Trail Profile: Abel Tasman, New Zealand

Lollygag’s Journal excerpt, Friday, February 10th, 2017: “Claudia keeps saying BEST HIKE IN THE WORLD.”

Abel Tasman National Park has many great tracks, including some inland options. We went for the hike north along the coastline.  There are 9 hikes in NZ designated as Great Walks and this is one of them!  It is essential to book in advance.  Huts fill up much faster than tent sites but you have to reserve and pay online for either.

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Backpacking on the beach in Abel Tasman National Park


Abel Tasman Coast Track

  • Mileage: 37 miles (60 km) We hiked 29+ miles from Marahau to Totaranui.
  • Type: Out and back, recommend a shuttle
  • Difficulty: Easy, breezy, beachy
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Bird’s eye vew of Totaranui

Getting There

The trail starts in Marahau and ends in Wainui Bay.  If you have a car, you can park at the beginning, end, or at Totaranui.

Water taxis are a great option for day hikes or overnight hikes. Cost ranges from $24-46/person depending on how far you want to go.  We walked from Marahau to Totaranui and then took a water taxi back to Kaiteriteri, where our host picked us up.


The Trek

Marahau to Torrent Bay

The trail starts on a beach in Marahau, transitions to a boardwalk and enters the forest. Don’t worry- you can almost always catch a glimpse of the water through the trees and it frequently returns to the beach.

Almost instantly, we heard the chirp of a fantail displaying her feathers. (We are becomming birders and enjoy learning about the native birds.)  Pass by Tinline Bay, Coquille Bay, Guilbert Point, and on to Appletree Bay (tent site— looked incredible, 3 miles in).  Looking out, you can see Fisherman Island and Adele Island (home to an adorable seal colony).

Near Anchorage, there will be a choice to take the high tide track or the low tide track.  We happened to be there near high tide, so we took the longer trail around the bay.  This took us by the side trail to Cleopatra’s Pool.  It’s a short, easy side trail leading to a nice water feature with deep, ice cold swimming holes.  We stopped for lunch and dipped our feet. I would recommend the side trail if you are already on the high tide track!

Next came Torrent Bay.  This is a popular spot for day hikers to be dropped off so it can be a bit crowded.  Also, the bay was empty at low tide so it seemed like a less desirable tent site to us.

Torrent Bay to Bark Bay

We continued our hike North through the bush.  It is a lush environment with the famous silver ferns and plenty of moss.  The trail remains well maintained and relatively easy.  We passed by Sandfly Bay and Medlands Beach before reaching our campsite at Bark Bay.

Needlessly, we were worried Bark Bay might be crowded having a hut and 40 tent sites.  It was calm and relaxing, and spread out over a large area.  It didn’t feel crowded at all.  We found a site a few yards from the beach. Our neighbors on both sides were from Germany. One was hiking with the same gear his father hiked the Abel Tasman with 20 years ago! The facilities were nice- the privys flushed and there was a covered shelter for cooking. At high tide we had the ocean waves just out our back door. At low tide we took a walk around Bark Bay to check out the tidepools and driftwood.

We opted not to bring a stove and cooking gear to NZ.  Cold food it is!  We were emboldened by our fellow thru-hikers that gave up their stoves during the summer to save weight.  I (Claudia) was inspired by Grandma Gatewood to do without a sleeping pad in NZ.  At night, I layer my clothes into a pile in the tent, put on my coat, and get in my sleeping bag.  It’s actually been working pretty well!  I’m still living in luxury compared to Grandma Gatewood!

Bark Bay to Onetahuti Beach

Heading north from Bark Bay, there is a high tide track or low tide track.  We woke up with high tide waves hitting the shore about 20 feet from our tent.  The high tide track skirts Bark Bay and again goes into the bush.  The trail tends to climb and then drop back down into another bay or onto a beach.  This pattern would continue the rest of the hike.  To the East, the Tonga Island Marine Reserve begins off shore.  It protects all of the marine life and prohibits fishing, gathering shellfish, or disturbing seals.

At last, the Tonga Quarry came into view.  It’s another ideal tent site with turquois waters and a sandy beach.  Tonga Island is in the distance.

After one more little climb, we reached Onetahuti Beach, the longest beach walk on the Abel Tasman.  It seems to go on forever, which we didn’t mind!  They have tent camping and picnic spots.  We stopped for a snack just to maximize our time there.

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Hiking along Onetahuti Beach, the longest beach walk in Abel Tasman

Onetahuti Beach to Totaranui

After Onetahuti, the trail climbs the side of the cliff and offers some stunning views down to Awaroa and the 3 beaches beyond. The next phase has a low tide only crossing at Awaroa.  We were careful to look up the tide schedule before leaving and we had to make it there 30 minutes before low tide or up to 2 hours after.  We had lunch in the shade, waiting for our time to cross.

Awaroa Hut sits right on the Awaroa Inlet.  It is fairly wide (20 minutes across on foot) and is impassable most of the day.  When the timing is right, the water is low enough to wade through.  It is muddy in spots and there are sharp sea shells everywhere and little crabs running around.  Wear water shoes!  The water is crystal clear and we enjoyed our crossing.

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Low tide crossing at Awoara Bay

After Awoara we had a short hike to Waiharakeke Bay (great campsite).  We took the opportunity to swim while the sun was out.  The water is super cold and the air temps have been mild so swimming is not always as appealing as you might think.  This felt great! Standing on the beach, you can look out and see the hills of the Marlborough Sound in the distance.

Before making our way to Totaranui, we took a short side trail to an overlook.  The gold sand is striking!  We couldn’t wait to set up camp!

Totaranui is the largest campground on the Abel Tasman. It has 269 sites! As we mentioned, you can drive to this site so there were a lot of campervans set up.  There are small pockets of sites, separated by tree lines, so it feels smaller than it really is. There are flush toilets and cold showers (a thru-hikers dream!).  Andrew opted to swim again in the frigid waters. The waves were tall enough for a little body surfing!

Gold sand beach! Totaranui, NZ

Gold sand beach of Totaranui

Water Taxi to Kaiteriteri

We highly recommend taking a water taxi. I mean, how many chances do you get to shuttle by boat!? We took ours after our hike, so it gave us a chance to re-live the hike. We made brief stops at many of the beaches to pick-up/drop-off passengers, which gave us one more chance to soak up each view. Our captain pointed out some interesting rock formations, and even stopped as we passed a seal colony so we could take pictures!

Bottom Line

Abel Tasman was one of the most enjoyable hikes of my life (this is both of us talking). We had the chance to meet people from different parts of the world, but it never felt crowded. We had amazing views, yet the trail is mostly flat. It is as smooth as a putting green… with beaches… and a water taxi! What are you waiting for? Go straight the DOC site and reserve your trek!

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Comments 4

  • Gerry McCaffrey Sr. : Mar 9th

    Reading with enthusiasm. Sounds like an experience of a lifetime. Thanks for sharing. G

    Reply
    • Andrew : Mar 9th

      Thanks Uncle G!

      Reply
  • Heidi Devine : Mar 10th

    Beautiful!! It’s snowing here- I’m ready for beach weather!

    Reply
    • Claudia and Andrew Carberry : Mar 19th

      It’s starting to cool down here but our last host lives about 200 meters from the beach! We’ve been watching the sunrise every morning over the Pacific!

      Reply

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