Abel Tasman Track

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There are several “Great Walks” in New Zealand that receive very positive reviews in guidebooks and online. The Abel Tasman Track is one of these walks that generally receives “not to be missed” praise. It is in fact the most popular Great Walk in New Zealand.  Located in the Abel Tasman National Park on the South Island’s northwest coast, the walk extends roughly 56 km from the start at Marahau to the end of the track at Wainui. Anne and I did a shortened version of the trip over 4 days in December (6-9) from Marahau to Totaranui covering 41.4 km.

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(photo by Anne Archambault)

The track mostly follows the coast line, sometimes on beach but mostly on very well maintained trails in the forest overlooking the Tasman Sea. The myriad streams and small canyons along the way are bridged — some with impressive suspension bridges. In two places, there are relatively significant tidal crossings that can only be done within an hour or two of low tide.

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Overnight accommodation is provided in both Department of Conservation (DOC) huts as well as campgrounds. The huts must be booked well in advance and provide drinking water, toilets, and sleeping pads in bunk style dorm rooms. The length of the track (through Totaranui) is serviced by water taxi, which allows hikers to access any point along the trail easily. This is a blessing and a curse, it allows for myriad options to explore the trail, but also allows scores of day trippers to visit huts and campgrounds that would otherwise be 2 days from the trailhead.

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(photo by Anne Archambault)

Beaches and Beautiful Blue Water

The highlight of the track is the proximity to the beautiful beaches and pristine blue water of the Tasman Sea. Without knowing better, it would be easy to mistake the coastline for beaches in Thailand or Hawaii.

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In some places, rocky granite outcroppings form small islands just offshore. These provided a wonderful opportunity for us to take a break from the walk and pull out the camera gear. We didn’t use the tripod often, but in these cases it was very handy for long exposure compositions.

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Because of the way the hike is laid out, Anne and I were generally able to complete our hike by early afternoon, giving us plenty of time to rest and relax at the hut. Alternatively, many hikers took the opportunity to stop along the way at secluded or otherwise wonderful beach locations and relax.

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Of course the beaches also provided wonderful sunrise and sunset photography. At Anchorage Bay, we had to be up at 5am to make the tidal crossing and were able to watch an amazing sunrise bloom over the hills.

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Wildlife

The national parks we visited on the South Island all had robust conservation efforts in place to help protect indigenous species. Invasive species such as possums, rats, and stoats have decimated the native bird populations. Along the track are literally hundreds of traps designed to kill these predators.

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Many of the islands visible along the track are sanctuaries where native species can nest in relative safety. There is also the Tonga Island Marine Reserve to help protect dolphins, seals, and the many native species that inhabit the diverse system of waterways, estuaries, and bays. Fur seals come here to lay their pups and penguins sleep along the rocky headlands.

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Because we were walking the track in the southern hemisphere’s summer, we were also able to see a lot of young chicks. At Anchorage Bay, a pair of variable oystercatchers had a set of three chicks that allowed us to approach during low tide.

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We also saw many of the native quail, some with broods as large as 6 or 8. Some of these quail were quite tame and even posed a little.

Incredible Flora

It’s hard to discount the incredible flora of New Zealand. In Abel Tasman National Park, the forest is dominated in the undergrowth by ferns both small and large. Tree ferns and beech form the bulk of the forest canopy, punctuated by fragrant flowering manuka trees (famous for their honey).

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The ferns lend a prehistoric feel to the forest and you could be forgiven for thinking you might be walking on the set of Jurassic Park. In fact, we talked to one person who was sure they filmed some scenes from the movie in the park.

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(photo by Anne Archambault)

Should you go?

In short, yes. The trail is fantastic, the days are short, and the scenery is well worth it.

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The trail is a little more crowded than other tracks, both because of the relative ease and the easy access. It’s a great warm up for longer or harder walks and it’s also great for families (of which we saw many).

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(photo by Anne Archambault)

And who could argue with lots of time on the beach? Anne and I both felt like 4 days was plenty; it provided enough time to get into the backpacking groove without feeling like we were spending more time than we should (the south island is big, we didn’t want to miss anything).

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Total distance: 29.09 mi
Max elevation: 384 ft
Min elevation: -282 ft