The best parts of the Abel Tasman
A common question we get asked by visitors is: “Which is the best part of the Abel Tasman?” This is the Abel Tasman’s FAQ equivalent of “How long is a piece of string?
There is no good answer to this question so we have decided to do a completely and unashamedly subjective description of the main locations along the Abel Tasman coastline…
From Mārahau, the southern entrance to the Park, the first campsite you’ll come to is Tinline Bay. If you are trying to book a campsite or hut in the Park during the summer peak season you might find that Tinline is the only location with any availability showing on the DOC booking site.
Firstly, Tinline is only 3km from the entrance to the Park so for just about anybody setting off from the south, not far enough into the Coast Walk to stop for the night. For anyone walking from the north, Tinline is agonisingly close to Mārahau where the coffee will be hot and the beer suitably cold, so again, not an ideal location for the night. The Tinline campsite is also one of
the few in the park not located right on the beach, being situated instead, up the track a bit. To say Tinline is the red-headed stepchild of the Abel Tasman is a pretty mean thing to say both about Tinline itself and all of the well-loved, red-headed step-children out there. Tinline is an ideal camping spot for families with young children though, being only a short walk from the trailhead and with some nice views along the way. It also has a nice little nature walk perfect for the nippers. The Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust has also done a lot of replanting of native trees in the area so its appeal continues to grow. The campsites are located on a gently sloping grassy area with room for 30 people.
Tinline was named after John Tinline, a local man who acquired a block of land from Mārahau to the stream in 1857. Tinline, a much respected local figure who devoted his life to government service, farming and philanthropy, was commonly known as ‘Old Fizzlebilly’ because of his flowing beard. John Tinline learned to speak Te Reo Māori which led him to the position of interpreter for the Nelson magistrate in 1844. The prominent point above Tinline is the site of a former pa that was occupied when Jules Dumont d’Urville visited the area in 1827. * Source: Down The Bay, Philip Simpson
Apple Tree Bay
Located about 6km into the Coast Track, Apple Tree Bay is the first of the longer beaches in the Park that has a tidal estuary behind it.
This means you can camp on the beach with water on both sides of your tent. This is also the first bay in the Park with a privately owned bach. You’ll find either single bachs or collections of them further north as you travel through the Park. These small
parcels of land were privately owned before the Abel Tasman became a national park in 1942 so were not handed over to the Crown. Apple Tree has campsites to accommodate 30 people. Originally named LaGrande Plage by d’Urville, the name was changed to Apple Tree Bay presumably around 1928 when Lionel (Leo) Manoy bought four acres of land there for his family to camp for a few weeks every year before they built a bach*.
*Reference: Abel Tasman Area History by Dawn Smith – DOC
After a short uphill walk from Tinline you’ll find yourself looking down at a lovely little beach called Coquille Bay, the first of the classic Abel Tasman-esque, crescent-shaped,
Coquille is fringed with native bush including punga ferns so it looks rather magical from the lookout on the track above. It is also the first beach in the Abel Tasman that has deep water during all tidal conditions. The Coquille Bay campsites are right beside the beach with room for 12 people. The bay is named after d’Urville’s vessel La Coquille, the original name for what was to be renamed the Astrolabe.
Stilwell bay, Akersten Bay, Cyathea Cove, Observation & Watering Cove.
All of these delightful beaches are an easy walk further along the Coast Track from Apple Tree Bay and all located directly across the Astrolabe Roadstead from Adele Island. D’Urville named the Astrolabe area after his vessel, the one previously called La Coquille, Adele Island after his wife and Fisherman Island after observing Māori fishing there.
The islands provide some protection from the ocean currents and also a rather wonderful backdrop as you gaze out to sea. In the summer, these beaches do receive a good amount of day visitors on kayaking trips from Mārahau, walking this southern end of the Coast Track or locals having boated in to spend the day in the Park with their friends and family. Of these five beaches only three have campsites and toilets: Akersten has room for 6 campers, Observation has spots for 12 and Watering Cove has facilities for 10 people. These bays are among the most picturesque in the entire Park and a great spot to camp if you’re travelling by kayak.
