Abel Tasman Coastal Track
The Abel Tasman Coast Track is a 51 kilometre (32 miles), easy to moderate walking track that passes through a picturesque landscape of coastal forests and golden sandy beaches. All streams are bridged and most people can walk it in three to five days with plenty of time to explore.
The climate is mild and it is possible to walk the track at any time of the year.
For at least 500 years, Maori lived along the Abel Tasman coast, gathering food from the sea, estuaries and forests, and growing kumera on suitable sites. Most occupation was seasonal but some sites in Awaroa estuary were permanent.
On 18 December 1642, Abel Tasman anchored his two ships near Wainui in Mohua (Golden Bay), the first European to visit Aotearoa New Zealand. He lost four crew in a skirmish with the local Maori, Ngati Tumatakokiri.
The Tumatakokiri were conquered around 1800 and the conquerors in turn were invaded in the 1820s. The modern Maori, Te Ati Awa and Ngati Rarua, trace their ancestry back to this latter invasion.
Frenchman Dumont d'Urville followed in January 1827, exploring the area between Marahau and Torrent Bay. Permanent European settlement began around 1855. The settlers logged forests, built ships, quarried granite and fired the hillsides to create pasture. For a time there was prosperity but soon the easy timber was gone and gorse and bracken invaded the hills.
Abel Tasman National Park was formed after Nelson conservationist Perrine Moncrieff became concerned at the prospect of logging along the beautiful coast. She campaigned to have 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) of crown land made into a national park. A petition presented to the Government suggested Abel Tasman's name for the park, which was opened in 1942 on the 300th anniversary of his visit.
The park is built mostly of granite; it colours the beaches and streambeds and gives rise to characteristically infertile soils. Despite this infertility, the damp gullies just above sea level support rich forest. Although many trees were removed during the milling era, a lush understorey of trees and shrubs, tree ferns, kiekie and supplejack remains, and the gullies lead the regeneration process.
Black beech is the natural cover of the dry ridges and headlands close to the sea, with hard beech further back where more moisture is available. Kanuka occurs where there have been windfalls or a history of fires. Manuka occurs where repeated burning has degraded the soil.
D'Urville found South Island kokako in the forests around Torrent Bay; these and several other native bird species have since disappeared. Bellbirds, fantails, pigeons and tui are now the main forest birds. Around the beaches, estuaries and wetlands, pukeko and weka are common.
A range of wading birds stalk the estuaries for fish and shellfish. Offshore, gannets, shags and terns can be seen diving for food. Little blue penguins feed at sea during the day and return to burrows on the park's islands at night.
Little is known about the park's freshwater fish. However, many of the park's waterways are slightly acidic and stained a tea colour by tannin leached from the soil - features known to be unfavourable to introduced trout, which compete with and prey upon native fish.
Unmodified estuaries are an integral feature of the Abel Tasman coast. Twice a day, with the tides, nutrients pour in from the sea to nourish the estuary's many fish, snails, worms, and crabs. These, in turn, are food for coastal birds. Being sandy, (rather than muddy), the park's estuaries are easily explored around low tide.
Areas inundated by only the highest tides carry salt marsh vegetation, rushes, glasswort and sea primrose. Between the tides creatures like periwinkles, tubeworms, Neptune's necklace and pink algae have adapted to regular exposure to sun and wind and sea.
Fur seals are found along the coast of the park, particularly on the more remote granite headlands of Separation Point and Tonga Island. Their numbers are increasing rapidly and they have recently started breeding there.
In 1993, Tonga Island Marine Reserve was created along part of the Abel Tasman coast where it is hoped the marine environment will be restored to its natural state.
The Abel Tasman Coast Track is accessible at several points. Marahau, the southern gateway, is 67 kilometres (42 miles) from Nelson. From Takaka it is 21 kilometres (13 miles) to the Wainui entrance, 32 kilometres (20 miles) to Totaranui and 31 kilometres (19 miles) to Awaroa. Carparks are located at these four access points. All the local towns have a range of accommodation options.
Public boat ramps are located at Kaiteriteri, Marahau, Tarakohe, Tata Beach and Totaranui.
Regular bus services depart Nelson and Motueka for Kaiteriteri, Marahau, Totaranui and Wainui. On-demand taxis are available at Motueka and Takaka.
Boat services from Tarakohe (charter only) Nelson, Kaiteriteri and Marahau serve points on the coast track, a convenient way to start or finish your walk.
Times are approximate only and will vary according to fitness and the pace of your group.
Consult a tide timetable when planning your trip, as some estuaries are only passable when the tide is low.
Marahau to Anchorage 4 hours, 11.5 kilometres (7.1 miles)
French names left by d'Urville and his crew - Adele, Lesson, Coquille, Simonet, and Torrent - add character to this part of the journey. At Marahau information kiosk a causeway crosses the estuary. On the far side the track passes through open country to Tinline Bay.
The track rounds Guilbert Point to Apple Tree Bay then passes through beech forest with large kanuka trees. After Yellow Point it turns inland, winding in and out of several little gullies before emerging in open country overlooking Torrent Bay and the coast and islands to the north.
Descend to Anchorage Bay where there is a hut and campsite.
Anchorage to Bark Bay 3 hours, 9.5 kilometres (5.9 miles)
From Anchorage Bay, cross a low ridge to Torrent Bay estuary. The estuary can be crossed within two hours either side of low tide. Alternatively, an all-tides track leads around the estuary to Torrent Bay. Please keep to the track through the private houses here.
