The Abel Tasman Trail is one we'd both previously done sections of as day walks, and is famed for being one of the best coastal walks in New Zealand. After some challenging conditions for our first four Great Walks in New Zealand, the weather gods looked favourably upon us bringing clear skies and sunshine all the way.
Pure bliss for a coastal track.
However, the challenge wasn't the current weather but the effect of the previous three weeks. Abel Tasman had taken the brunt of not just one, but two cyclones, which had caused landslides and flooding. This caused the final day of the trail to be closed, meaning we had to get creative with how we could finish the track (more on that later).
Changing the game
We were feeling really good: the sun was out, we'd organised the greatest two words in the English language (PACK TRANSFER) meaning we only had a small day pack between us and we even treated ourselves to a non-DOC hut on the second night.
Yep, four hikes in and we'd had enough of the heavy packs and bunkhouses that became concert halls for snorers. We're not sorry, it felt great!
If you're looking to do this walk, we've put together a practical guide on everything you need to know to hike the track.
Day 1, part 1: Marahau - Anchorage
3 hours 23
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Yep, we did it again! Our over confidence when booking the Abel Tasman track meant we combined the first two days into one veeeeery long day.
So we started early, taking the windiest road ever created from Kaiteriteri (prizes for anyone who doesn't get motion sickness from this 15 minute drive) and arrived at the trail at 8am. We had a morning pick me up coffee at the nearby cafe and soon headed out onto the trail.
This was the part both of us had done before and it was nostalgic to start walking on a trail we had walked 14 years ago. The sun blazed overhead and we soon headed from the beach into the forest and began gradually climbing uphill.
Along the way the forest opened up, giving glimpses out to Marahau and back to Nelson, both of which looked beautiful on a clear Autumnal day.
We were making good time, so we headed down to Apple Tree Bay and Stillwell Bay, to take in the views. After short photo stops we headed back on the trail and started gently climbing up again. If you are walking only to Anchorage hut on this day (12km from the trail head) then Stillwell Bay would make a wonderful place for swim.
Like the Rakiura Track, the climbs on the Abel Tasman Track are never too steep or long, so at the start it didn't feel too bad. The track soon turned into a sandstone scrubby area that was very reminiscent of Kuringai National Park or Royal National Park in Sydney. The lush forest was exchanged for very dry, hardy plants and it soon became exposed at we neared Anchorage.
At the top of the track we could see beautiful bays that were now turning deep blue as the sun passed high overhead and the small amount of early morning cloud had burnt off.
We felt a million miles away from the mountains in Fiordland and took a moment to realise how lucky we were to be able to travel around a country that can offer such diverse landscapes to hike.
As we walked down towards Anchorage hut and onto the beach, it felt like we were on holiday rather than a tramping track. The path was busy with a lot of day trippers who were going to the beach and then strolling back to Marahau to drive home. It had that feel good atmosphere of a beautiful summers day.
Day 1, Part 2: Anchorage - Bark Bay
4 hours 5
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After a spot of lunch at the swanky Anchorage hut (this would be a great place to spend the night and even has nearby glow worm caves), it was time to head out once more. Having seen the views, the beach and the beautifully still sea, it was gut wrenching to have to go back onto the path rather than jump in the sea and take it easy. Nonetheless, onwards we went.
It's around now that we learned just how important tides are on the Abel Tasman Track. The start of the track has a 15 minute low-tide track, or a 1 hour 30 high tide track.
Thinking we were only four hours after low tide, we tried our luck. We quickly found that unless you go at exactly low tide, you wade through an estuary with water up to your waist - we met someone who had, had just that experience! As eager as I was to not add on over an hour to our day, I couldn't risk all our gear getting soaked. So we turned back, tails between our legs to the high tide track.
The path immediately began climbing and a little more steeply than it had previously, and the full midday heat made it feel even more punishing. By the top, we were sweating more than we had in a long time and were ecstatic to see the path flatten.
