Abel Tasman Coast Track

The Abel Tasman Coast Track Great Walk has been the opening hike on a couple of our NZ trips.  It is a superb coastal walk with golden coloured beaches, with swimming and kayaking available.  At 55.2km and usually walked in 3-5 days it is a perfect warmup. Not too hard, but challenging enough especially if you haven’t had a backpack on for a while.  It includes some good ups and downs but nothing really big and a few stretches of beach sand.   It is easy to get into and out of if you decide you have bitten off more than you can chew or the weather turns.  If you are early or late in the season it is near the coast on the top of the South Island and the weather is usually fairly mild compared to inland.  If you want a very lazy hike you can even have the water taxis pick up and drop off your pack.

The Track can also be done as a paddle rather than a walk and if you want to push yourself you can make the return journey along the Abel Tasman Inland track adding another 41km and 2-3 days.

Closest towns: Kaiteriteri and Motueka are closer and seem to be backpacker havens but we started from Nelson, which was recently voted by the New Zealand’s ‘Wilderness Magazine’ as the second best town in New Zealand for outdoor enthusiasts after Te Anau. We reached Nelson by flying into Wellington and taking the InterIslander Ferry from the North Island to the South Island town of Picton and caught a bus from Picton. All the supplies you need can be bought in Nelson. We used Abel Tasman Coachlines ($NZD 40pp return) for transport from Nelson to Marahau.

Tents or Huts and Bookings

Like most of the named Kiwi walks campsites are available for tents or you can stay in the huts. There are 4 huts ($32 pp per night) and 18 campsites, although some of the campsites can only be reached from the water. Bookings for the Great Walks Huts and campsites are required all year round.  A couple of things to be careful of, unlike many of the other Great Walks huts these are not serviced with gas for cooking. Also there are wasps in the park, especially near clay banks/cuttings and fresh water tanks at the huts, Michelle was stung pretty badly, so take antihistamine and an epipen if you are allergic. The possums are pretty voracious as well so don’t leave any food out of your tent at night.

Tides

The most important tip for planning the timing of a walk on the Abel Tasman Track is to check the tide times before you book huts or camp sites. There are three crossings on the track which are affected by tides. Two of those have a high tide alternative which will add a bit of distance and time to the day’s walk but the third at Awaroa can only be crossed between 1.5 hours before high tide and 2 hours after low tide. Ideally you want to spend a night at Awaroa and cross on a low tide the next morning.

Day 1 Marahau to Anchorage Hut (12.4km, 4 hours). After getting off the bus we stopped at the café restaurant for a final proper coffee before throwing our packs on and heading across the flats towards Anchorage hut. The track is pretty well benched and easy going. We were not fully hiking fit so the recommended 4 hours actually took us 4 hours. We were quickly into the rhythm of the next few days, walk a bit inland, up the hill, across and back down onto the beach, watch the seals, enjoy the sun, chat to fellow trampers, repeat. Although there was not enough heat in the sun to convince us to go for a swim.

Golden coloured beaches
Golden coloured beaches

Day 2 Anchorage to Bark Bay Hut (12.1km, 4 hours). More of the same. However the first of the potential tidal crossings is at Torrent bay only a few km into the day. It is OK because there is a high tide track if you need it. Timing meant we took the high tide track.

Day 3 Bark Bay to Awaroa Hut (11.4km, 4 hours). Day 3, rinse and repeat. This time watch the oyster catchers run around. There is another potential water crossing at Onetahuti bay and just as you come to the Awaroa inlet another chance to get your feet wet if the tide is high.

There is a chance for some food and coffee at the Harakeke Restaurant and café at Peppers Awaroa lodge. The café is not accessible by road, only by boat or foot. Watch out for the small sign pointing down the hill on a pretty good track. Dump your bag at the side of the track and head down

When we arrived at Awaroa Hut much to our surprise there was already a large group ensconced, 4 teachers and 16 school aged teenagers. These guys had already finished their walk for the day and the teenagers were well organised playing beach cricket, and volleyball at least until the first quick hailstorm went through, that didn’t stop all of them until a bit later when the second more persistent storm started. The group was more than well stocked and happy to share some fresh veges with a couple of Aussies.

Day 4 Awaroa to Whariwharangi Hut (11.8km, 4 hours). The exit from Awaroa is potentially the tricky part of the walk. The tidal crossing can be long and deep and can only really safely be walked 1.5 hours before or 2 hours after low tide. The beach itself is a mixture of sand and shell and I’d recommend against bare feet. In fact I recommend against sandles/ jandals /tevas etc because they just seem to catch the shells and hold them against your feet, go for sneakers or old wet suit booties. The track continues until you reach the mega campsite of Totaranui where at the right season you might get an icecream. It is also the point many people finish the Abel Tasman track because the water taxis stop there for pickups and drop offs.

Awaroa crossing. It's easy at low tide
Awaroa crossing. It’s easy at low tide

We continued on to Whariwharangi hut, an old homestead – farmhouse and one of the nicest little huts in NZ, and because most people get off the track early often the least busy on the Abel Tasman. Note, for those not used to Kiwi-Maori words, the Wh is usually pronounced as a sort of long F or Ph sound, resulting in a pronunciation of Farafarangi or Fura furangi.

It was pretty cold and we had just settled in for the evening and stoked up the fire when we had a crazy panicked Italian backpacker knocking on the door worried about “The animals, the animals”. They were camping at the tent site nearby and the local possums were trying to get themselves a feed. The backpacker left his stash in the corner of the hut overnight. Hopefully it was also his last day on the track because when we left they had packed up and disappeared without picking it up.

Whariwharangi Hut. Late afternoon sunshine
Whariwharangi Hut. Late afternoon sunshine.

Day 4 Whariwharangi to Totaranui beach (7.5km, 2 hours).

The usual last little bit of the Abel Tasman track is from Whariwharangi to Wainui inlet (5.5km, 1.5 hours) where you can arrange for transport to pick you up and return you to the bus stop at Marahau. We caught a water taxi from Totaranui and had plenty of time so started off in the Wainui direction before heading along the start of the Abel Tasman inland track and then cutting back to the coast at Totaranui. There are a few companies offering water taxi services, we used Abel Tasman Sea Shuttles ($47, 1 hour 15 minutes) and were given a pretty good scenic tour checking in on all of the bays it took us 4 days to walk past, spotting a few seals and checking on a couple of tired kayakers. The boat dropped us at Kaiteriteri so we had a short walk to the park entrance at Marahau, and time for another proper coffee at the café before jumping on the bus.

For more information: see our post A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking in New Zealand and the Department of Conservation Abel Tasman Coastal Track page.

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