New Zealand is known for its Great Walks so I decided to try one out for myself on the Abel Tasman Coast Track. Check out the video of my trek:
ABEL TASMAN COAST WALK
After touring around the North Island of New Zealand, my traveling companion Jennifer and I left Wellington behind and headed across the Cook Strait to the South Island. With several weeks before I started work, I decided to pass the time exploring more of this beautiful country. New Zealand is known for its Great Walks: popular tramping tracks developed by the country’s Department of Conservation. Also, Kiwis call it tramping rather than backpacking and trails are referred to as tracks. And so I set off on one of these tracks for a three days of tramping.
Located on the north tip of the South Island in the national park of the same name, the Abel Tasman Coast Track follows the coastline across numerous sandy beaches and through lush forests. Several tour companies in the area provide water taxis to the beaches so one can choose to hike as much or as little as they’d like. Sea kayaking is also offered.
For my hike I decided to hike the entire track. My journey began in the city of Nelson, about an hour or so from the national park. I booked a water taxi from the Nelson i-SITE office (the tourist information office one finds in many New Zealand cities). The water taxi company arranged a shuttle bus to pick me up and drive me to the town of Marahua, located at the southern end of the park. From here I hopped on the water taxi that would take me on my next adventure.
TOTARANUI TO ANAPAI BAY
The tide was low so the water taxi was on a trailer and a tractor hauled us out across the sand until we were finally in water deep enough to float us. From there we motored north along the coast. Along the way we were followed by some dolphins and saw some seals as well.
The water taxi stopped at several beaches in the national park and dropped passengers off or picked some up. I was headed to Totaranui beach, the northernmost beach that is accessible by water taxi. Upon arrival, the boat backed as close to shore as possible and let down a short ramp for me. My feet avoided the water but the sand was saturated and cold; it was only spring in New Zealand.
From the beach I walked inland. I was headed north to the remaining beaches that the water taxi does not serve. I hiked through the jungles up Gibbs Hill, a steep climb about 405 meters (1,330 feet) above sea level. The view was not worth it at the summit but along the way I got to see Wainui Bay down below.
From Gibbs Hill I continued through the woods to Whariwharangi Bay and onward to Separation Point.This point was the northernmost point in the national park. It was a beautiful view of the ocean and I spied a seal sunning itself on the rocks. I couldn’t figure out how the seal had climbed so high, though.
From Separation Point the track became flat as I hiked across Mutton Bay. It was a deserted beach save for some birds. From Mutton Bay hiked back into the woods briefly before reaching Anapai Bay. This was where I had registered and paid to camp for the night. I was the only camper for the night and had the beach to myself. New Zealand’s summer tourist season hadn’t started yet so I was lucky to see relatively few people the entire trip. Before the trip I had debated on not even booking the campsites. I figured I could try my luck and risk a fine by not paying for the campsites. So far New Zealand didn’t seem to be a very heavily policed country and I had yet to see any park rangers.
I made some dinner of pizza burritos as a native weka bird attempted to steal my meal. Weka birds are brown, flightless birds that are like squirrels trying to beg and steal food from humans. They have become a problem in the park with people leaving food out.
It was too chilly to swim by the time I made camp but I could not believe what a beautiful campsite I had to myself. I walked the beach with my jacket and pants on to avoid the biting sand flies. They are just as annoying as mosquitoes.
ANAPAI BAY TO BARK BAY
It was a beautiful morning waking up to the sound of the ocean. I packed up my tent and set off down the beach. From Anapai Bay it was a quick walk back to Totaranui Bay where the water taxi had dropped me off the morning before. From here I continued south along the coast track crossing Goat Bay and Waiharakeke Bay. There was a moment on Waiharakeke Bay where I wasn’t sure where to go. The trail dumped me onto the beach so I hiked along but I wasn’t sure where it would pick up again. Luckily there were orange circular signs that indicated…I’m not sure but they indicated something. The signage in New Zealand is very strange. Sometimes I would see orange triangles and sometimes circles. I came to deduce that triangles meant you were on the right trail and circles indicated the trail made a turn or something.
