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. During my five trips through New Zealand over the past decade I walked the Abel Tasman Track no fewer than three times and you know what… I would happily do it once again! It’s one of my favorite Great Walks in New Zealand for various reasons and it will always have a special place in my heart. In this article about the Abel Tasman Track I will tell you everything you need to know about this amazing hike, from your preparation to a detailed day-by-day report. Enjoy reading!
This article first appeared on We12travel in 2016 and was fully updated in 2023 after my most recent visit to New Zealand. The photos in this blog are from the various hikes I have made.
Table of Contents | Inhoudsopgave
About Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park is New Zealand’s smallest national park and is located in the north of the South Island. It is named after Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, who accidentally stumbled upon the beautiful coastline here in 1672. The national park consists of golden sandy beaches, clear turquoise bays and wonderful hiking opportunities. The nearest large towns are Nelson and Motueka.
If you are looking for short walks in Abel Tasman, read this article with the most beautiful walks in Abel Tasman National Park.
About the Abel Tasman Coast Track
The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, a selection of the country’s most beautiful multi-day treks that are well maintained and therefore easily accessible to most hikers. I’m finding the Abel Tasman Coast Trek relatively easy compared to the other Great Walks I did in New Zealand (I did all but 1!) but I also had good weather most of the time, which certainly helped a lot.
The Abel Tasman Coast Track distances are not too long and depending on how many kilometers you want to walk per day and whether you want to camp and/or sleep in the huts, it will take you between 3-5 days to complete the entire track.
The Abel Tasman Coast Track starts in Marahau and ends in Wainui. Most hikers choose to do the track northbound up until Totaranui and then return to Marahau by water taxi. There are no water taxis beyond Totaranui and if you walk further on you are dependent on a pricey shuttle bus that takes you back to Marahau (or elsewhere). However, I can truly advise you to also do the part between Totaranui and Wainui because I thought this was the most beautiful part of the route. It’s a lot quieter and the beaches are much rougher than those in the southern section of the park.
Further down in this article I will tell you more about the options for transport on the Abel Tasman Coast Track.
Abel Tasman Coast Track distances and sections
Planning the number of hiking days and your accommodation on the Abel Tasman Coast Track depends on a number of factors. First of all, whether you want to spend the night in the huts or camp. But then also how far you want to walk and … the tides! There are a number of estuary crossings that you have to make and in some cases this is only possible to safely do at low tide. I have described this in the day-to-day description below. So before you book anything, make sure to first find out what the tides will be like. A complete explanation of this can be found on the Department of Conservation website.
If you want to walk from hut to hut, the stages of the Abel Tasman trek are as follows:
- Marahau – Anchorage 12.5 km
- Anchorage – Bark Bay 11,5 km
- Bark Bay – Awaroa 13,5 km
- Awaroa – Totaranui 7,1 km
- Totaranui – Whariwharangi 9,8 km
- Whariwharangi – Wainui 9 km
These are the stages as recommended by Department of Conservation (DOC). I personally hiked the track as a 3-day and 4-day option and skipped the overnight stay in Bark Bay both times. This makes for a very long day of 26 kilometers between Anchorage and Awaroa, but this was unavoidable both times due to the tides. Moreover, it’s faily easy for experienced hikers to combine these two days into one long day.
I also hiked from Awaroa to Whariwharangi in one day. This was no problem either, because the tidal crossing at Awaroa was very early in the morning and I didn’t feel like being in Totaranui at 10am already. Plus Totaranui is a location that is accessible over land and where many tourists visit, so you don’t really want to spend the night there unless necessary!
Day 1: Marahau – Anchorage
If you arrive at Abel Tasman National Park by car or campervan, you can leave your vehicle at the paking in Marahau. After crossing the Marahau Estuary on boardwalks, it’s time for an easy climb to various viewpoints over bays such as Appletree and Coquille Bay. I found it sometimes difficult to believe that I’m in New Zealand instead of on a bounty island in the Caribbean. The path is pretty easygoing and wide and it is noticeable that it is a popular walk for day trippers, who often walk this section as a 1 day hike on the Abel Tasman Coast Track.
There are several bays along the way where you can take a break and dive into the sea to cool down. Many beaches are not directly on the main, but you leave the main track and descend to them.
The trail is always pretty wide and not very technical. You will probably arrive at Anchorage quite on time. Here it will be bustling with tourist boats and kayakers, but as soon as evening falls, peace quickly returns and you may enjoy a beautiful sunset.
One of the additional walks you can add to the above route from Marahau to Anchorage is the short walk to Pitt Head, a viewpoint above Anchorage Bay. The walk to the viewpoint takes about 30 minutes each way from the beach, but you can also make it a 1.5-hour circular walk from the hut. The track is relatively easy with little elevation gain and the views from Pitt Head are breathtaking.
Day 2: Watering Cove – Awaroa Bay
Today you will have to deal with the first two tidal crossings. The first one is at Torrent Bay, not long after leaving Anchorage. This crossing can be done within two hours of low tide, but if this does not suit your planned route for today, you can also walk around it. I’ve done both options and it doesn’t really matter which one you’ll take, I thought both options were fine.
