Abel Tasman Cycling – Circumnavigating the Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman Cycling – Circumnavigating the Abel Tasman National Park

Greg Buckett share's one of his favourite local cycling adventures adventures with you.
Abel Tasman Cycling – Circumnavigating the Abel Tasman National Park

Adventuring in the Abel Tasman National Park on foot is something special if you like walking. I’m not a person who likes walking, and in fact a life long battle with arthritis has limited my ability to walk any long distances. But I can ride a bike all day (and night), and somehow my inability to walk distances has led me to a world of adventures on a bike, so I’d like to share one of my favourite local adventures with you.

IMPORTANT : Gibbs Hill track every time as this is the only part of the Abel Tasman Track that you are allowed to ride as the rest of the Park is for walking only. Gibbs Hill is part of the Abel Tasman trail and is only open to mountain bikers from 1st May to 30th September each year.

I call this the Bike, Beaches and Boats as it almost circumnavigates the entire Abel Tasman. You can mix this ride up, add some extra single track sections into the itinerary, make it a two-day trip or do it as one big day out. I’m going to tell you about my big day out and
will give you options to extend it to a two day adventure along the way. 


The big day out is a total of 87km with 1,900m of climbing, and it includes 35km of riding on spectacular single-tracks that will test riders with all skill levels. I start this ride from my home in Riwaka but for you I recommend you start in Mārahau as this is where the water taxi will bring you back to. It’s a good idea to book the return boat trip at least a few days ahead and to tell the water taxi you have a bike with you. It may not be possible to get your bike on every scheduled sailing if that service is close to capacity. The usual scheduled time for a pickup at Tōtaranui is around 3pm, which is where you will end up on this adventure.


"The big day out is a total of 87km with 1,900m of climbing, and it includes 35km of riding on spectacular single-tracks."

Okay, with your taxi booked you’re ready to start the adventure. Best you start early, as there is nothing worse than a late start as you’ll end up rushing as you become more worried you are going to miss your boat. I start between 5 and 6am, and in the winter this means my first hour is in the dark, but I find this relaxing as there is little to no traffic. But if you plan to start a little later then it’s best to drive to the bottom of the Takaka hill and then ride back to your car from Mārahau at the end of your day after the water taxi drops you off.

From Mārahau you have a short warm up before climbing the Mārahau Hill. You can either ride the main road, climbing 280 metres in one hit or ride the rollers around and through Kaiteriteri. This is more scenic but will take 15 to 20 minutes longer. Once you’re on the other side of the Mārahau Hill you’re into your main climb of the day, the Tākaka Hill. This is an 880-metre ascent that starts a bit steep, but the gradient gets better after the first ten minutes of climbing, so you then settle in for another hour until you get to the turnoff to your right onto Canaan Road. Your climb hasn’t quite finished here as the sealed road becomes gravel for the next 10km, but after 30 minutes of much more climbing you’ll be heading downhill for a bit. You’ll want to put on a warm jacket before you blast off down into the Canaan bason. The temperature will often drop 5 degrees Celsius as you travel through this basin, but it’s an amazing piece of country and was a filming location for the Lord of the Rings. It’ll become obvious why Sir Peter Jackson chose this as a filming location when you see how rocky, rugged and remote the landscape becomes.

Near the end of the gravel road, you’ll see a single-track trail on your left, which you can take if you choose. It’s a grade-four mountain bike trail that comes out at the end of the road at the same place as it does if you don’t fancy tackling this advanced track. At the end of the road, you will come to a small camping area where you can get water and use the toilets. In the coldest days of winter the water can be frozen, but don’t worry, the trail has plenty of streams that I drink from. It’s recommended to boil your water before drinking or use chlorine tablets, but that’s up to you. At this point of the journey you would have been riding for 2-3 hours and if you’ve planned a two-day mission then you might want to add the Canaan Loop to your day. This route is on the Trail Forks riding app. It’ll take 1.5to 2.5 hours so for the one-day mission it’s best to stick to the plan and leave this loop for another day.

