Just a city girl who dreams of dusty trails and endless oceans.
Published April 22nd 2018
Hike your way to heaven in New Zealand
Located on the northern tip of New Zealand's wild South Island, Abel Tasman National Park is home to one of the country's busiest multi-day hiking trails. The Abel Tasman Coastal Trail runs for 60 kilometres from top to bottom, taking in stunning sandy beaches, pristine rainforest and an endlessly blue ocean. The trail typically takes 5 days to complete; most visitors choose to complete parts of the track over a course of 1 to 3 days.
There are several ways to access the track, including self-drive options, sea shuttles and guided tours. You can spend your nights at the parks camp sites and cabins, or come back every night to a warm bed in Kaiteriteri, Nelson or Motueka. We chose to use Abel Tasman Sea Shuttles as they are incredibly flexible with their pickup and drop-off times, they offer a myriad of locations to choose from and they provide good value with their three-day pass. This three-day pass allowed us to return to our accommodation in Kaiteriteri every night for a good meal and much needed rest.
The Abel Tasman Coastal Track has been designed to be accessible for people from almost all walks of life. The interconnecting trail walks range from 1 hour to 11 hours long, and no section is harder than medium grade. You can tailor your days to suit your fitness level, and all parts of the track are equal in beauty and natural attractions. If you need help deciding on which section is the right one for you, the park and service providers know their park well and are more than happy to help. As there are so many options for planning your visit to the National Park, this is just a recommended itinerary for two people of average fitness. The flexibility of the three-day pass does allow you to plan around the weather; I recommend you complete the shortest leg on your rainiest day if you strike some rare bad weather. It is also worth noting that during the off-peak season, the local companies limit their operations to just one or two departures a day.
One of the many beautiful bays along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track
Day 1: Apple Tree Bay to Anchorage (7kms) Apple Tree Bay has a legacy from the colonial days when settlers attempted to plant an orchard at a coastal homestead. Needless to say, the orchard fell during a severe storm leaving a single apple tree behind. You board the vessel at 9am, arriving at the bay at 9.25am after a quick viewing of the famous Split Apple Rock and some local seals. After some quick photos of the local fantail birds that call this area home, you begin the climb to the top of the cliffs and hills that the trail follows all the way to the tip of the island. This is a relatively easy portion of the track, typically taking 2-3 hours. There are plenty of opportunities for some amazing landscape photos along the way.
Take note of the stoat traps laid out every 100 metres or so. These are part of the local pest management that is helping to bring back the local bird population. It is best to not let little hands near these traps. At certain times of the year there will also be wasp bait laid out along the trail; these will always be noticeable in bright yellow containers nailed to the trees. If you are a fast walker you can make it to Anchorage for the 11.45am pickup, or you can take your time and wait for the 1.30pm pickup (summers only).
One of the local residents at Abel Tasman National Park
Day 2: Anchorage to Medlands Beach including Cleopatra's Pool (10.6kms 2.5kms) Arriving at Anchorage at 9.50am, you begin the much longer walk to Medlands Beach by climbing up the forest-covered slopes once again. On this trail there is an option of a high-tide or low-tide route. While the low-tide option shaves an hour off your hiking time, it can only be accessed when the low tide lines up with your arrival time. By taking the high-tide track, you have the option of including a roughly two-hour detour to Cleopatra's Pool, a great spot for a refreshing swim if you are OK with getting a little cold.
If you time your hike right, you can return on the 3.30pm pickup or wait to catch the 4.45pm final pickup for the day (peak summer period only). Nearby Torrent Bay is another drop-off point, however during certain tides you do run the risk of getting wet up to your thighs as the bay is often too shallow for the boat to reach the shore.
Day 3: Medlands Beach to Awaroa (9kms) Once you arrive at Medlands Beach at 10am, you begin your ascent into the rainforest once more. Not far down the trail there is a small detour to Bark Beach, a nice spot for a swim. Continuing on, you pass over an impressive footbridge and head on towards Tonga Quarry. You will notice a rather ugly concrete block. This is the location of the Tonga Quarry Camp Site, very recently washed away by a cyclone. Keep your camera handy; the local Weka love to hang around here (a fairly large flightless bird only recently coming back to the park).
Before the trail begins to head further uphill towards Awaroa, the track comes out onto the beach where you will re-join it as it merges with a new and rather beautiful boardwalk and bridge. Once at the top of the hill you will come across Awaroa Lodge, a high-end lodge nestled at the top of the hill with a good restaurant and bar for a refreshing lunch and celebratory wine or beer. Congratulations, you are near the end of your three-day hike. From here you simply head downhill again, cross a grassy air strip and come back onto the beach for a 2.45pm or 4.15pm (peak only) pickup.
On any given day in Abel Tasman National Park you will come across a great variety of birdlife. Often you will hear them long before you see them. There is even an app specifically designed to help you not only navigate the track, but also keep track of the birdlife you encounter. It is not often that you will encounter a rainy day on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, but rain just seems to enhance the natural beauty of the forested hills around you. For more information on the park itself, head to www.doc.govt.nz/abeltasmantrack. For more information about Abel Tasman Sea Shuttles head to their website here.