The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is one of New Zealand's most beautiful and beloved hiking trails. If you're hoping to walk it, here's an insider's guide to the Abel Tasman Track to help you with planning.
Introducing the Abel Tasman Track
Abel Tasman National Park may be New Zealand’s smallest national park by area. But it more than makes up for that by being one of its best-known and most beautiful.
Winding its way for 60 kilometres from top (Wainui) to bottom (Marahau) of the National Park’s coastline, the Abel Tasman Coast Track offers one of the very best ways to visit this gorgeous area. It has incredible scenery at every single point, from expansive ocean views to hilltop panoramas and lush forest canopies. And with countless side tracks and detours along the way, you can discover remote and unspoilt parts of the National Park that are inaccessible by road.
Abel Tasman Track: How to get there
Reaching the Abel Tasman Track by car:
The Abel Tasman Coast Track has four points at which you can access it by road: Marahau, Wainui, Totaranui, and Awaroa.
Marahau, at the southern end of the Abel Tasman National Park, is only an hour from Nelson via Motueka and Kaiteriteri. If you’d prefer to start your walk from the northern end, it’s better instead to stay on State Highway 60 after Motueka until Takaka, about 1 hour 30 minutes from Nelson. From there, it’s about a 35-minute, 21-kilometre (13-mile) drive into Wainui. The road here is more rugged than driving to Marahau. Sections of the road to Wainui, Totaranui (50 minutes from Takaka), and Awaroa (1 hour) are unsealed. But they are well maintained.
Reaching the Abel Tasman Track by bus:
You can also catch a bus from Nelson, Richmond, Motueka, or Kaiteriteri to Marahau to start walking the Abel Tasman Track. The bus runs twice daily, with departures in the morning and afternoon. You can check the timetable at Scenic New Zealand’s Abel Tasman page.
Getting around and getting back:
The Abel Tasman Coast Track is not a loop trail. That means that you will start and end in different places. But don’t worry – there are plenty of options for getting back to where you started.
By water taxi:
Water taxis offer a quick, fun, and unique way to get around Abel Tasman National Park. Services are frequent and very reliable, and they take you to places you can’t reach by road including Anchorage, Torrent Bay, Bark Bay, Onetahuti, as well as Awaroa and Totaranui (see above). Considering the Abel Tasman Track is not a loop walk, this is a fantastic option for getting from Marahau back to Awaroa/Totaranui, or vice versa, after finishing your walk.
Water taxis operate year-round from Marahau and Kaiteriteri. There’s usually no need to book in advance, but you can see timetables, fares, and routes on the websites of Marahau Water Taxis, Abel Tasman AquaTaxi, and other companies.
Bus and shuttle services provide another option for getting between Marahau and Wainui. The Heaphy Bus offers a daily scheduled bus service with pick up and drop off at Wainui Bay and Marahau. You can also take the bus all the way back to Nelson. Alternatively, you can organise private or group shuttle services between Wainui, Marahau, and Nelson with companies like Trek Express. This is a good way to make sure that somebody is actually there waiting for you when you finish your walk!
Where to stay along the Abel Tasman Track
There are 20 designated campsites, 4 serviced huts, and numerous luxury accommodation options along the length of the Abel Tasman Coast Track.
Camping at Abel Tasman Track
If you have your own tent, the camping options available along the Abel Tasman Track cover a wide range: from the huge and fantastically fully-equipped Totaranui, Anchorage, and Bark Bay campgrounds, to the smaller, bare minimal, but arguably more beautiful campsites at Mutton Cove, Akersten Bay, and Te Puketea Bay.
Huts at Abel Tasman Track
The 4 serviced huts (located at Awaroa, Anchorage, Bark Bay, and Whariwharangi Bay) are all managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC), and they must be booked in advance.
If you turn up without a booking, you’re likely to be charged a hefty penalty fee, or even asked to leave the National Park. Don’t worry, though, it’s incredibly easy to book. You can do it on the official DOC website.
Lodges at Abel Tasman Track
In case you want to put your feet up in style at the end of each day, there is a range of private lodges and luxury accommodation options along the Abel Tasman Track. Have a look at Abel Tasman Lodge to give yourself an idea.