Stilwell is named after Welby Stilwell who purchased two acres there in 1926 and had camping holidays there before building a cottage. Stilwell took visitors on excursions along the coast in his launch Terepa around the same time that Newt Nalder was doing the same in the Kotare. Akersten Bay was presumably named after William Akersten who came to the Nelson area in 1855 where he set up a ship chandlery and built wharves which include what is, in present day, Nelson’s Main Wharf. D’Urville named Cyathea Cove because he found an abundance of the gully fern trees there. The bay is now more famous as part of the area leased by Pérrine Moncreiff, who played a crucial role in the establishment of the the Abel Tasman as a national park in 1942*. The bach built by the Moncreiffs is located in the Moncrieff Private Scenic Reserve. D’Urville also named Observation Beach, where an observatory was set up to view the transit of Venus across the sun, as well as Watering Cove where his crew replenished their fresh water supplies.
*Sources: Abel Tasman Area History by Dawn Smith – DOC, http://www.theprow.org.nz/places/streets-and-quays-of-port-
nelson/ and Down The Bay, Philip Simpson
Possibly the most photographed bay in the entire Abel Tasman, Te Pukatea is your classic Abel Tasman crescent-shaped, golden-sand beach with rocky headlands at either end and a fringe of native bush.
Access to Te Pukatea on foot is via a short track from Anchorage. Also situated between Anchorage and Te Pukatea
is Pitt Head, a headland accessible via an easy track with breathtaking views up the north coast of the Abel Tasman. The Pitt Head area has been trapped intensely for rodents by the Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust so has a wonderful array of native birdlife. The loop track from Anchorage over to Te Pukatea and around Pitt Head is perfect for young families. Te Pukatea, one of my personal favourites for camping, has room for 14 people. The bay takes its name from the pukatea tree of which there are a few located in the flat area behind the beach.
The first major Coastal Access Point for water taxis in the Park is The Anchorage, or just Anchorage to the locals.
It is also the first of the larger campsites with room for 100 campers, and also the first DOC hut with bunks for 34 trampers. Located 12.4km from Mārahau, Anchorage is often where people walking the entire Coast Track spend their first night. The campsites are situated among trees and are mostly on grass. This is also the first campsite in the Abel Tasman where you can have an outdoor fire, surely one of the highlights of any overnight camping trip. Another highlight for anybody staying the night at Anchorage should be a visit to the caves at the northern end of the beach to see the glowworms. Just be warned that along with glowworms you will also need to be mindful of the small but still scary looking cave weta.
As the first Coastal Access Point from in the Park, Anchorage is the Abel Tasman’s most popular beach for people doing day trips. The most economical, yet still quite wonderful day trip in the Abel Tasman involves parking your car in Mārahau, catching a morning water taxi to Anchorage and then taking the rest of the day to walk back to Mārahau, stopping off at any of the beaches that take your fancy along the way. Many other visitors take a water taxi to Anchorage in the morning and a return sailing back to Mārahau in the afternoon having spent their day doing either the Pitt Head Loop Track, or swimming at Cleopatra’s Pool located around the estuary towards Torrent Bay. Anchorage is well protected from the weather so is where a lot of boaties anchor up their sailboats and launches, hence the name. During the Christmas period there will be a flotilla of boats in the bay of all shapes and varieties.
This famous swimming spot, located along the high tide track between Anchorage and Torrent Bay, is home to a naturally formed rock water slide. The well signposted short track up to Cleopatra’s Pool follows the Torrent River a short distance until the river becomes more of a canyon. Cleopatra’s Pool is where anybody doing Abel Tasman Canyons’ most popular day trip will emerge having slid, ziplined and jumped their way down the canyon over the course of the day
There are two ways to access Torrent Bay from Anchorage
If the tide is low you can simply walk across the estuary in about 20 minutes. If the tide is high, you will need to walk around the estuary which will take you a bit over an hour.However, this section of the track is rather wonderful and is well worth doing even if the low-tide crossing is doable.The views across the estuary are lovely as are the rivers and creeks you will cross on well constructed bridges.
