Hiking in Abel Tasman National Park
Walking among beautiful beaches, a turquoise sea and the rainforest in New Zealand. Hiking in Abel Tasman is amazing (even in september)
I am feeling a stinging sense of regret as I am getting on the water taxi. Until a few minutes ago I was looking forward to this boat, but now I want to stay on this beautiful beach, in front of the clear, turquoise sea.
Now it feels like a little dream falling in pieces, even though we have walked two-thirds of the park and there isn’t much more to see. I can see in front of me the images of the past few days, like photos haphazardly scattered on the sand. There are many colours: all shades of green and blue, the water shining under a bright winter sun. And then, the sky covered by a blanket of stars that I don’t recognize, I observe them from my sleeping bag through a window of a hut. When I think about it I get confused, I see myself out of that warm cocoon, opening the door to immerse myself in that darkness. But it’s a false memory. It happens because everything is blurred in a dream. I stayed inside, and fell asleep in front of that rectangle of stars.
The Abel Tasman Coast Track
The Abel Tasman Coast track stretches for 54 kilometers along the north coast of the South Island of New Zealand: it rises and falls gently, among beaches, streams, creeks, suspension bridges, intricate rainforests of palms, ferns and pines. We chose it because it can be done all year round: the weather is alwaysn milder than the surrounding areas. There is usually little rain and no risk of snow, even in winter. We did it at the end of winter (mid-September). In september there are few people and we were alone for hours.
But walking in winter also meant that the crystal-clear sea that filled our eyes was way too cold for a dip, and that we needed a jacket while we sat on the sandy beaches in the weak sun. In summer, it’s all different, we were told: there are many more hikers along the trail, that if you are fit and without too much weight on your shoulders can be done in two or three days. But people make it last much longer in high season, stopping frequently to swim in the water or to relax on the beaches. So they walk less, maybe eight kilometres instead of twenty. Many, we read on a guidebook, walk in flip-flops.
The night in the hut at Bark Bay
There’s only one thing you have to worry about while on the path: the tides. This coast has the most powerful tides in New Zealand (up to 5.2 meters) and arriving at the wrong time at some points of the track can force hikers to long detours or completely prevent the passage for many hours. Tides are well marked on the websites and you will find more information at the huts.
We arrived with low tide, but we still had to immerse ourselves knee-deep in the water to reach the Bark Bay hut. We chose two of the 34 beds of the hut and prepared for the night. The backpacks were heavy. On the shoulders we somehow tied the awkward and huge sleeping bags rented at the beginning of the track. And thank god we did it. The hut was quite cold. With us we had a gas stove, freeze-dried food, a small flashlight and two candles: we made good use of everything.
The Bark Bay hut was large and very nice. It had very feeble lights in the kitchen, a wood stove (that barely heated only the main communal room, not the large bedrooms) and drinkable water (not to be used for dishwashing). Some of the hikers were nice, some definitely grumpy (a family of very fit mother, father and daughter in particular). The chatter, the sounds and smell of cooking fills up the room, lighted up by candles. We were a small dot of light in the darkness of the park.
Abel Tasman Coast Track: what you need to know
- The trail. Everybody can do this hike. Hiking in Abel Tasman is a real pleasure. There are a few climbs but never really harsh. The park is near Nelson, on the northern coast of the South Island. The path is about 54 kilometers and runs from Marahau, south, to Totaranui, which are the only points with roads and a bus connection.
- Where to stay in Abel Tasman. Many book a room in Marahau, but there’s another option, the beautiful Kaiteriteri, which has bars and cafes open all year round, unlike Marahau, where they open only during the high season.
- The boats. There’s a regular boat service along the coast all year round. The main company is Marahau water taxis (from 35 to 47$ depending on distance) that makes a number of stops on the trail, close to huts and camping grounds. There are also boats departing from Kaiteriteri. The boats should be booked in advance, at least in theory, but if they are not full you can jump on a boat ‘on the fly’ when it comes to shore to a scheduled stop. Just keep an eye on timetables. After all booking from the park can be tricky as cellphones don’t really work in many areas.
- When. The low season stretches from april to the end of september: fewer people, fewer boats. Restaurants and hotels might be closed in Marahau.
- Besides hiking. Here many choose to paddle a kayak or to do both walking and paddling. The hike can be done in two or three days but many prefer slowing down to a week.
- Food and accommodation. At the Abel Tasman Centre in Marahau you can book boats or rent camping equipment, as sleeping bags, cooking stoves. Or you can buy camping gas canisters, food or other useful goods (toothbrushes or… condoms for instance). The huts ($32 a night) have drinking water and small stoves in the communal rooms (but don’t count on them too much in winter). The camping grounds have water but it’s not drinkable, therefore it has to be boiled.
Accommodation in Abel Tasman
- Booking a hut in Abel Tasman. The huts, and the camping grounds, have to be booked in advance on the web site of the Great Walks of New Zealand. You could read somewhere that you need the Great Walks Pass. I found it confusing: the pass, it turned out, is just the booking of an accommodation.
- If you stay at a hut or campsite, bring a copy of the booking confirmation letter with you. This is very important. An electronic copy of the full letter will also be accepted, but if the phone or tablet doesn’t work you will be fined. So don’t forget to print.
- Other options. The huts and the camping grounds aren’t the only accommodations possible. In the high season (from october to the end of april, roughly, there are also the Awaroa lodge, on one of the most beautiful beaches, and Aqua packers, which is on a boat at Anchorage bay (75$, bbq dinner included). They also have a cottage on the beach.
What to bring for the hike
You don’t really need much to walk in the Abel Tasman National Park. Here are the essentials:
- cooking stove and camping gas canisters. Because you won’t find any kitchen in the huts
- Bring water. Because it’s drinkable only at the huts, otherwise it has to be boiled.
- It’s better to bring a torch/flashlight and candles, since there are no lights in the huts (except for a few feeble led lights in the communal rooms)
- Food. There’s no food on the trail, besides the cafe at the Awaroa Lodge, which is closed in the low season
- Shoes? Not really needed. Boots are too warm in summer and many walk in flip-flops. Remember you will probably get your feet wet anyway at some point because of the tides.
- A waterproof jacket is recommended for tramping in Abel Tasman. It rains less than in other areas, but it cam happen.
- In winter bring a sleeping bag and something warm if you are staying at a hut or at a camping ground, because the nights are cold
- Remember that some equipment can be rented at the Abel Tasman centre (enquire in advance)
- Abel Tasman in a day from Backpacking Matt (if you really have to)
- Abel Tasman National Park (official website)
All the texts are by Patrick Stephen Colgan. When not otherwise specified, pictures have the Creative Commons licence by-nc-sa. For commercial uses please contact me. An Italian version on my blog Orizzonti.