From Torrent Bay the trail goes up and then down again, with beautiful vistas over remote sandy beaches that make you wonder if anyone will ever explore it. After a few hours you will arrive at Bark Bay, a wonderful place for a lunch break. After Bark Bay there is another water crossing, but you can also walk around this easily.
If you continue to Awaroa today, you are only just half way down today’s distance. Most of the afternoon walking will take you through the inland, with occasional beautiful views of beaches and secluded bays. You also cross a 47 meter long suspension bridge and from here it’s still quite a walk to Awaroa. The last part of the Abel Tasman Coast trek is along a sandy beach, before you finally arrive at Awaroa Hut.
At Awaroa Hut it seems like the conversation is only about one thing: what time do you leave tomorrow for the crossing of the Awaroa Inlet, which is just opposite the hut.
Day 3: Awaroa – Totaranui – Whariwharangi
Today is your last day on the Abel Tasman Coast Track if you decide to leave the trail at Totaranui. I had to get up very early both times because of the Awaroa Inlet crossing. This time the water comes up to my knees and it’s quite cold compared to the other estuary crossings. You can do the crossing barefoot or in water shoes, I did it myself in Crocs and that went pretty well. The tidal crossing of the Awaroa Inlet takes a total of 25 minutes and can only be done between 1.5 hours before low tide and 2 hours after low tide. There is no alternative route around the inlet and you cannot make the crossing in the dark. I did it just before sunrise and I thought that was quite intense.
After you’ve crossed the inlet you quickly enter the forest and continue towards Totaranui. It’s a fair climb up and you pass several beaches. Once in Totaranui it takes some getting used to all the people, campers and cars that are here. If this is your exit point, here you will take the water taxi back to Marahau.
However, I hiked on from here to Whariwharangi and this section easily became my favorite part of the Abel Tasman Coast Track. The beaches north of Totaranui are a lot more quiet than those in the south of Abel Tasman National Park and there are considerably fewer tourists.
Tip: If you have enough time and energy, take a detour of about an hour to Separation Point, the northeasternmost part of the park. The route down to the lighthouse is steep and not easy, but beautiful! It’s recommended to leave your backpack at the point where the descent begins (there is a sign here).
The Whariwharangi Hut is an old homestead and a comfortable hut. And… a lot quieter than the other huts, I even had a room to myself here because there were so few people (November 2019).
Day 4: Whariwharangi – Wainui
Today you’ll hike a short distance to Wainui. The most beautiful part of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track is now behind you. You climb to Wainui Saddle where you have a beautiful view of the bay. From here you descend slowly but steady towards the car park at Wainui, or you can return via the Gibbs Hill Track to Totaranui. This track seems to be steep and not very easy, I chose to take a shuttle back to Nelson from Wainui.
Abel Tasman Coast Track transportation
The Abel Tasman Coast Track is a linear walk, which means you need transport to get from the end back to the start. The first time I did the Abel Tasman Coast Track I walked from Marahau to Totaranui in three days. From here I took the water taxi back to Marahau, where the car was located. I booked my transport with Abel Tasman Water taxi.
The second time I did a 1-day Abel Tasman Coast Track walk from Anchorage to Marahau. In the morning I was dropped off in Anchorage by water taxi and walked back from here to my car, which was parked in Marahau.
The third time I walked the Abel Tasman National Park Coast Track in four days. I didn’t have a car at the time and used a shuttle from Nelson to Marahau and back from Wainui to Nelson. I used the Trek Express for this.
You must book all transport in advance!
Accommodation on the Abel Tasman Coast Track
All campings and huts on the Abel Tasman Coast Track must be booked in advance on the Department of Conservation website. Bookings for the new season usually open in the spring. I spent the night in both huts and campsites during the trek. When you sleep in the huts you are a little less flexible in terms of schedule. There are many more campsites, but in this case you also carry your tent and sleeping mat.
The Abel Tasman Coast Track huts are simple huts without electricity or running water. You must carry your own cooking equipment. The Abel Tasman Track campsites are also simple, there is a compost toilet and running water, which you can filter if desired.
Book your trip
– A planeticket to Auckland, Christchurch and then onwards to Nelson can easily be booked via Skyscanner.
– Accommodation outside of the track must be booked in advance in the high season, which runs from December until March. Check rates and availability on Booking.com
– Rental cars can be booked via RentalCars. Would you rather rent a campervan? Then check SpaceShip rentals and deals here.
– Also make sure you buy your copy of Lonely Planet’s Tramping in New Zealand for more hiking suggestions.
Conclusion and disclaimer
I hope you found this article about the Abel Tasman Coast Track useful and that is has answered all the questions that you may have. In case anything is missing, feel free to leave a message below. If you want to continue reading, make sure to also read about the other Great Walks of New Zealand:
This blog contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through such a link, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.