Torrent Bay features the largest collection of privately owned holiday homes in the Park. Water taxis are only permitted to drop off passengers up to noon each day and no pickups are allowed at all unless those passengers are bach owners or the guests of those owners. This was the deal negotiated with the local landowners in return for allowing the public to walk through their little slice of paradise. Some of the baches here are available for rent at certain times of the year and Torrent makes an absolutely wonderful place for a family holiday. The Torrent Bay Estuary is magical on a full tide and a fantastic place to sail, paddle board, kayak or just for a swim. There is also a small, 20 person capacity campsite at the southern end of the village. The campsite is quite shaded by trees and the sites are mostly set back a little from the estuary, so for my money, you’re better off staying at Anchorage or walking through to camp at Bark Bay.
Originally owned by Dr Ralph Richardson of Nelson, who bought some 800 acres in the area between 1854 and 1857, granite was quarried from the area in the 1870s. There was also once a tramline up the valley to haul outposts and firewood. Torrent Bay was one of the first places people from the area headed to for recreational trips in the early 1900s. Back in those days a New Year sailing regatta was held each year as well as activities on shore such as running races, sack and three-legged races.*Source: Abel Tasman Area History by Dawn Smith – DOC
Sandfly Bay & Medlands Bay
The 7.8km track from Torrent Bay to Bark Bay is another popular section of the Coastal track for day visitors.
Because the track is mostly along a ridgeline there are wonderful views looking down to bays along the coast.
Another major attraction is the newly upgraded Falls River Swingbridge which provides wonderful views down the
river and out to the open sea. A short distance after the swingbridge is a side track that takes you down to Sandfly Bay, a narrow beach and large tidal estuary. There is a little bit of rock-hopping required to get right down to Sandfly, but it’s worth it. The next major beach, Medlands, or Meddy’s to the locals is a tiny but rather stunning little beach which is easily accessible with a set of steps.
Bark Bay has both a 80-person capacity campsite and the second of the DOC huts in the Park with bunk-beds for 34 trampers.
The campsites line the main beach and the hut is setback around the estuary a short distance. Bark Bay is amid-sized, sweeping bay with the inlet behind it which can make it feel like you are camping on a tropical island. The walk around the estuary and further to the north is one of the most underrated sections of the track, particularly on a full tide. Bark Bay is also where Project Janszoon, in partnership with DOC, have introduced kākā back into the Park. If you wander out on the estuary at the right time you might spot kākā returning for a feed at the aviary where they were first housed when relocated to the Park.
Bark Bay was originally owned by the Huffam family who settled there in 1870 before they moved away in 1890.The Huffam’s engaged in subsistence farming as well as milling timber for firewood, hop poles and shipbuilding. The gathering of bark from the black beech trees by the Huffam brothers, used in the tanning process, gave Bark Bay its name. The Huffams also sold smoked-cured barracouta and hunted pigs.The Māori name for Bark Bay is Wairima. Wai means water and rima signifies either five or hand. Small streams flow into the estuary so this is presumably the origin of the name. *Sources: Abel Tasman Area History by Dawn Smith – DOC andDown The Bay, Philip Simpson
Although this wonderful little bay is only a short distancearound the point from Bark Bay, it is only accessible by boat.This makes it a prime, 40 person capacity campsite for kayakers doing multi-day trips. Located in a shallow little bay with a small rocky, bush-covered island in the middle, Mosquito Bay is my second favourite camping spot in the park.
Along the coast, just before you get to Tonga Quarry, thereis a set of short, naturally formed granite sand caves.There are many of these caves, or an a, along the Abel Tasman coastline, the largest of which are the ones at the southern end of Tonga Quarry. They are only accessible by boat but on a low tide you can walk through these arches,and on a high tide you can kayak through them. Water taxi skippers will generally stop here to show their passengers the arches and any guided kayaking trip in the middle of the Park will include a stop at the Tonga Arches.
As the name suggests, this little area was once the site of a quarry, the remains of which can still be found today.This includes the winch block, discarded granite block sand the remains of 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. It’s a pleasant little beach and perfect for a rest before you press on with your walk. Once a DOC campsite, this is now only a picnic spot after a weather event damaged the campsite a few years back.