From here you have continuous views over Torrent Bay, a beautiful inlet that was flooding with water by the minute. This didn't stop some hardy hikers wading through up to their armpits to avoid the extra hiking. In all honesty it actually looked kinda fun!
By now we'd been hiking for about 15-16km, with at least another 10-12 km to go and saw the sidetrack for Cleopatra Pools. Why on earth we decided to add even more kilometres to the day I don't know. But who can resist a name like Cleopatra pools?
After ten minutes along a flat path we were there. The river is absolutely freezing, enough that even paddling didn't last too long but it was a beautiful spot, although hugely busy. If you rock hop a little across the river you reach the pool itself which has a small waterfall running into it. Loads of people were submerged but we really don't know how they did it! After a short break and a bit of entertainment when someone lost their hiking shoe to the river (it was recovered so we didn't feel too bad in laughing) we headed back to the main trail.
The stunning Torrent Bay
The track meanders round Torrent Bay and it is exceptionally beautiful. You can see the kayakers paddle by and the odd wader with backpacks held loftily above their heads. After a while to our surprise some houses appeared. It was truly a stunning spot, but we hadn't encountered a tiny village on any of the tracks before! We navigated through the one public path to the beautiful bay that was as still as a millpond.
There were only four other people there and one kindly pointed out the stingrays that were swimming in the shallows which we would have otherwise missed. The family had just been swimming in the bay and seen over 40 rays! This track felt like taking a walk through paradise.
At the end of the beach the trail went up a hill that opened out onto a view that's only been rivalled by The Whitsundays. If you don't know much about these islands, check out our blog post on this piece of paradise off the East Coast of Australia.
The water was a stunning azure blue that had swirls of colour throughout, and was lined by the beautiful white sand beach of Torrent Bay. We could have stayed for hours, but it was getting late and we still had another 6-7km to go (really regretting adding those two days together!)
The final stretch
20km of hiking was beginning to take a toll on both our legs as we exhaustedly plodded our way back up hill and into the bush. The golden glow of the evening was breaking through the tree ferns overhead and although we were both tired, we had that beautiful feeling of satisfaction that a long hike brings.
The track began descending again, eventually meeting a huge suspension bridge and the last stretch before Bark Bay. It wasn't long until we turned the corner and spotted another beautiful crescent beach, peppered with scrawny trees at the back which covered the campsite. This has to be one of the most incredible camping spots on any of the Great Walks.
We soon made it to the hut, just behind the campsite, to find we were the last ones there. This means sleeping on the top bunk (the bunks are actually long sleeping platforms where you are side by side with everyone else) and with no two spots together left, it made for a cosy night with strangers!
At dinner we met some pretty unique characters. There was the German, Spanish and French girls on long trips, the Brit who had lived in Australia for seven years and the most extraordinary of all: an American who worked in Antarctica for three months per year.
Despite feeling like we could fall asleep at any moment, we were transfixed. Maybe it was the tiredness, maybe it was too much pasta, but by the end of the evening we were convinced that we had to work in Antarctica once in our lives. Unusual decisions are made at 10pm in a DOC hut.
Day 2: Bark Bay - Awaroa
2 hours 53
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A bad night's sleep
Remember how I said it was bad to start ranting about snoring on the Kepler Track? Well, I've changed my mind as Bark Bay will take a lot of beating for the award of "worst snoring experience ever".
At one point we counted five different people snoring their heads off and at points the flimsy wooden walls reverberated. You can check out Cat's video taken in despair at 4am below.
A stiff coffee later and we were soon ready to head out. Today had a lot to look forward to: 1) another day of pack transfer (bliss), 2) it was pretty short (win) and 3) we were staying in a swanky lodge (double win).
Yep, no more snoring, no more twelve people to a room, we were in fancy hotel with room service, hot showers and our own balcony. I fully intended to do nothing as soon as I got there and I had my motivation to push through whatever the trail would serve up.
