An ‘In Hindsight’ guide to our time in the Abel Tasman National Park

The Abel Tasman National Park was established in 1942 and is located at the top of the South Island; the nearest towns are Motueka, Takaka and Kaiteriteri. It’s New Zealand’s smallest national park. It’s 60km long and you can hike across it in 3-5 days one way – it’s also known to have a mild climate, so it is a good place to visit at any time of the year.

Abel Tasman was not on my list of ‘must do’s’ in New Zealand a second time around. If you search ‘Abel Tasman National Park’ online or social media, no doubt you’ll see stunning turquoise waters, golden sand beaches, granite cliffs, forested hills and trees growing from them and kayaks. So naturally you think, well, I need to get myself a kayak to tick that ‘must do’ off. But then if you go one step further to look up the price of either hiring a kayak for the day or doing a guided kayak tour you’ll be shocked that the prices range from $75-$300. This cost was not appealing to me, however whenever I spoke to other travellers they said we needed to hike it – even just for a day.

After a full night of research (the night before) I found the following information:

There are 4 ways to get around the National Park:

ONE: Guided Tours:

    • Cruise & Walk Day Trips
    • Guided Sea Kayaking
    • Overnight Beachfront Lodge-based trips

TWO: Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi (from the towns Kaiterteri and Marahau)

  • A one way to a beach with the option to walk back
  • Buy a one way to one beach, then another water taxi from another (in case you only want a shorter walk around the park)
  • Staying over a hut and you don’t want to carry your bag all the way? Water Taxi companies offer Hut-to-Hut pack transfers for NZ$8 – NZ$12 depending on weight and destination.

THREE: Kayak

FOUR: Walk

AbelTasman
This map looks a bit intense but it’s the best way to understand the area and the park. The bottom right is where we stayed. Marahau is the nearest town you can get to by car. The rest of the map clearly states how long hikes are and where the camp grounds are.

So if you’re like us and you’re thinking – “oh maybe I’ll just do a day walk in and out” that’s free! You can do this, and we could have done this. But what you would find that although the park is the smallest in New Zealand, you’d only be seeing a small percentage of the park before you need to turn back and you’d be seeing the same parts twice.

What this blog post aims to tell you is:

  1. What I did
  2. What I recommend you do

Although my plans were very last minute, I actually read up on so many blogs and website information guides (as well as desperately trying to find a last minute deal). But looking back the only thing that really prepared me for the park was doing it, seeing it for myself and making a judgement. So I hope this blog helps someone during their trip to Abel Tasman.

What we did:

We booked 2 nights in Motueka, town 20 mins drive to the start of the National Park.

Honestly, we chose this locations because of the hostel. After staying somewhere as wonderful as the Albatross in Kaikoura, we wanted somewhere just as good, warm and clean. The White Elephant just looked and sounds lovely (and it was) with lemon and orange trees on the premises, a beautiful white cottage and it was cosy. The only issue we found with this hostel was there was a lot of long term guests living here, Motueka is a great place for fruit picking apparently so the positive was that the there was lots of free freshly picked apples for everyone. Prior to booking here, our second choice of accomodation was The Barn Backpackers in Marahau (the town closest to the National Park), which looked great, pretty basic but good. It apparently only offers an hour of free WiFi a day – which I wouldn’t have minded if I wasn’t booking as I went along so the WiFi does come in handy.

We had a plan, a great plan. 

For our one day in the National park (and after considering all of the options) our plan was to drive to Marahau (20 mins), find the water taxi office (it’s such a small town you can’t miss it), get the first boat out at 9.30am to Bark bay and walk back the 6-7 hour journey back to the car park. Perfect!

You would think on a Tuesday during the Spring off-peak season it would be find to turn up and book with no issues, but the weather was so sunny that the first boat was fully booked and the next one wasn’t until 12.30pm. So this put an unexpected spanner in the works…

“I hope you have a Plan B” shouted the water taxi driver as the info desk.

