The Abel Tasman National Park, 60km north of Nelson, is stunningly beautiful with golden sandy beaches lapped by crystal-clear waters and lush green bushland, interspersed with granite outcrops and inhabited by an abundance of wildlife. Deservedly it has an international reputation that draws large numbers of trampers, kayakers and day-trippers from November to March. But don’t be put off. Despite being New Zealand’s smallest national park – just 20km by 25km – the Abel Tasman absorbs crowds tolerably well and compensates with scenic splendour on an awesome scale.
Most visitors come to see the coastline. Some come to hike the Abel Tasman Coast Track with its picturesque mixture of dense coastal bushwalking, gentle climbs to lookouts and walks across idyllic beaches. Abundant water taxis mean you can pick the sections to hike and get a lift back when you’ve had enough. Others come to kayak the spectacular coastline, spending leisurely lunchtimes on golden sands before paddling off in the late afternoon sun to a campsite or hut. Hiking and kayaking can be combined, and you might even tack on sailing the limpid waters or swimming with seals to round off the experience. You can stay in the park, either at one of the DOC huts and campsites, or in considerably more luxury at the ever-increasing number of attractive lodges.
With guided and advanced trip booking you can be whisked from Nelson straight into the park, missing potentially fascinating nights in the surrounding gateway towns. Motueka is best for organizing your own trip, but most kayaks and water taxis leave from tiny Marahau, at the park’s southern entrance. A few trips depart from diminutive Kaiteriteri, where a gorgeous beach tempts many to stay.
The park’s northern reaches are accessed from Takaka where Abel Tasman Drive leads to Wainui, Awaroa and Totaranui, all on the Coast Track.
Since around 1500, Maori made seasonal encampments along the coast and some permanent settlements flourished near the mouth of the Awaroa River. In 1642, Abel Tasman anchored two ships near Wainui in Golden Bay and lost four men in a skirmish with the Ngati Tumatakokiri, after which he departed the shores. Frenchman Dumont d’Urville dropped by in 1827 and explored the area between Marahau and Torrent Bay, but it was another 23 years before European settlement began in earnest. The settlers chopped, quarried, burned and cleared until nothing was left but gorse and bracken. Happily, few obvious signs of their invasion remain and the vegetation has vigorously regenerated.Read More
Exploring Abel Tasman National Park
Exploring Abel Tasman National Park
There is a plethora of ways to explore the Abel Tasman National Park – no matter what combination of activities you’d like to try, there’s almost bound to be an operator who’ll oblige. Relatively few people tramp the Inland Track, and most are keen to stick to the Coast Track, with its long golden beaches, clear water, spectacular outcrops and the constant temptation to snorkel in some of the idyllic bays. Unsurprisingly, the coast is where you’ll find most of the accommodation, ranging from beachside campsites to swanky lodges. Water taxis take you virtually anywhere along the coast and as far north as the lovely beach at Totaranui. They usually give a commentary along the way, though there are also dedicated cruises, some visiting the seal colony on the Tonga Island Marine Reserve and Split Apple Rock, a large boulder that has split and fallen into two halves, like an upright neatly cleaved Braeburn.
The intricate details of the coast are best explored by kayak, either on a guided trip or by renting kayaks and setting your own itinerary. Better still, combine kayaking with walking a section of the Coast Track. Water taxi drop-offs and guided kayaking are banned in the section of park north of Totaranui, making this a much quieter area to hike and hang out.