn’t be the only ones on the trail, we barely ever encountered anyone else and we almost didn’t see any other tourists. If you are planning to go to New Zealand, please do not forget to add Abel Tasman to your itinerary. You won’t be disappointed!
Things to consider when hiking the Abel Tasman Coast Track:
– Download the digital brochure from the website of Department of Conservation (DOC) for the latest updates and track information.
– Even though it’s not an alpine hike, there are still some sturdy climbs in it that will make your calves burn, so hiking boots (either high or low ankle) are a must. Wading shoes can also be of good use (we used our Crocs).
– Camping definitely is the better option. As opposed to other hikes, many of the locations of the huts are also accessible by boat or even by road, making it a popular tourist destination. When camping, especially at the smaller campsites, you will meet less tourists.
– Consider the tidal crossings. It has been 3 years since we did this hike and according to the DOC site, there have been changes to what we mentioned above. However, it’s still useful to check the tidal charts for various crossings.
– Huts and campistes need to be booked in advance and from our experience, they are usually fully booked. We had one illegal camper on the site and he just received a lot of comments and criticism by fellow hikers. You’re not wanted!
– We pre-booked our water taxi from Totaranui back to Marahau with Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi. Ours was full so booking it in advance sounds like a plan.
– For those who don’t just want to hike: Abel Tasman is also a great place for kayaking. Since we’d already be doing that on other spots during our trip, we chose just to walk.
– Your best bet for stocking up on supplies is Nelson or Motueka, you can’t buy any food or drinks along the track. Also bring your own cooking supplies, even when staying at the huts.
– There are a lot of birds along the track and in the spring lots of flowers, too. It’s a true photographers paradise, we just couldn’t stop taking pictures of the ferns … so plan well and take enough time. Our second day turned out to be a bit too long. Esp. if you’re a newbie hiker, divide this in two, just as suggested by DOC.
Hiking the Abel Tasman Coast Track was a dream come true. It proved to be totally different than the other walks we did and will show you the best scenery New Zealand has to offer. Now that I’m writing this, 3.5 years later, my heart is aching to go back. Again…
Want to read more? We also wrote reports about The Routeburn Track, The Kepler Track and The Tongariro Northern Circuit. We’ve also done various other ones, of which we still plan to write a blog, if we ever find enough time…
In addition, you may enjoy these blogs (or just simply click New Zealand for all our NZ blogs!)
– My obsession with `Middle Earth`
– Cool Things to do in New Zealand that don’t involve hiking
– How to make the most of 24 hours in Mount Cook National Park
– All you want to know about hiking in New Zealand
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[Please note this article was first published in April 2015 and was updated in June 2016]