Anyway, I found my way and hiked into the forest. I was making good time and that was important. My next obstacle was Awaroa Inlet. This is a huge estuary for the a river the trail crosses. There is no way around the inlet, one must walk across it. The only problem is that the crossing must occur within several hours of low tide. There are many signs in the park indicating this and even the water taxi office had the low tide times listed. I arrived within my low tide window and set across the vast estuary.
The sea floor was littered with tiny shells of some crustacean and I even saw small little crabs running around. I crossed several shallow riverlets before wading through the knee-deep main river. I was wearing my dad’s old sandals that I had taken with me to New Zealand. The straps dug into my feet and rubbed my skin until it bled. I was thankful when I reached the other side of the Awaroa and could switch back to my hiking shoes.
From Awaroa I had several options. Being low tide I could take the shortcut through more estuary around a point and back to the trail or I could hike up into the woods on the main track. I chose the former which proved to be a mistake. The estuary shortcut took me into a narrow inlet where my orange triangle markings disappeared. I backtracked a bit only to check my map and realize that I had been correct. So I tried again and found a little-used unmarked trail. I followed it until it eventually met the main track. At this intersection was a sign saying trail closed. Apparently my shortcut had been unmarked because it was closed. I was using an old map.
But the good news was I had found the main trail again and only lost an hour or so of time. I hiked on through the forests. Though I was wearing the same shoes and clothes and caring the same backpack and gear as my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, the experience was completely different. The trees felt like a jungle and there were hardly any insects save for the sand-flies in the evenings. There were no mammals, only birds. The trail was wide and relatively easy. The campsites all had water sources and most even had flush toilets. And when there was adequate signage, it never indicated distances, only time. For example a sign might point toward Goat Bay and say 3 hours. I found this to be most unhelpful. How fast do I need to hike?
Through the woods and jungles I reached Onetahuti Bay and then the trail returned to the forest. My lost trail delay from early had set me back and I didn’t have extra time to go for a swim now that the afternoon sun had warmed the water. I hiked on and eventually made it to Bark Bay. I had the choice of going around the bay’s estuary or crossing. It was getting closer to high tide but the water still looked shallow enough. I took a risk and waded across the estuary into thigh-high water. After a successful crossing I made camp at Bark Bay. A park ranger appeared and asked for my camping permit. Now I was glad I had followed the rules and paid for my campsite! After showing her my permit and setting up camp, I walked the beach and watched the tide come in before bed.
BARK BAY TO MARAHAU
I packed up quickly in the morning and set off. It was of course, another gorgeous day. From Bark Bay the trail entered the woods and remained there for quite some time. I arrived at Torrent Bay and had the choice of taking an hour long detour through the woods or crossing the bay. The low tide window wasn’t for another hour but the water didn’t look too deep. I couldn’t tell if there was a drop off farther out in the bay so I decided not to risk a swim. The hour detour would have to suffice. It was an easy track that wound around the bay and gave me a chance to take a side trail to Cleopatra’s Pool. A small waterfall flowed into a large pool where one could swim and there was even a natural rock waterslide. It wasn’t quite summer so I did not partake in any aquatic activities but admired the beauty.
Once on the other side of Torrent Bay I reached Anchorage. This is a main stop for tourists and water taxis and it was here that I met up with my friend Jennifer. She didn’t want to backpack for three days so she chose to meet me for my last day. We had lunch and began hiking back toward Marahau. The trail signs indicated a four hour hike.
We took some detours to overlooks such as Pitt Head and Te Pukatea Bay. From there the trail remained quite high in the hills as we hiked south. Along the way there were spur trails to numerous beaches but we preferred the views from above. At last we arrived at Sandy Bay, the bay where the water taxis are launched. Having finished my first Great Walk in New Zealand, I was ready for a good night’s rest in a real bed.
Total Distance Hiked: about 65 km (40 miles)
For anyone visiting New Zealand’s South Island, I would highly recommend a visit to the Abel Tasman National Park. The beaches and views are amazing, the hiking easy, and the ability to choose your own length of hike or other activities makes it obvious why this is country’s most visited national park. For more information on my route, check out the national park’s hiking brochure.
Here’s a song I discovered by Alan Walker with beautifully poetic lyrics. It was a fun listen as I hiked across beach after beach.