Suggested Hiking Itineraries for the Abel Tasman Track
Abel Tasman Track in 1 Day: Torrent Bay > Marahau or Torrent Bay > Onetahuti
Even if you've only got a day, you can still enjoy a decent walk that provides a good cross-section of the Abel Tasman Track's diverse natural beauty. Get a water taxi in the morning from Kaiteriteri or Marahau to Torrent Bay. There, follow the Abel Tasman Track inland through several narrow gullies on the way to Yellow Point, after which the track traces the coast and traverses some dense beech forest, with ancient Kanuka trees, until you reach Apple Tree Bay. After Apple Tree Bay, the track winds around Guilbert Point into Tinline Bay, where it then opens up into expansive open country towards the estuary at the entrance to Marahau, from where you can take an afternoon or evening water taxi back to Kaiteriteri. It should take around 4 hours walking time.
Alternatively, still take the water taxi from Kaiteriteri or Marahau to Torrent Bay in the morning. But instead of heading south to return to Marahau, take the scenic coastal route north to Onetahuti. The route this way isn't quite as varied. But the trade-off for that is that it just doubles and even triples down on amazing sea views. Plus, there are a few unique attractions along the way – including crossing the famous Falls River Swingbridge, a 47-metre long suspension bridge strung over an eye-catching inlet. You can catch a water taxi back from Onetahuti to Marahau and Kaiteriteri in the afternoon, with the last departure at 3:30 p.m.
Abel Tasman Track in 2 Days: Anchorage to Bark Bay; Bark Bay to Awaroa
This route, from Anchorage to Awaroa, constitutes the heart of the Abel Tasman Coast Track, and it gives you a bit of everything: iconic sites, wildlife spotting, panoramic viewpoints, and long tranquil stretches through pristine forest.
Start Day One with a water taxi to Anchorage, then cross the Torrent Bay Estuary. If you time it right (two hours either side of high tide), you can cross it by the shoreline; but if not then there's a longer, 'scenic' all-tide track winding around the headlands. From the northern end of Torrent Bay, the trail rises up and over two valleys on the way to Falls River Swingbridge, after which the track cuts through coastal forest before dropping back to the sea and into secluded Bark Bay, where you can spend the night at the hut, campsite, or lodge.
Day Two covers Bark Bay to Awaroa, via a steep climb up to a saddle, after which you enter a dense Manuka forest that seems a world away from the coastal scenery of the morning. However, you quickly snap back to it at beautiful Tonga Quarry, where pristine Tonga Island and its protected marine reserve sit just offshore. It's well worth stopping here for lunch, a swim, or to go snorkelling before setting off again towards Onetahuti Bay and over Tonga Saddle into Awaroa Bay. You can take a water taxi from Awaroa back to wherever you need. Each day should take about 3-4 hours walking time.
Abel Tasman Track in 3 Days: Totaranui > Onetahuti > Anchorage > Marahau
A popular way to walk the majority of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track in 3 days is to go from Totaranui to Marahau, or the other way around, with nights at Onetahuti and The Anchorage.
From Totaranui, whether you arrive by road or water taxi, enjoy a 4-hour walk on Day One around the headlands and through Awaroa Bay to Onetahuti.
Day Two is a bit more of a grunt: 6-8 hours through coastal forest and a lot of up and down into Anchorage. Since you'll be staying in Anchorage overnight, it's well worth checking out the glow worm caves at the northern end of the beach!
Day Three, the final day, is a lot more laid back and easy-going, with only 3-4 hours of leisurely walking. That's perfect. Because there are many, many pristine beaches and beautiful little coves you'll pass along the way. So you can take your time to stop, relax, explore, or swim at them, while enjoying great views out across the water to the islands of the Astrolabe, before arriving in Marahau.
Abel Tasman Track in 4-5 Days: Build your own itinerary
If you want to give the Abel Tasman Coast Track its full due, set aside 4-5 days. This will give you enough time to walk the full length of the track, stay at every hut, and take many fantastic side trips along the way.
