A guide to off leash dog walking trails in the Tasman

Abel Tasman Magazine 2021 - Off the leash - A guide to off leash dog walking trails in the Tasman

When I told my mate, who is a vet, I was about to get a Border Collie, he asked me if the dog came with a 3,000 acre sheep station. He went on to say that’s what I would need to provide her with enough exercise to keep her happy, healthy and sane.

Five years later and I have largely been able to provide my trusty sheepdog, Maggie with the hours of exercise she needs every day from my list of curated off leash dog walking trails in the Tasman. We run together and I find myself walking her in all weather including some of the snottiest conditions I’ve ever braved. The best thing about having a dog, aside from having somebody in my family who seems genuinely happy to see me if I’ve been away for more than 10 minutes, is that it obliterates any excuses I might have had not to exercise each day. I love the outdoors, particularly our beaches and back-country areas and exploring those areas seems to have extra purpose when I’m also exercising my dog. As a result, I have discovered a lot of places that I wouldn’t have otherwise. For me, the ideal location for these activities is somewhere where I can run for up to an hour, with Maggie off-leash and away from hazards like traffic and people with dog-phobias who panic when they see us coming their way. Anybody who knows anything about dogs will tell you how important off-leash exercise is for our K9s as opposed to controlled walks on the end of a leash.

Kaiteriteri Forest Park

Although dogs are not permitted in the Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Park or many other areas in Kaiteriteri, they are allowed along the ridge that runs from the Kaiteriteri – Sandy Bay Road up to the top of the Marahau Hill and further to the south from there.

When running this trail I like to start at the lowest point, up the hill a bit from the Otuwhero Inlet, because I would rather run uphill for the first half of a run and then downhill to finish, rather than the other way around. That way you get the painful bit out of the way and can then loosen up with long downhill sections on the way back. At a bit over 300m in elevation, if you run the whole length of +10km, it’s challenging but not like something you would do if you were on a special forces’ training mission. Living closeby, this was my go-to run during the first level 4 and level 3 lockdown in March 2020 and I felt incredibly fortunate to have this semi-remote trail close to my home. The track has been graded within the last couple of years so is in good nick. There are some great views of Kaiteriteri as you gain elevation, but it’s a pine forest rather than a trail through pristine native bush.

Rough Island

Rough Island is the smaller island that sits beside the larger and more well-known Rabbit Island situated between Richmond and Mapua.

There are trails around and across the island but I usually do a circuit of the island starting from the entrance at the southern end. This track has been improved and expanded over the past few years. Each time I discover the track has been upgraded it fills my heart with joy to the point that I wonder about contacting the people responsible and offering to give them a hug.

Rough Island is as flat as a flat thing and the trails are almost all in good shape. It is popular with local dog owners so you will encounter other dogs. It’s also home to an equestrian centre so there could well be horses on the trail. Having said that, there is plenty of space for everybody.

Abel Tasman Magazine 2021 - Off the leash - A guide to off leash dog walking trails in the Tasman - Rough Island


Abel Tasman Magazine 2021 - Off the leash - A guide to off leash dog walking trails in the Tasman - Waiwhero

The Waiwhero is another forest area criss-crossed with single track and slip roads.

You can access the trails from Waiwhero Road on the Moutere side or via the Motueka Valley Highway just to the south of the Alexander Bluff Bridge. Along with the Codgers Trails in Nelson, this is also one of the best places to take your dog along on a mountain bike ride. The Waiwhero isn’t officially a mountain bike park so doesn’t have the signage or fantastic infrastructure of places like Codgers. Navigation in the Waiwhero can therefore be difficult, and even finding your way back to your vehicle can be a challenge. Having said that, my navigation skills are dusty at best and abysmal at worst. It could just be because of these sub-optimal skills, but it took me many visits before I found the best trails and views. The Waiwhero has some wicked little downhill single-track sections and a great view looking out to Tasman Bay from what the locals call the Lookout.

The Motueka Waterfront

The waterfront area from Motueka’s Salt Water Baths to the Staple Street car park is exactly 4km so a nice 8km return loop by the time you get back to where you started.

The first section of the trail from the southern end runs behind Trewavas Street, an area that was gravelled and compacted in 2020. This was another event that saw me searching around quite keen to give whoever was responsible a hug. After running for a bit over 1km there is a section which is on a path beside Motueka Quay and past the Janie Seddon Shipwreck, Motueka’s number one landmark. The trail then runs past the golf course and through what locals call the Kumaras but what is officially the Raumanuka And Motueka Sandspit Scenic Reserve. This is another popular dog-exercise area, but also has a lot of protected birdlife so it is not the ideal place if your pooch hasn’t yet been taught not to mess with our avian friends.


A few years back my son had boxing training in Brightwater in the evenings. Not being at all familiar with that area I looked around for some trails to run while he was working on his left jab.

Eventually I found a wonderful trail starting under the bridge across the Wai-iti River on Waimea West Road. The track beside the Wai-iti goes through farmland on a grassy trail before cutting back to run along beside the Wairoa River on the Tasman Great Taste Trail and back to Bryant Road in the Brightwater ‘CBD’. I tend to do this trail in the summer as we can end the run with a swim at the wonderful little spot under the bridge at the Wai-iti end. It’s also another flat track for when I’m not feeling enthusiastic about running up hills.

There are some splendid resources out there to show you where you and your pooch are welcome in the Nelson Tasman District. The spots above are my personal favourites, and as I said, are suitable for mid-distance runs off the lease. There are a lot of other great trails and dog exercise areas around the Nelson – Tasman District. ‘And the Dog Came too’ https://andthedogcametoo.weebly.com/ is a brilliant website with dog friendly areas and walks listed for the entire country. The Tasman District Council website has a good resource https://tasman.govt.nz/my-property/animal-control/dog-control/exercising-your-dog/ as does the Nelson City Council site.

Words & Photography by Brendan Alborn
Owner Operator

Brendan has a long association with the Abel Tasman, visiting it for the first time when his parents moved to Marahau in 1997. After spending much of his life overseas, Brendan and his family moved to the area at the end of 2010. When Brendan is not spending his time in the outdoors he seems to spend much of his time creating even flimsier justifications for spending more time in the outdoors.

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