Tonga Island sits proudly and prominently directly out from Onetahuti beach, a long crescent-shaped bay with wonderful elevated views from the track at both ends.
Years ago, the Coast Track to the north involved an estuarcrossing so was only doable at low tides. However, a raisewooden track was constructed about five years back so thtrack north is now passable on any tide. Having said this, Richardson Stream crosses the beach at about the halfway poinand this can be moderately difficult to cross when conditionare poor. Onetahuti has a 40 person campsite along the south-ern part of the beach.There is much speculation as to the meaning of OnetahutiThe name has been analysed to mean “to run hurriedly (tahuti) along the beach (one)”. However, it seems more likely to ba composite of one-tahu-ti. Tahu means to burn or cook, and ‘ti’ is the cabbage tree. One of the potential meanings is that cabbage trees were burnt on the beach as signals or as food. However, the problem is that there are no cabbage trees (tikouka) present anywhere in the eastern part of the park.*Source: Down The Bay, Philip Simpson
Shag Harbour consists of a narrow, rocky entrance from the sea that opens out into a shallow inlet.This little natural wonder is only accessible by water taxi or kayak and if you don’t know it is there you’d be likely to cruise straight past it. The inlet itself is rather lovely but it has the added attraction of being a fur seal nursery. At certain times of the year up to 20 seal pups will emerge from the end of the inlet to investigate and play around your kayak or boat. Navigating a powerboat through one of the two narrow entrances is not to be attempted unless you really have good control over your boat. If you try to get in there only to end up dashing your boat against the rocks,well you won’t be the first person to have done so.
Once the sight of a farm, a small community and even a school house, Awaroa is the second area of the Park with a concentration of privately owned holiday homes.
These baches are located beside the Awaroa Estuary, the largest tidal inlet in the whole Abel Tasman. It is also home to Awaroa Lodge, a spalling luxury lodge with a nice outdoor dining area. It has a second more casual gourmet pizza place that also serves local craft beer, two of my favourite things in the known universe. Located a short walk from the front beach, the Lodge is only open during the summer months. To the north of that main beach is the area that made headlines all over the world in 2016 when a couple of Kiwis decided to mount a crowd funding campaign to buy a stretch of Awaroa beach that was put up for sale by its private owner. The fear was that any new owners could deny access to the beach for the New Zealand public. 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.
Awaroa has a 36 person campsite and 26 person hut, both of which are located a surprisingly long walk around the estuary. Many people are caught out when they arrive by water taxi at Awaroa’s front beach only to find they are still a brisk +20 minute from where they are staying. If you keep walking past the campsite and hut you will eventually come to an old steam engine and the other remains of the old farm and milling operation that was once on the site.The Hadfield family were the first to farm sheep and cattle from 1863.
The track to the north which traverses the Awaroa Estuary is only accessible 1.5 to 2 hours either side of low tide. Unless you’ve got a boat, there is no way to cross the estuary to continue your walk to the north when the tide is in.
Waiharakeke would have to be the Park’s least known beach and campsite. It’s tucked between Awaroa and Tōtaranui and its existence can come as a total surprise even to people who know the Park well. Not withstanding, Waiharakeke is a pleasant little spot and the 20 person campsite is in a sheltered spot adjacent to the sandy beach. This was once a Māori settlement where Harakeke (flax) is still abundant.
Goat Bay is another lesser known and underrated beach in the northern part of the Park. It makes a pleasant destination for a walk from Awaroa to the south and Tōtaranui from the north. The track from the north once siddled pleasantly around the coast but this was destroyed over 10 years ago and was replaced with a route that goes up and over the hill instead. This is perhaps one of the steep-est sections of the whole track and it has been known to surprise some walkers with its intensity.
Like Awaroa, Tōtaranui encompasses a reasonably large geographical area and was once a farm.