At the northern end of Torrent Bay beach the track climbs through pine trees. The track sidles around two attractive valleys and above a beautiful inlet to the Falls River, the biggest in the park. Beyond the river sidle again before dropping back to the sea. Follow the track to the hut and campsites beside Bark Bay estuary.
Bark Bay to Awaroa 4 hours, 11.5 kilometres (7.1 miles)
Cross Bark Bay estuary or follow the all-tides track around its edge, and climb steeply to a saddle. Here you lose all sense of the sea below and journey quietly through stands of manuka.
Return to the shore at Tonga Quarry, where blocks of granite remain from an old quarrying operation. Tonga island sits offshore surrounded by marine reserve. A short distance on is Onetahuti beach; at its northern end, high tide may cause a delay. The tidal stream can be crossed within four hours either side of low tide. The track then climbs over Tonga Saddle and descends to Awaroa Inlet. Follow the shore for 15 minutes to Awaroa Hut and campsite.
Awaroa to Totaranui 1.5 hours, 5.5 kilometres (3.4 miles)
Awaroa Estuary can only be crossed within two hours either side of low tide. And following very heavy rain the estuary may be uncrossable. From its northern side, the track crosses a low saddle and drops to Waiharakeke Bay where a timber-mill once operated.
The track re-enters the forest, emerges at Goat Bay, then climbs to a lookout above Skinner Point before descending to Totaranui. Follow the track to the visitor centre.
Totaranui to Whariwharangi 3 hours, 7.5 kilometres (4.7 miles)
The track heads around Totaranui estuary, climbs over a low saddle and winds down through lush forest to Anapai Bay. From here to Mutton Cove travel alternates between sandy beaches and rocky headlands of regenerating kanuka.
Leave the coast at Mutton Cove and climb to another saddle. From here the track descends to Whariwharangi Bay. The hut, a restored farm homestead, and campsite are just behind the beach. Add one hour to go via Separation Point (see side trips below).
Whariwharangi to Wainui 1.5 hours, 5.5 kilometres (3.4 miles)
From Whariwharangi Hut follow a small stream then climb out of the bay to a saddle overlooking Wainui Inlet. The track winds down to the shore around gorse-covered ridges recovering from a 1978 fire, then follows the estuary edge for a short walk to the carpark.
Transport is available from the carpark and it is possible to cross Wainui Inlet within two hours either side of low tide.
Many secluded, sheltered coves and lookout points are accessible from the coast track as well as the following side trips.
Te Pukatea Bay and Pitt Head
A 30 minute walk crosses a low ridge from Anchorage Hut to crescent-shaped Te Pukatea Bay. From there a one hour walk with good views leads to Pitt Head, an old pa site, and back to Anchorage.
From Torrent Bay estuary a 20 minute wander leads up a stream bed of large boulders to Cleopatra's Pool.
A track heads inland from near Torrent Bay camp to the Falls River falls. Allow three hours return.
From Mutton Cove a track leads to Separation Point where fur seals breed. This track branches shortly before the point to rejoin the coast track at the saddle above Whariwharangi Bay (one hour).
The four huts along the track have bunks and mattresses, heating and water. No cooking facilities are provided, so visitors should carry portable stoves.
Camping on the Coast Track is only permitted at the 21 designated sites. Each site has a water supply (except Te Pukatea) and toilet. Safe drinking water is available at Totaranui, Bark Bay and the Anchorage.
There is also a campground at Totaranui with fireplaces, shelter, toilets, cold showers and laundry facilities but no power. A small shop operates during the summer.
Hut and campsite passes and bookings
A Great Walks hut or campsite pass for the Abel Tasman Coast Track should be purchased before starting your trip and be carried with you. There are separate passes for summer (1 October to 30 April) and winter (1 May to 30 September) seasons. Also, between 1 October and 30 April each year, accommodation in any of the four public huts must be booked. Bookings can be made from 1 July each year for the coming summer season.
The booking system assures you of a bunk for the night. It avoids the need to rush to get to huts early to get a space or to carry a tent in case you miss out. You can walk and enjoy the track at your own pace.
There is a two-night limit on staying at each hut and campsite. At Totaranui, the limit is one night at the Great Walks campsite. The campsite pass may be upgraded to a hut pass if bunk space is available and on payment of the difference. This can be arranged with hut wardens after 6pm.
The Abel Tasman National Park is ideal for water activities including snorkelling, sailing and sea kayaking. Fishing is not allowed in the Tonga Island Marine Reserve between Bark Bay and Awaroa Head.
Have a safe and enjoyable trip.
Weather along the Abel Tasman coast is generally mild but be ready for rain. Make sure you are properly equipped and well prepared.
Everyone needs to carry a sleeping bag, cooking utensils, sufficient high-energy food (with some extra for emergencies), a waterproof raincoat, and warm (wool, fleece or polypropylene) clothing. A portable stove will also be needed. Firm footwear is recommended but boots are not necessary.
Please check at any of the local Department of Conservation offices for up-to-date information on weather and track conditions.
It is recommended that all water is boiled, filtered or chemically treated. Safe drinking water is available at the Anchorage, Bark Bay and Totaranui.
Keep to the track. If you become lost stop, stay calm, try to retrace your steps or seek shelter and try to assist searchers.
And please remember:
- All plants, birds and animals in the park are protected
- Please carry your rubbish out of the park
- No dogs or domestic pets are allowed
- Hunting is by permit only. Permits can be obtained from the Department of Conservation
- Fire is a major threat. Fires should only be lit in designated fireplaces. Please make sure fires are extinguished properly before you leave
- Wasps and sandflies can be a problem. Carry insect repellent and antihistamines in case of allergy
- Possums are a pest and damage native trees. Do not encourage them by leaving food outside overnight
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