We waited around to see if there were any cancellations/no shows, whilst planning our Plan B. We could do our plan the opposite way around (walk to Bark Bay and get a water taxi back), BUT the last water taxi’s back from Bark Bay was at 3.15pm, which didn’t give us enough time to walk to Bark Bay to catch it on time – there was a possibility we’d make it but it would mean walking quickly with minimal stops on the way. And that’s no fun! So we decided on the most realistic plan…

We decided to book the 3.30pm boat back from Anchorage, a couple beaches closer so we had 6 hours to walk/enjoy before heading back.

I really liked this new plan, it was a shame not to see more of the park but also it’s a great feeling knowing that you can do a hike one way and get transported back – much like climbing a mountain and getting a gondola down, I truely love these kind of hikes! 🙂

AbelTasman_firstbeach
Tinline Bay

Stu found his lookout!
Looking out at Adele Island
My favourite bay, Stilwell Bay

Our Verdict of Abel Tasman National Park:

Abel Tasman National Park was really worth the visit and I actually do wish we’d taken the time to stay overnight in the park.

The walk is easy and mostly flat.  The coastal views are incredible!

For me personally, the walk felt like I was in a tropical humid rainforest, and the beaches reminded me of the Phillippine islands.

Anchorage Bay

All in all it’s just a lovely pleasant walk and experience, especially in the warm sunshine with not many people on the track. We got to Anchorage Bay with over 2 hours to spare and the beach is just beautiful and golden that we considered trekking longer and coming back but instead we just decided to have lunch and enjoy the beach.

Here many people were camping or staying in one of the huts here following a long day of kayaking. The hut here for accomodation is very nice!! I expected just a hut, but it’s more like a log cabin with lots of huts with bunks.

With hours to spare I decided to have a nice nap before we jumped on the Water Taxi back.

Once we jumped in the car, we had 2 more hours of day light to drive 10 minutes to the Split Apple.

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Split Apple – 15 minute walk from the car park

We also took the windy route back through Kaiteriteri.

What I’d recommend for those planning a trip to Abel Tasman National Park:

ONE: Stay in Marahou, then do a day trip and book the water taxi you want (in advance):

  • Get the first boat (9/9.30am) to Bark Bay (6/7 hours walk back – $42) or
  • To or from Anchorage (as we did, 3-4 hours walk back – $37)

TOW: Plan a night or a few overnight staysThere’s so many camp spots with huts you can stay in if you have sleeping gear. Or if you’re travelling with a tent you can camp. You have so many options with staying over in the park. You can walk the whole park and back, or pre-book a water taxi. You can even book water taxi’s to transport your gear so you can hike a bit more freely.

If you are going to be using the track system in the park for overnight trips, make sure you are properly equipped and well prepared. Everyone needs to carry a sleeping bag, cooking utensils, a waterproof raincoat, and warm (wool or fleece) clothing. A portable stove will also be needed. Firm footwear is recommended but boots are not necessary.

Also note there is a fee when staying overnight:

  • Great Walk Hut. If tramping on the Coast Track and planning to stay in huts, you will need to book with the DoC and pay a fee between NZ$32, per night, depending on the season.
  • Standard Hut. If tramping on the Inland Track and planning to stay in huts, you will need to pay a fee of NZ$5 per night.
  • Backcountry Campsites. Expect to pay about NZ$14 per night.

I’m afraid that’s as much as my advice goes (from only spending a day there). Google will take you the rest of your journey.

Did you notice Kayaking isn’t on this list? This is simply because, to be honest sailing back from the Anchorage Bay I found I wasn’t overwhelmed by the sights from the water’s edge as much as I was from the coastal walk. The walk really is so much better than the boat. It also took 20 mins to take a fast taxi from Anchorage so by Kayak I reckon it’s 3-4 hours (if not more) to get to just a quarter of the park. If you’re keen to Kayak I’d say go to Kaiteriteri and Kayak from there to Split Apple and rent the kayak for 3-4 hours. Or you’re keen to do a guided tour, check these out at discount rates on Bookme.co.nz or just Google tours from Kaiteriteri or Marahou.

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A helpful map (Sea Kayak Company) highlighting all the Bays.
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