Abel Tasman History

Established in 1942, the Abel Tasman is New Zealand’s most popular national park.

First Human Settlement

There is archaeological evidence to show the Abel Tasman was occupied by Maori around 700 years ago. This includes middens, pits, pa sites and terraces. A succession of local iwi occupied the area before Te Rauparaha’s confederation of Taranaki and Tainui tribes swept through the area wiping out the local residents.

European Discovery

On the 16th of December 1642, Abel Janszoon Tasman of the Dutch East India Company anchored his vessels Zeehaen and Heemskerck off Wainui Bay at the northern end of the Park. When Abel Tasman anchored with vessels the members of the local iwi, Ngati Tumatakoriri paddled out in their waka to investigate. They were shown knives and cloth for trade by Tasman’s crew. Some of the waka crew were invited aboard the Heemskerck but declined, heading back to shore instead.

History tells us that later on, seven waka came out to the ships. The cock-boat of the Zeehaen, returning from a meeting on the Heemskerck, was rammed by a waka. The altercation that ensued resulted in the death of four of Tasman’s crew. In response, the crew weighed anchor and headed towards Cook Strait, naming the place ‘Murderers Bay’ after the incident. Tasman and his crew never actually set foot on NZ soil.

On the 29th of March 1770 Englishman Captain Cook sailed past the area without landing. He called the area Blind Bay. Then on the 14th of January 1827 Frenchman Jules Dumont D’Urville rounded, and named, Separation Point on his vessel Astrolabe. He sailed south and anchored in the sheltered waters of what we now call the Astrolabe Roadstead.

The local Maori were amicable towards D’Urville and his crew so they stayed in huts on the beach and explored the area. He named many of the landmarks in the area: Watering Cove where they gathered fresh water, Observation Beach where they observed the transit of Venus across the sun, Adele Island after his wife, plus Coquille Bay, Cyathea Cove and Fisherman Island to name a few.

European Settlement

In the 1840s the New Zealand Company began to show some interest in the area, surveying the coastline and inland areas.

The purchasing of land began from 1854 with a view to clearing the native bush in order to create pasture land for farming.

However, it became apparent quickly that the burning of the native bush quickly depleted the land of much of its fertility and the predominantly granite soils proved to be less than ideal for farming. Despite these factors, and the difficulty of the access to the area, the Hadfield family were the first to run sheep and cattle in the area and did so until 1949. William Gibbs purchased 1,000 acres of land from Totaranui to Wainui inlet and a further 6,000 acres south to the Awaroa River in 1857. Land at Anchor Bay was cleared to make an orchard. Land was also cleared at Glennies and Holyoakes clearings and grass seed sown, but those areas were never stocked. Farming was extremely difficult and many ventures failed.
History of the Abel Tasman National Park

From 1876 to 1878 rock was quarried from Adele Island and was shipped to Nelson to form seawalls as part of the new wharf and for the extension of the railway to the port. In the 1870s rocks were taken from the western end of The Anchorage for use at Port Nelson and sand was also shipped to Wellington for use on building facades.

Tonga Quarry was incorporated in 1904, the remains of which can still be found today. This includes the winch block, discarded granite blocks and the old wharf. Building-grade stones were cut from both ends of the beach and were shipped by scow to Wellington for the old parliament building and to Nelson for the steps that lead up the Cathedral. By 1913, operations were greatly scaled down and the Tonga Bay Granite Company was struck off the company’s register in 1921.

From 1855 timber was felled to clear land and for ship and house building. Sawpits were built along the coast with bullocks and trams used to haul the logs. A tramway was also set up from Waiharakeke over to Awaroa, resulting in a small village being established at Awaroa with a school and shop.


With land links into the area always being narrow and tenuous, boats have always been the most practical means of accessing the area.

As farming, quarrying and logging became unviable, recreational boating came to the fore. In the early 1900s there were regular Christmas yachting regattas held from Torrent Bay.

Some of these early recreational users of the area purchased land and built modest holiday houses (known as baches in New Zealand). At Torrent Bay the bach culture was started when Henry Rainer built his holiday home in 1900. Nelson families such as the Nalders, Glasgows and Pitts also purchased land and built their own baches in the same area. Baches were also built on private land at The Anchorage, Awaroa and along the Astrolabe Roadstead.

History of the Abel Tasman National Park
History of the Abel Tasman National Park
Photo credit: Alexander Turnball Library - Mrs Perrine Moncrieff

Foundation of the National Park

The Abel Tasman National Park was formed on the 16th of December 1942, 300 years to the day since Abel Tasman visited the area.

Formation of the park was largely due to the efforts of Mrs Perrine Moncrieff. The area already had several small scenic reserves at Fisherman and Adele Islands, Torrent Bay, Sandfly Bay and the area between Awaroa and Totaranui.
Mrs Moncrieff, amateur ornithologist and author of New Zealand’s latest bird watching field guide, was concerned about the proposal to log native timber at Totaranui in 1937. She had been part of previously successful protection endeavours in Nelson and several other areas in the top of the South. She lobbied the government to buy the affected area. There was also the threat of a coastal road being built through the area. A fire at Torrent Bay in 1941 further spurred Moncrieff into action to protect the area.

She lobbied local government, citing that as much land as possible had to be protected to beautify the area surrounding the road. The Nelson City Council agreed with the proposal and signed a petition taking it to parliament. The parliamentary commission decided that the area was worthy of national park status and the road was never built. The Abel Tasman National Park was subsequently formed, with later additions north of Totaranui to Wainui Bay; also initially excluded blocks at Waiharakeke, Awaroa Inlet, Tonga Roadstead and Torrent Bay were subsequently procured and added.

Our Most Popular Trips

With hundreds of trip options and variations available, choosing the best trip can be a little daunting. To help simplify matters here are a few of our most popular trips.

Explore the Park at your own pace Freedom Islands - Full Day Kayak Rental | Abel Tasman

Freedom Islands

Freedom Kayak | Full Day
from $110
Freedom kayak rental: Explore the beaches and islands in the Astrolabe Roadstead.
Book Now
Great for Families

Pitt Head Walk

Walking & Hiking | Half Day
from $96
Return water taxi and walking trip: Water taxi to Anchorage to walk the Pitt Head Loop Track (1.5hr) round trip.
Book Now

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