A guide to walking in the Abel Tasman

Abel Tasman Magazine - A quick guide to Walking in the Abel Tasman

The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is roughly 60km long, winding its way from Mārahau in the south up to Wainui in the north.

 The track can be loosely divided up into sections between the different bays or Coastal Access Points where water taxis are permitted to drop off and pick up passengers. This means there is the option to complete a small section of the Track by getting dropped at one bay before walking through to the next bay to be collected and dropped back at your original departure point.

The track sections between the bays are all different distances and have a variety of terrain profiles and their own unique characteristics, views and highlights. The section of track you choose comes down to your energy level and your specific interests. Or, you could spend a few days walking the length of the Coastal Track and see it all!

The walking times below and on the DOC signs through the Abel Tasman are clearly indicative only and depend entirely on your walking speed and your propensity to stop to take in the sights. Over the years I have had people berate me for giving a walking estimate only for them to say either: (a) It took us way longer than you said it would, are you some sort of fitness-nut/speed-walker/Navy Seal?; or (b) We beat your estimate by x hours, you must be a really slow walker.
The state of the tide when you’re walking the Track will also have an impact on the route you take and the views from the trail. There are various high and low tide routes at different places in the Park and one part of the Track to the north of Awaroa that is only accessible two hours either side of low tide. That means you’ll need to check the tide charts for the day you’re planning to cross the Awaroa Estuary. Enjoy our quick guide to walking in the Abel Tasman below!

Lush native bush all the way down to golden sand beaches

ANCHORAGE TO TORRENT BAY

Low tide route: 20 min, 0.9km
High tide route: 1-1.5 hours, 4km

The low tide track to Torrent Bay scoots directly across the estuary from the northern end of the Anchorage beach. It’s only 900m but is only crossable, without the necessity to swim, during low tides.

The high tide track climbs out of Anchorage, up along the ridgeline and then drops down to a winding track beside the Torrent River estuary. The views across the estuary are stunning on full tides. This track also takes you past the side track to Cleopatra’s Pool, an incredible fresh water swimming hole with a natural waterslide that runs between smooth rocks.

The track around the estuary is rocky in parts but only rugged enough to be vaguely adventurous for just about anybody.

Bark Bay

TORRENT BAY TO BARK BAY

2-3 hours, 7.8km

After a short climb the Track follows the ridgeline inland for a while but does offer wonderful views down to the bays below, particularly Frenchmans Bay.

The Track then drops down to the Falls River which you cross by means of a wonderful swingbridge. For anybody not afraid of heights this will be a highlight. The views down Falls River are marvellous with the water reflecting the greens of the native bush that grow right down to the water’s edge.

A short distance after the bridge is a side track down to Sandfly Bay. Don’t let the name put you off, or the rock-hopping you need to complete to get down to the beach. Sandfly is a wonderful beach and the tidal inlet, particularly on a full tide, is absolutely stunning. The entrance to Falls River from the open sea is constantly changing its position from the northern end to the southern end of the beach and back again depending on the tides and storms. This creates sandspits and islands of golden sand with shallow lagoons in between.

Medlands is the next beach which is viewable below from the track. Meddy’s is another natural dark green marvel lined with native bush and is the perfect place for a picnic.The trail from here provides elevated views across to Bark Bay which is only a few hundred metres further along the Track.

Bark Bay has the second DOC hut in the Abel Tasman and also has a good size campsite stretching along the narrow sandy cove between the sea and the tidal inlet behind.

Bark Bay is also home to a group of kākā which have recently been bred in captivity before being set wild. Kākā are large brown parrots native to New Zealand and possibly the smartest and most mischievous birds in the world. If you do encounter these birds please don’t feed them. Human food can be harmful to kākā and they are supposed to be learning how to feed themselves in the wild.

Beech forest in the heart of the Abel Tasman.

BARK BAY TO ONETAHUTI

2 hours, 6.1km

The low tide track from Bark Bay takes you directly across the estuary to the track north in a few minutes. The high tide track takes you around the back of the picturesque inlet and across a wonderful little bridge.

The Track from here through to Onetahuti is sometimes gently and sometimes not so gently undulating. Before you know it though, you’ll descend and pop out at Tonga Quarry. In the early 1900s this was the site of some activity to quarry Separation Granite. In fact, some of this granite was used in Nelson to form the steps of the Cathedral. There is still some evidence of this quarrying including a few square shaped blocks of granite. While it might be marked as a campsite on some older maps, the Tonga Quarry campsite was closed after it was damaged in a storm which combined with a large tide.

After another short climb and walk along a ridgeline the long crescent shaped Onetahuti Beach comes into view. As you descend into Onetahuti, stop for a moment and take in the view. With the punga ferns in the foreground and the curve of the beach in the background this is also an ideal photo-op.