Totaranui is another long, golden-sand beach, and the only part of the Abel Tasman Coast Track that is accessible byroad. There are tent sites on the beach side of the gravel road dedicated to the use of people walking the Coast Track with enough capacity for 40 people. But the much, much larger part of Tōtaranui is the enormous 250-site, 850 person capacity campground which attracts thousands of campers every year, particularly around Christmas. The old homestead at Tōtaranui, Ngarata has been converted into accommodation suitable for large groups for events like school camps and groups of friends. It’s a fantastic facility with a variety of bunk rooms, a large communal space and a big kitchen. Ngarata is also extremely well priced for groups and one or our favourite weekend locations for significant family events such as milestone birthdays.
One of the main appeals of Tōtaranui as a camping spot is its proximity to fantastic walks both to the south and to the north. A great full-day walk of around 21km is the loop track which goes up Gibbs Hill, around to Whawharangi and then back to Tōtaranui along the Coast Track.
William Gibbs purchased 1,000 acres of land between Tōtaranui and Wainui in 1856. He built a house and two cottages for his large family and visiting friends. The majestic tree lined avenue that leads into Tōtaranui was planted with alternating plane and macrocarpa trees by William Gibbs’ daughter, Hannah, and Jimmy Perrot in 1856. The Pratt family purchased land from Gibbs in 1892 to farm the area and built the Ngarata homestead in 1914 from locally milled timber. In the 1920s Charles Pestall Harries and then John Cameron attempted to farm the area but a bunch of factors including difficult access and poor soil quality combined to make farming at Tōtaranui a marginal proposition. The property was sold to the government in 1948 to be incorporated into the national park. *Reference: Abel Tasman Area History by Dawn Smith – DOC
Anapai & Mutton Cove
For anybody looking for some more wild and remote places to camp or for a picnic, then the bays in the very north of the Park are the places to head.
As part of the DOC concessions for water taxis, companies are only permitted to run scheduled services as far north as Tōtaranui. This reduces the number of visitors to those beaches so even in the height of the summer season, you will be sharing the beaches with only a handful of people.The weather in this northern part of the Park tends to be a bit harsher too so all of these factors combine to give beaches like Anapai and Mutton Cove a remote, west-coast type of vibe. Anapai has a 12 person campsite while Mutton Cove has room for 40. Mutton Cove is thought to have been named from the practice of vessels carrying mutton sheltering in westerly weather when the area was farmed in the early 1900s.
So named because it marks the geographical boundary between Tasman and Golden Bays, Separation Point is a place of rugged, steep-cliffed beauty.
From the track once you reach the point, you look down on a rocky outcrop where seals and seabirds hang out. A few years back one international visitor decided, against some good advice, to go for a swim at Separation Point with some of the local seals. His reward was a nasty bite on the backside from a bull seal which is potentially the best example of the saying that dumb decisions can bite you on the bottom. Separation Point is a sidetrack off the main Coast Track, but it is well worth walking the extra distance.
Whariwharangi is the site of another farming effort in the Park with the old homestead having been converted to a DOC hut with room for 20 trampers. There is also a lovely grassed area around the hut with room for 40 people to camp.
The Whariwharangi Hut is haunted, making the place potentially awkward for anybody who is frightened of ghosts. Until I stayed there I would scoff at the many people who told me the old farm house was haunted. The one time I did stay there, we slept downstairs in a small bunk-room.I was woken from the deepest of sleeps around 3:00AM with the room as black as the inside of a cow and my, then teenage son, screaming blue murder at the same time an unidentified high pitched screeching noise that pierced my brain like a surgeon’s scalple. It turns out the smoke alarm in our room had somehow malfunctioned and had been activated despite there being no fire. So, there you go, the place is haunted and that’s all there is to it. John Handcock built the house at Whariwharangi about 1897 and farmed there for 15 years before the land was bought by George Manson in 1914 . Whariwharangi continued to be farmed until 1972, but the homestead was unoccupied after 1926. Used as a stockman’s hut, it became derelict, but was restored to become the DOC hut in 1980. The Abel Tasman’s northern roadhead is the Wainui Car Park located at the rather remote and wonderful WainuiBay. *Reference: Abel Tasman Area History by Dawn Smith – DOC
Blog by Brendan Alborn
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.