The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is a 60 km hike and one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. Located in the Northern shores of the South Island. A walk through the Abel Tasman National Park will treat you with luscious blue seas and golden sand beaches. Typically completed in 3-5 days; you can hike the whole track, kayak or take a water taxi between certain sections. It is not a loop track however, and you should plan to either get the water taxi on your first or last day back to your starting point.
We chose to take the water taxi on our first day from Marahau to Totaranui and then walk back to Marahau where we left the car. There is one mandatory tidal crossing on the track and you should plan your trip to complete the crossing at low tide. Due to the tidal times we chose to get the water taxi north and then hike the track south. We also took our time and completed the Great Walk in 5 days, longer than most take. However, we also walked the northern part of the track to Whariwharangi which many people miss out. The furthest North the water taxi travels is to Totaranui, commercial boats are not allowed to sail above this point. Many people therefore choose to miss the Northern part of the track. But, it really is beautiful and I would highly recommend if you have the time.
Day 1: Marahau - Totaranui - Whariwharangi Bay
Water Taxi: 1 hour 15 minutes
Hike: 3 hours, 9 km
Detours: Separation Point Seal Colony
We got the water taxi on the first day of our trip, from Marahau up to Totaranui where we would start the Abel Tasman Great Walk from. The water taxi itself was brilliant, they took us on a couple of quick detours before making our way up the coast. We went to split apple rock and Adele island where you can see fur seals resting and seal pups playing. The skipper was very informative and showed us the sights whilst sailing up the coast. After about an hour and 15 minutes we reached our stop and headed off the boat. The water was surging in and out quite a lot so it was a bit of a jump from the boat to the beach.
Once off the boat we started our hike, we had 9 km plus a bit extra for a detour to another seal colony to hike that day. Being the first day it meant our bags were at their heaviest with all our food for the entire journey. I struggled quite a bit this day, particularly with the uphill climbs. We took a break at Mutton Cove for our lunch.
Seal Colony Detour:
From Mutton Cove there are two paths you can take to get to Whariwharangi Bay. One will take you directly there and the other will take you towards Separation Point and then to Whariwharangi Bay. We took the path to Separation Point to visit the seal colony. I highly recommend doing this if you are walking the Northern part of the track, it’s a pretty cool detour. If you take this path the first part of the track from Mutton Cove is a bit of a scramble. You will walk over some rocks on the beach which can be a little tricky with a heavy backpack on. You will soon be back onto a normal hiking path and be at the detour point. Leave your backpacks at the sign and then it’s roughly a 20 minute walk to Separation point from there.
After a visit to the fur seal colony, continue on the last part of the walk to Whariwharangi Bay. It’s just a little bit more uphill and then down towards the beach. We stayed in the DOC hut overnight, it was just 2 minutes from the beach. The hut was an old farm stay, only big enough to sleep 20 people, complete with a log fire it was warm and cosy. There wasn’t any electricity in any of the huts we stayed in except for our last night. The huts are very basic but the log fires make them really cosy to stay in. After an early night we were up early again for our next big hiking day.
Day 2: Whariwharangi Bay - Awaroa
Hike: 5 hours 35 minutes, 16.9 km
Tidal Crossing: Awaroa Inlet
This was our biggest day of the Abel Tasman Great Walk by far. With nearly 17 km to walk and a tidal crossing that meant we had to stick to a tight schedule to complete in time. This was a tricky day. We left Whariwharangi Bay at just gone 9 AM and reached Totaranui at 12 PM. This meant we did about 10 km of the walk in just short of 3 hours. I was on a mission, determined to reach Totaranui with time to have a good lunch break. In fact, we took a full hour’s break here since we had time to spare before the low tide crossing.
The Awaroa Inlet needs to be crossed at low tide. Although it can be crossed 1.5 hours before and up to 2 hours after, we figured crossing at exactly low tide would be the best option. What we were not told during the booking process for this Great Walk was that you will get wet regardless of what time you complete the crossing. It was a boots off and trousers rolled up kinda job. The water went all the way up to our knees and there were many small shells that you have to step over. My feet were in wrecks by the time we got to the other side. Luckily the hut is right there on the beach. We took our backpacks off, made the fire and watched the sun go down.
