Abel Tasman Coast Track (NZ)

Overview

Located at the northern end of New Zealand's South Island, the Abel Tasman Coast Track is the most popular of New Zealand's Great Walks, and explores the beautiful coastline from Marahau to Wainui Bay. 


View down to Torrent Bay on the way to Anchorage

At 60 kilometres in length, the trail follows the ruggedly beautiful coastline of Abel Tasman National Park, heading through a mix of lush, Gondwanan rainforest and a series of ever more impressive golden sand beaches.



The golden sands of Whariwharangi Beach

A coastal playground in an area with New Zealand's most reliably fine weather, the trail has been described as a 'beach holiday on foot'. Indeed, with relatively gentle terrain and a lazy average of 12 kilometres a day combined with comfortable temperatures, sunny weather and calm, inviting beaches, this is a family friendly walk geared towards relaxing and enjoying rather than fastpacking and rushing.


Crossing Awaroa Inlet at low tide

While even more mellow than the Cape to Cape Track in Western Australia, it should be noted that the Abel Tasman area is subject to some extreme tidal conditions, and this is something walkers must consider when walking the track. While most section of the track feature a high tide route, Awaroa Inlet must be crossed within 1.5 hours before and 2 hours after low tide. This may necessitate an early start on the day, however it adds an exciting adventurous start to arguably the most impressive day of the track. 



The aptly named Anchorage is a boat access point for the track

The Department of Conservation provides an easy to follow northbound hut-to-hut itinerary, however the track can be walked in either direction. Additionally, the walk is dotted with a number of alternate campsites. As such, walkers prepared to take a tent can customise their itinerary to suit; walkers with young children can potentially do the walk in shorter days while those with time constraints can walker longer kilometres per day instead. Additionally, with water taxis allowing access to various sections of the track, the Abel Tasman can be customised to fit any itinerary. 



The charming, character-filled former homestead at Whariwharangi

While subject to an expensive international rate, the DOC huts are however highly recommended as they are of the high standard one can expect from a Great Walk Hut. While the middle two huts feature large bunk platforms, they are bookended by the thoroughly modern Anchorage Hut and its single bunks in multiple rooms, and the character-filled Whariwharangi - an old homestead that provides early birds the opportunity to nab a private room in a public hut! All huts come standard with real mattresses that provide a comfortable night's sleep, flushing toilets(!) and treated water, though gas is not supplied on this walk. 


The waterfall on the Cleopatra's Pool side trip

Our Christmas Beach Holiday on Foot (2019)

Alissa and I walked the Abel Tasman Coast Track over Christmas 2019, celebrating Christmas Day on our third day of the walk. Our itinerary was based on the suggested five day hut-to-hut walk from the Department of Conservation's guide to the trail, walking in the conventional northbound direction.

Given that this is the most popular Great Walk in New Zealand by some margin (it attracts more than 43,000 walkers or kayakers a year who spend at least one night compared to 17,000 on the second most popular - the Routeburn Track) and attracts visitors other than walkers, Abel Tasman National Park is relatively busy - especially at major beaches like Anchorage. In spite of this, walkers prepared to set off early can practically have the track to themselves as Alissa and I did. In spite of the high visitor numbers, the park is in remarkably good condition with pristine native rainforest and unspoilt beaches that become wilder and more impressive in the more remote northern sections of the track. 

Being exceptionally well signed, walkers will have little issue following the track and as such a guidebook is not really needed while walking; the DOC Walking Guide is more than sufficient. For real-time tracking and up to date information, there is also 'Virtual Visitor Centre' app that can be accessed via wifi at all the huts along the way. For planning, Lonely Planet's Hiking and Tramping in New Zealand is a worthwhile guide that we used to organise and plan our trip however its chunky size makes it impractical for a multi-day walk.