Water Taxi in the Awaroa Estuary - Abel Tasman National park
Awaroa Inlet

ONETAHUTI TO AWAROA

Onetahuti is a long beach so it takes about 15 minutes to get from the southern end to the walkway which takes you over the wetlands and on to the north. Depending on the status of the tide when you are walking along the beach you may have to either wade through Venture Creek or revisit your days as the Junior Longjump Champ of your youth.

Once you’re across the wonderful little walkway and bridge there is a short climb up to the ridgeline. Make sure you don’t just blast this out without stopping along the way to look back over your shoulder at the beach below. If this little climb does make you a bit custardy-tired, there is a seat towards the top for a wee sit down. There are nice bush views to the left (west) as the track progresses and then an elevated view of the Awaroa Lodge below when you get along a kew kilometres.

The Awaroa Lodge, open from the spring through to autumn, is a great place to stop for a coffee or a meal. If the weather is good, there is excellent pizza to be had and local craft ales at the more casual outdoor area just past the Lodge itself.
The DOC campsite and hut is a further 40 minutes at low tide, and 1.5 hours at high tide along the Track and around the estuary. This catches a lot of walkers out as they don’t realise there is a bit further to walk to their campsite.

Awaroa has a large inlet, some of which is lined with private holiday houses. The early attempts at farming and other enterprises many years ago are still much in evidence at Awaroa including an old steam engine further along the estuary from the DOC campsite and even the site of an old school building.

Awaroa made headlines all over the world in 2016 when a couple of Kiwis decided to mount a crowdfunding campaign to buy a stretch of Awaroa beach that was put up for sale by its private owner. The fear was that the new owners could deny access to the beach for the New Zealand public, and access to our coast is something many Kiwis have strong feelings about. In a major triumph for people power, the New Zealand public donated over two million dollars, purchased the beach and ceded it into the national park. If you want to see this specific stretch of beach, head for the very end of the Awaroa beach. Just be careful not to disturb the resident, land-nesting bird populations who will be particularly cranky during the breeding season.

The Abel Tasman coastline is largely made up of Separation Granite.

AWAROA TO TŌTARANUI

2.5 – 3 hours, 7.1km

Directly across the estuary from the Awaroa DOC hut and campsite, signalled by a round orange track marker is where the track continues north. The walk across the estuary is only possible 1.5 to 2 hours either side of low tide. There is no way to cross the estuary during higher tide unless you have a boat at your disposal.

The section of track on the Tōtaranui side of the estuary starts with a wonderful section through wetlands featuring large ferns and other light green foliage. The Waiharakeke Bay campsite located a little along the track is one of the most underrated spots in the entire Park so worth a look around, even if you are not staying there. Shortly afterwards you will stumble out of the bush onto the beach at Goat Bay, another marvellous golden-sand beach which you walk along before resuming on the track.

You will need to steal yourself for a climb out of Goat Bay. Back in the day the track actually followed the coastline and was more gently undulating, but was extensively damaged in a storm a few years back and the new inland track was cut in its place. As you descend on the other side of the hill you’ll get incredible views of Totaranui.

Tōtaranui is another long, golden-sand beach, and the only part of the Coastal Track that is accessible by road. There are tent sites located along the grassy verge beside the beach which are dedicated to the use of people walking the Coastal Track. Across the narrow gravel road from the beach is the main Tōtaranui camping ground. This is a large camping ground that is enormously popular during the Christmas and New Year peak season.

Totaranui

TŌTARANUI TO WHARIWHARANGI

3.5 hours, 7.5km

The roadway that leads along the tree-lined gravel road into Tot also cuts right at the northern end where the track starts off through some grassy flat land. The initial climb after the grassy bit is mercifully short before descending into a gully and a short distance along to Anapai Bay which you walk along to access the track to the north. There is another climb here so the track offers elevated views of Anapai back to the south and then across to Mutton Cove once you are around the corner to the north.

After a scramble over some rocks you’ll find yourself at Mutton Cove, another wonderfully remote and often windswept beach. The track splits at the top of a short climb and you can either walk directly across to Whariwharangi or take a loop track to check out Separation Point. The extra distance to Separation Point is well worth it. As indicated by its name, Separation Point separates Tasman Bay from Golden Bay. The views of the cliffs on either side and down to the lighthouse are ruggedly beautiful. The rocky outcrop below is home to gannet and seal colonies.

This section of the track is the most remote and receives the least visitors in the Park. Commercial operators in the Abel Tasman are not permitted to run scheduled services any further north than Tōtaranui so this limits visitor numbers to this northern tip of the Park.

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