Day 3: Awaroa - Bark Bay
Hike: 4 hours 30 minutes, 13.5 km
This day is easy in comparison with the previous, it’s less km to hike and you can take as long as you like to do it. Without worrying about a tidal crossing to complete we took our time and enjoyed the views. We stopped for lunch at Onetahuti Bay. The DOC have recently built a new bridge at this beach so you don’t have to complete another tidal crossing here. It’s a lovely beach to walk along, many day hikers will get dropped off or picked up from this point so there may be more people around. There’s a few picnic benches and toilets available here and a lovely spot to stop for lunch. After lunch it’s not too far to carry on until Bark Bay, the last stop for the night. If you’re skipping this hut, then you’ll likely carry on to Anchorage for the last DOC hut on the Abel Tasman Great Walk track.
Day 4: Bark Bay - Anchorage
Hike: 4 hours, 11.5 km (via high tide track)
Detours: Cascade Falls and Cleopatras Pool
The second to last day of our trip, if you prefer you could skip Anchorage hut if you’re leaving from Bark Bay. The low tide track takes less km than the high tide track we completed. However, following the high tide track gives you some wonderful views, and access to a couple of worthy detours if you have time. We decided to stay at Anchorage so we didn’t feel rushed through the detours on the way. I knew if I still had a lot of walking to do I might dismiss the detours as not important. The first detour of this day became one of the highlights of the entire trip for me.
Before we get to the detours though, you’ll do a bit of walking and pass through a small village called Torrent Bay. This village is not accessible by road and so can only be accessed by boats or walkers. It’s a beautiful little village and a nice stop for pictures.
Cascade Falls Detour:
The first detour you will arrive at is called Cascade Falls. Not many people choose to do this one, so the path will likely be quiet. It is steep though and takes at least an hour return. I would advise you leave your heavy backpacks at the beginning of the detour route, as we did. The steep climb will be more difficult with your backpack on. This track is not part of the official Abel Tasman Great Walk and so is not maintained as well. There were 3 big fallen trees on the path when we were there that we had to scramble under and over. Before long, you will enter into the luscious green forest and arrive at the waterfall. It isn’t very big, but the surroundings of the incredibly green forest and the tranquillity of the area is beautiful. This was one of my favourite moments of the entire Abel Tasman Great Walk.
Cleopatra's Pool Detour:
Once back down on the main walking track, pick up your backpacks again and continue on. The next detour will lead you to Cleopatra’s Pool. This one is just a short walk about 5-10 minutes. A natural rock pool and nice spot to take pictures. It’s also a popular spot to have a swim and cool off in the warmer summer months. After this stop, carry on walking until you reach Anchorage Bay Hut.
Day 5: Anchorage - Marahau
Hike: 4 hours, 12.4 km
The last day of the trip. We actually completed this day’s hike in about 3 hours since we were walking at quite a fast pace. It rained for the last hour, but it was the only rain we had during our entire 5-day journey during winter. So, overall I think we did pretty well. Since it was raining towards the end, we didn’t stop for lunch anywhere, instead kept on walking. There were a few places where you could detour down towards the beach if you would like. This is one of the most popular sections of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track as many people choose to do a day walk in the national park. You’ll see glimpses of the golden sand beaches as you walk towards Marahau. Unfortunately for us, as the clouds and rain came in I didn’t get a chance to get many pictures during this day’s hike.
After completing over 60 km of hiking over the past 5 days we treated ourselves to a cheeky McDonald’s once we got back into Motueka, where we were staying for the next couple of nights. A nice hot shower awaited us and some time to relax and re-energise before continuing our travels down the West Coast.
If you are interested in doing the Abel Tasman Great Walk, plenty more detailed information and maps can be found here at the DOC website. Despite it being a tricky walk at times due to the heavy weights of our bags I thoroughly enjoyed this Great Walk. I hope I get the opportunity to do another Great Walk whilst in New Zealand.