From here you’ll head through the gate on the bushline and climb for the next 650 metres before turning left onto the Rameka track. This is where the riding gets a little tricky. The Rameka track is a 7km trail intended for walking, but for experienced riders, you’ll be able to stay in your saddle for 99% of the ride while less experienced riders need to walk 10% of the time. Either way, it’s a beautiful native bush fringed trail that takes around 30 minutes to ride. As you exit the trail you’ll hardly notice the native bush becomes a pine forest and it’s all downhill. Beware of the slippery rocks. Some riders will find this challenging but it gets easier the further you descend. From here you have another 7km of the sweet downhill single track during which you’ll cross the gravel road twice before coming to a crossroad with options to ride Great Expectations or the Lower Rameka Track. Both are fun trails that end in the same place.


"The Rameka track... is a beautiful native bush fringed trail that takes around 30 minutes to ride."

Abel Tasman Cycling – Circumnavigating the Abel Tasman National Park
The views along this route are worth the uphill grunt work

After the fun is done, it’s back on the pedals and for the two-day adventurers you’ll need to head to Tākaka for the night, 5km down the sealed road. If you are doing this trip in two days I recommend you check out Motupipi Mountain Bike Park, just off Abel Tasman Drive before you hit the Motupipi village, on your way to Tōtaranui. For the one-day mission, you still have another 3-4 hours of riding ahead of you so keep going and head down the gravel road until you hit the sealed road again. Take a right towards Motupipi then onto Pōhara where you can find a good coffee and a pie to recharge and get ready for the next 25km. You won’t want to linger for too long though as you still have 2 to 3 hours to get to Tōtaranui from where you will catch your boat back to Mārahau.

From Pōhara head east and you have 14km of sealed road before getting to Wainui and the unsealed road over to Tōtaranui. Here you have two options, you continue riding straight over to Tōtaranui for about an hour, or you take the single track via Gibbs Hill which will take about 2 hours. I choose the Gibbs Hill track every time as this is the only part of the Abel Tasman Track that you are allowed to ride as the rest of the Park is for walking only. Also, the views from Gibbs Hill are postcard-perfect. If you’re doing the GibbsHill route you’ll go up McShane Road about 2km before you turn to the right and into the Abel Tasman, following the signposts to Gibbs Hill. This track goes straight into a climb for about 30 minutes but when you do get to the top, make sure you stop to admire the view from the comforts of a bench seat. You might want to take a breather here because this is where the real climbing begins. The track is mostly ridable with some steep pinches but eventually, it does become unrideable. There will be about 200 metres where you’ll need to push your bike but it’ll probably feel like a kilometre or more. But you will be right at the top when you get there! The summit is along a short track from here and although you don’t really get a view from here, it’s always a good feeling to stand on a summit and there are plenty of viewing options on your way down. From the summit, you’re in for 4km of amazing downhill intoTōtaranui. This is the ultimate finale to an epic adventure but do be careful as this track is fast and fun but it is also pretty easy to get out of control.

Abel Tasman Cycling – Circumnavigating the Abel Tasman National Park
Tōtaranui beach is where you catch your AquaTaxi back to Mārahau

As you exit the downhill head round to your right and follow the trail out to a gravel road and down to the beach. From here you’ll meet your water taxi on the beach right in front of the DOC office. The water taxi trip is a 1 to 2 hour ride past the most beautiful beaches in New Zealand andthe very best way to finish the ultimate ride!

Tips and things you need to know: 

  • I ride this track in 5 to 6 hours but I consider myself to be fit as I ride every day. It might take someone who does less riding maybe 6 to 10 hours but if you get to the start of the Rameka Track and don’t think you’ll make it in one day then ride the Canaan Loop and head back to your car. If you do this please contact the water taxi company cancel your booking so they’re not out there looking for you.
  • The Canaan basin is cold, take warm clothing but it does warm up as you descend out of the Rameka. Gibb’s Hill is part of the Abel Tasman trail and is only open to mountain bikers from 1st May to 30th September each year.
  • You can find the Rameka, Gibbs Hill and Motupipitracks on the Trailforks app.
  • Water is plentiful and I drink directly from the creeks but the official advice is to boil your water or use chlorine tablets. 

Here's how to book your Tōtaranui to Marahau Water Taxi!

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