Cleopatra's Pool, a secluded rock pool with crystal-clear water, and the dramatic Cascade Falls, hidden away among thick native bush, are two side trips that definitely shouldn’t be missed. They are both located just off the section of the Abel Tasman Track between Anchorage and Bark Bay, and will add about 1 or 2 hours to your waking time.
Another advantage of extending your Abel Tasman Track walk to 4 or 5 days is the chance to stay at the often overlooked Whariwharangi Bay hut. This restored old farm homestead is set in a stunning beachside location, and its isolated feel provides great opportunities to hear the birdsong of tui, kereru, bellbirds, and fantails.
As a general guide for times and days, a 5-day itinerary for walking the Abel Tasman Coast Track could look something like this:
Day One: Marahau to Anchorage (12.4km)
Day Two: Anchorage to Bark Bay (12.1km)
Day Three: Bark Bay to Awaroa (11.4km)
Day Four: Awaroa to Whariwharangi (13km)
Day Five: Whariwharangi to Wainui (5.5km)
However, there's no real right or wrong way to do it. Nor a right direction in which to plan your Abel Tasman Track walking itinerary. If you're unsure about anything, you can always find specific info about everything – from hut facilities and route distances, to track maintenance updates and weather warnings – on the official DOC website's dedicated Abel Tasman Coast Track page.
The best activities to do before, during, and after walking the Abel Tasman Track
Since you’re in this beautiful area, don’t be in a hurry to leave it. Instead, have a look at some of the interesting places to see and fun things to do nearby. All of these are easy to combine when planning how to walk the Abel Tasman Track.
Spot some wildlife in Abel Tasman National Park
As well as being full of stunning photo opportunities, Abel Tasman National Park is also home to superb native wildlife.
In terms of birdlife, you’re sure to spot some South Island pied oystercatchers patrolling the beach. These birds are known for always being in couples, which seems appropriately romantic during Abel Tasman’s gorgeous golden sunsets. Leaving the beach and walking through the forest, you’re also likely to encounter the beautiful whistles of big-breasted native tui at some – or several – point along the Abel Tasman Track. And whether in the forest or on the beach, keep an eye and an ear out for the distinctive ‘coo-eet’ call of the weka. These flightless birds are less famous than their kiwi cousins. But they’re also far more inquisitive and easy to spot, often coming right up to your campsite or picnic rug to inspect what’s going on.
Given all the pristine water, it’s no surprise that Abel Tasman is also rich in local marine life. If you’re lucky, you might catch a troupe of Little Blue Penguins rafting up in the waves and waddling ashore on the beach at dusk. However, the lovable locals you’re most likely to encounter are New Zealand fur seals. You can see colonies of them swimming, sunbathing, or flapping around rocks and beaches all around Abel Tasman National Park, but especially at Tonga Island. This is a protected marine reserve where you cannot land without a permit, but you can paddle your kayak close and observe the seals from afar!
On that note: as well as being a great way to encounter the local wildlife, kayaking in Abel Tasman is another must-do activity while you’re in this beautiful region.
Kayaking in and around Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park’s picture-perfect, white-sand-and-turquoise-water beaches and coves make it a kayaking paradise. The water is calm, so the views and tranquility can be safely enjoyed by all ages and abilities, too.
You’ll find no shortage of options when it comes to kayaking around Abel Tasman, either.
Kaiteriteri Kayak offer a short, simple tour that includes passing the iconic Split Apple Rock. If you have a bit more time, take a water taxi to secluded Observation Beach and kayak back to Marahau with the ocean breeze behind you. This lets you check in on the local wildlife of Adele Island along the way.
If you’d like to tack a memorable kayak tour onto your trip to Abel Tasman, reserve a spot on the famous Hobbit Kayak Tour on the Pelorus river. This family-friendly tour lets you paddle down a section of New Zealand’s most beautiful river that was used to film the famous barrel-escape scene in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The tour starts and ends in Havelock, just a 45-minute drive from Nelson and exactly on the way if you’re taking the ferry from Picton, or heading through Blenheim on your way to or from Christchurch.