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Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park was formed after local conservationist Perrine Moncrieff, from nearby Nelson, became concerned at the prospect of logging along the beautiful coast. She campaigned to have 15,000 hectares of crown land made into a national park. A petition presented to the New Zealand Government suggested Abel Tasman's name for the park, which was opened in 1942 on the 300th anniversary of his visit.

Abel Tasman national park

How the Abel Tasman Region Was Discovered

For at least 500 years Maori lived along the Abel Tasman coast, gathering food from the sea, estuaries and forests, and growing kumara (Maori sweet potato) on suitable sites. Most occupation was seasonal but some sites in Awaroa estuary were permanent. On 18 December 1642, explorer Abel Tasman anchored his two ships near Wainui in Mohua (Golden Bay), the first European to visit Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand). He immediately lost four crew in a skirmish with the local Maori, the Ngati Tumatakokiri tribe, and needless to say he high-tailed (if you can do that in a sailing ship) his way out of there.

The Ngati 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.

Natural History of Abel Tasman Park

Flora of Abel Tasman National Park

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.

Birds and Fauna of Abel Tasman

kayaker with sea lionD'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.
New Zealand 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.

Abel Tasman Kayaking

What to do in Abel Tasman National Park

Kayaking in Abel Tasman

The park is well known for having many exquisite sea kayaking locations with sheltered coves, clear water and white sands and there are now at least six sea kayaking operators in the area that offer rental or guided tours. Mountain biking is also starting to take off in the park as popularity and demand grows for multi-purpose tracks. 

Hike the Abel Tasman Coastal Track

The Abel Tasman Coast Track is another of New Zealand’s Great Walks and extends for 54.4kms (33 miles). What makes this hike unique is that you must time your hike to coincide with tidal crossings where you can only cross a few hours either side of low tide – many funny stories (and some a bit more serious) emerge of hikers that don’t heed these warnings! This beautiful tracks takes an average of 3 to 5 days to complete and can be hiked from either end. To find out more, read on about the Abel Tasman Coastal Track!

  • Kiwi South Island Explorer

    • 14 Days
    • South Island
    • From US$5799 + tax

    4.69 out of 5 (from 254 reviews)

    Kiwi

    New to adventure vacations or not quite ready to hang up your hiking boots just yet? On this South Island walking tour you'll experience beautiful, famous and little-known places – taking plenty of time to explore along the way! For a great way to see the North Island too, combine this trip with our 11-day 'Kauri' (5 day 'Kauri' options available).

    Activity level: The ‘Kiwi’ suits anyone who enjoys walking and likes to give things a go. The pace is flexible and relaxed with most hikes taking one to three hours to complete on well-formed tracks with some undulations.

Trip Reviews

  4.52 out of 5 (from 4879 reviews)

Rimu is Wonderful - A few tips if you plan to go...

My husband and I took the Rimu trip in early November 2016 and had a really terrific time. I encourage everyone who is seriously considering the Rimu to go ahead and sign up. That being said, with all of the fun we had, I do wish we had known a few things ahead of time. I include these tips for you, the soon-to-be Rimu traveler, to make your trip more enjoyable. However, I can promise that even if you do none of these things, you will still have a marvelous time:

1. Guys, if you opt to snorkel with the fur seals be sure to shave your mustache before you leave home. It seems obvious now, but it never occurred to my husband that the mask wouldn’t seal properly to his face with his mustache. Do yourself a favor and shave it off or spend the afternoon dealing with a leaky mask.

2. I also wish I had known just how intense and challenging the 3-day multi-hike through Nelson Lakes would be. If you’re an office worker and occasional hiker like me, then I encourage you to take this trip but do lots of practice/fitness training in advance. Load up your pack and get on the stair-master or start climbing really steep hills. The hike is gorgeous and worth it, but I can promise you it will be a lot more enjoyable if you’re in good shape for it. Also, there are no showers at the huts and only latrines (port-a-potties) for toilets, so bring baby wipes for exactly the same reason you would use them on a baby (wink wink). And also bring hiking poles! I know it says optional on the gear list, but I really found them to be essential. As for the water bottle – leave that at home and invest in a good water bladder system (a “Camelback” or similar). We found the water bottle to be a hassle to take in and out of the bag (forcing us to stop each time), which made us want to drink less water. The water bladders allow you to keep moving and you’ll find you’re more hydrated.

3. The sea kayaks (and, honestly, New Zealand in general) are not made for people over 6’ 2” in height (187 cm). Watch your head everywhere you go, and as for the kayaks, it may help to have the taller person sit in the front seat of the kayak instead of the back.

4. Also, pack enough clothes for a week and then expect to do laundry. Bring some travel-sized laundry soap packets to help save money and make sure you have enough 1$ and 2$ coins for laundry before you get to the hotel (the machines are generally pretty expensive: about $3 for the washer and between $3 - $5 for 30 minutes in the dryer).

5. Bring good cycling shorts – yes, the ones with the weird-feeling padding on the bum. It will help prevent the dreaded ‘grumpy grundle’.

6. And finally, a heads-up to my fellow outgoing introverts (yes, we exist): this trip contains long days of social interaction (think 7:15 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.), with few breaks for introspection/solitude. If you need some down time, skip dinner or unfurl all of the emergency blankets and build your own fort at the back of the bus and hang a sign that says, “Stay Out!” (just kidding about that last one).

A great big thank you to our guides, Rachel and Jordan, who were informative and helpful beyond measure. How they managed to remain cheerful and engaging considering they had to do all of the exertion we clients had to do, plus all of their work on top of it, is beyond me. They are the embodiment of Kiwi hospitality! We are already thinking of coming back for a North Island tour sometime soon.
Lauren Gerth Review Image
– Missouri, United States
Rimu, November 2016
Read Reviews

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