Access to the Marahau and Wainui Bay trailheads are by private shuttle, with a number of operators providing shuttle buses between Nelson and the park, stopping at the towns along the way. We went with the Heaphy Bus Company and can recommend them. Some walkers prefer to end the walk at the alternate ending at Totaranui Bay and get a water taxi back to Marahau rather than catching the shuttle bus. This might be more conducive for visitors who have travelled by private or hire car, or for those who get carsick given the bus from Wainui Bay has to traverse a very windy mountain pass.

The Abel Tasman Coast Track had been Alissa's Great Walk of Choice for our first New Zealand trip, and with Alissa being a fan of both coastal and forest walking the trail more that lived up to her expectations and it was one of her favourite and most enjoyable walks to date. Having developed a phobia of hut-to-hut hiking after an incident on the Overland Track, the Great Walk huts and actually getting a good night's sleep on the trail restored her faith in the system and her interest in multi-day hikes. Considering some of the challenging walks we've undertaken, it was nice to do a multi-day that was well within our comfort zone and have a relaxing, lazy hike for a change. Given its easy going nature, this would be a perfect walk for first time multi-day hikers or those with young families, and one that everyone can enjoy.

Oh yeah - if travelling between Bark Bay and Awaroa, make sure you visit the Awaroa Lodge Cafe. Having a cooked non-dehydrated meal on a multi-day hike is a luxury, and the fact it is also a short cut makes it even more worthwhile. Highly recommended

Podcast



In Episode 55 of Real Trail Talk, Mark Pybus from the Life of Py, Alissa and I discussed our Christmas 2019 adventure on the Abel Coast Track. Click on the link to have a listen or search for Real Trail Talk on iTunes or Podbean.

The Sections


Abel Tasman Coast Track (NZ) - Marahau to Anchorage

Day 1 of the Abel Tasman Coast Track, this first section links Marahau to Anchorage. Starting at the track's southern trailhead, the day's walking initially follows numerous beaches before rising up to follow the rainforest-filled the coastal ridge. Passing waterfalls on the way, the trail descends to the spectacular Torrent Bay and Anchorage Hut. An easy first day and good start to New Zealand's most popular multi-day tramp ...

Abel Tasman Coast Track (NZ) - Anchorage to Bark Bay

Day 2 of the Abel Tasman Coast Track, this section follows the coastline between Torrent Bay and Bark Bay. Leaving Anchorage via the beach and skirting Torrent Bay estuary, a short side trip leads to the beautiful Cleopatra's Pool before passing through Torrent Bay settlement. Heading through forest and crossing the spectacular Falls River over a swing bridge, the trail ends at the idyllic Bark Bay. An even better follow up to Day 1 ...

Abel Tasman Coast Track (NZ) - Bark Bay to Awaroa

Day 3 of the Abel Tasman Coast Track, this hut to hut section links Bark Bay to Awaroa. Leaving Bark Bay Hut, the track rises up one of its steepest climbs before descending to Tonga Quarry and the beautiful Onetahuti Beach. Rising up to Tonga Saddle, an optional low tide route passes by the Awaroa Lodge Cafe before a walk along the shorts leads to the well located hut. A relaxing and enjoyable middle day of a beach holiday on foot...

Abel Tasman Coast Track (NZ) - Awaraoa to Whariwharangi

The longest day of the Abel Tasman Coast Track, Day 4 starts with the tidal crossing at Awaroa Inlet. On the other side, the track rises up and down to a series of magnificent beaches on the way to Whariwharangi Bay. Located in the greater Golden Bay, the Whariwharangi's beach is complemented by the unique Whariwharangi Hut - a converted 19th Century homestead that is the track's best hut on the track's most scenic day...

Abel Tasman Coast Track (NZ) - Whariwharangi to Wainiu Bay

The final day of the Abel Tasman Coast Track, Day 5 starts is a short half day up and over the hill to Wainui Bay. Starting behind Whariwharangi Hut, the track rises up a moderate but continuous ascent to a lookout and trail junction. Descending from the hill, the track provides spectacular views of Wainui Bay and the Greater Golden Bay area. A short but enjoyable finale to a great Great Walk...

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