GREAT WALK: ABEL TASMAN COAST TRACK
The Abel Tasman Coast Track follows the stunning coastline of the Abel Tasman National Park at the top of the South Island, making its way along golden sand beaches, through tidal estuaries, and up gentle bush-clad slopes to coastal lookouts.
This 51 kilometre 3-5 day walk in the warmest and sunniest of the country's national parks is the most flexible of New Zealand's Great Walks, offering the chance to walk short stretches of track between water taxi pick-ups, and to combine walking with kayaking in the beautiful emerald coloured waters around the bays.
The Coast Track is accessible by road from Marahau, Wainui, Totaranui, and Awaroa Estuary, and water taxis operate from Marahau and Kaiteriteri, providing transport to the main beaches of Anchorage, Torrent Bay, Bark Bay, Onetahuti, Awaroa, and Totaranui. The track gets exceptionally busy in the summer months, particularly in peak season from December to February. If you want to avoid the crowds, the northern section between Totaranui and Wainui is much quieter.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) Visitor Centres in Takaka and Motueka sell maps and passes for the track. You can download a copy of DOC's useful Abel Tasman Coast Track brochure, and get copies of the Abel Tasman National Park map over the internet from Craig Potton Publishing or Clearwater Tarn.
The Department of Conservation has four huts and 20 campsites along the track, and there are also upmarket private lodges at Anchorage and Awaroa if you don't feel like roughing it. The DOC huts have communal bunkrooms, toilets, and drinking water, but you must bring your own cooker. Hut spaces and campsites need to be booked all year round and overnight stays are limited to two consecutive nights in any one hut or campsite. It is possible to arrange for luggage to be freighted by water taxi to huts and campsites, or to organise guided walks with Wilson's Experiences (includes combination walking/kayaking trips) or with Kahurangi Guided Walks. Whichever way you travel, remember to pack copious quantities of insect repellent to deter sandflies and be aware that late summer can bring an onslaught of pesky wasps.
The track can be walked in either direction. This track description follows the Department of Conservation guide in starting at Marahau, the southernmost point, and heading north up the coast to Wainui. Most trampers walk the track one way and arrange for a boat trip back.
It's important to note that the Onetahuti and Awaroa Estuaries are only passable at low tide. DOC's Abel Tasman Coast Track brochure has up-to-date tide timetables which you can use when planning your trip.
Marahau Information Kiosk to Anchorage Hut (4 hours, 11.5 kilometres): The track starts with a boardwalk across the mudflats of the Marahau Estuary, where you may see herons feeding. The track passes through open country to Tinline Bay, and then on to pretty Apple Tree and Stilwell Bays, where there are side tracks leading down to the water. It is another 3.5 kilometres to Yellow Point, where the track turns briefly inland before it drops down to Anchorage Bay.
Anchorage Hut to Bark Bay (3 hours, 9.5 kilometres): From Anchorage Bay, the track crosses a low ridge to Torrent Bay Estuary. The estuary can be crossed within two hours either side of low tide, or you can take the all-tide track which leads around it to Torrent Bay. From the estuary, there is a 20 minute detour to the deep, clear waters of Cleopatra's Pool, a great spot for sunbathing and splashing in the water on a hot day. At the northern end of Torrent Bay beach, the track climbs through pine trees and around two valleys to the beautiful Falls River, spanned by a long swingbridge. The Bark Bay Hut is a 30 minute walk from the river.
Bark Bay to Awaroa (4 hours, 11.5 kilometres): The track makes its way across or around the beautiful Bark Bay Estuary and climbs steeply to a saddle before returning to the shoreline by an old granite quarry at Tonga Bay. Just offshore is Tonga Island, with its resident fur seal colony and marine reserve. The track heads down to the golden sweep of Onetahuti Bay and then climbs up and over the Tonga Saddle and down to Awaroa Inlet. The Awaroa Lodge is within easy walking distance of the hut, offering the chance for a well-earned cappuccino.
Awaroa to Totaranui (1.5 hours, 5.5 kilometres): The track leads across the Awaroa Estuary, which can only be crossed close to low tide. From here, the track follows the creek, crosses a low saddle and drops down to Waiharakeke Bay, where a timber mill once operated. The track follows an old bush tramway, emerging from the trees at Goat Bay, and then climbs to a lookout above Skinner Point before descending to Totaranui. Many walkers finish their trip here, but it is possible to keep going, hiking around the headland to Whariwharangi Hut, and then on to Wainui.
Totaranui to Whariwharangi Hut (3 hours, 7.5 kilometres): The track leads around Totaranui Estuary and climbs over a low saddle and down into Anapai Bay. From here, the track heads along sandy beaches and over rocky headlands to Mutton Cove, and then over another low saddle, passing a side track down to Separation Point, which leads steeply down to a lighthouse where you can see fur seals and watch gannets dive for fish. From the saddle, the main track climbs down into Whariwharangi Bay and along to the "hut", a beautifully restored 19th century farmhouse, just behind the beach. From here it's possible to climb Gibbs Hill for spectacular views.
Whariwharangi to Wainui (1.5 hours, 5.5 kilometres): From Whariwharangi Hut, the track follows a small stream, then climbs out of the bay to a saddle overlooking Wainui Inlet. It is possible to cross Wainui Inlet within two hours either side of low tide. The track winds down to the shore and then follows the estuary edge along to the car park and journey's end.