On our way
So the day started with putting the pack on the beach to be picked up (still feels good) and then onto the high tide track, as this was said to be the prettiest option. A couple of bridges later and we were into the forest for what seemed like an unnecessarily steep climb to start the day.
As if walking nearly 30km the previous day wasn't hard enough (we had massively underestimated it), our aching calves weren't too happy to have no chance to warm up before climbing uphill again. It was gorgeous forest though and the birdsong on this particular stretch was incredible.
The track wound steeply upwards, before also descending steeply and giving us some of the best views of the track yet. If I didn't tell you this was Abel Tasman, you could be forgiven for thinking the shot below was Greece or some other paradise island.
That is Onetahuti Bay, a stunning spot that you could see from up high on the track. We had to be careful to keep our eyes on the trail though as the path had crumbled in a spot with a really steep drop.
Eventually it was down on to the beach itself to wade in the calm sea. The steep hill, tired legs and sleep deprivation were a million miles from our minds.
Within a flash we were at the edge of the bay and crossed the stream by an elegantly crafted bridge and boardwalk. The path then headed inland once more. Within a short time we suddenly saw a really welcome sign for our accommodation, a whole hour earlier than expected!
By 1pm we had checked in and were beginning to have a growing feeling of guilt, that somehow staying in a private lodge was cheating! A warm shower, pizza lunch and a rest later and all guilt had gone, making way for thoughts like "why don't we always do this?".
Even if you aren't staying at the lodge you can pop down to the popular outdoor pizza cafe, which also serves wine, beer and coffee. As long as you get the tides right it's only 30 minutes from the Awaroa hut (on the low tide track). Heaps of people were doing just that, and again it felt like a real holiday vibe.
Day 3: Awaroa - Totaranui
2 hours 39
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The Great Swim
The start of day three depended on the tides once more, as it started by crossing the Awaroa Inlet, a place that pretty much always has some water, it just depends whether you like knee deep or neck high.
So as the low tide started at 1pm, the earliest you could cross this stretch was two hours before, this made for a leisurely breakfast (the perks of a fancy accommodation on a multi-day hike), and after checking out at 10am we were more than ready to hit the trail.
Within thirty minutess we hit the estuary to find a pretty anxious group of hikers. A couple had ventured out and twenty were back on the bank, waiting to see how the sacrificial lambs would fare.
Knowing we had to get a water taxi in three hours time, we had no choice but to join the lambs. So it was boots off, trousers rolled up and into the water in the standard awkward brit at the seaside style.
Before we knew it, the water was up above our knees, but the main worry wasn't the water level but the really slippery mud. With our audience on the shore watching, the last thing we needed was a prat fall into the river.
Luckily, our footing held and we were across to the other side in 15 minutes. Boots back on, we headed back on the track and into the forest. At this point it seemed like the tree ferns were getting bigger and bigger, arching way above us and darkening the sky.
After a short time the track opened up at Waiharakeke Bay, another one of those Robinson Crusoe beaches that were wild and completely empty. After a short stroll, it headed inland once more for a final short but steep climb before finishing at Totaranui Bay where we layed out before catching the water taxi back to Marahau. It's a gorgeous boat journey of one hour and 15 minutes and we stopped to watch some fur seal pups play on the rocks on the way.
A change in plan
Our original idea was the finish the track three days, going from Awaroa Bay all the way to Wainui Bay. However, fate was against us. The track had suffered a landslide and the alternative inland track added on a lot more time than we could afford to make it back in time for the last water taxi of the day. The landslide on the road also meant the car relocation service wasn't operating as you can only traverse that road as part of a convoy at 7am and 5pm. We completely understood them not wanting to take our car across at 7am and being stuck there until 5pm.
So we made an executive decision to come back and finish it two days later.
Day 4: Gibbs Hill Track
Wainui Bay - Totaranui
2 hours 30
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The only viable track option now was the Gibbs Hill Track, an alternate inland route. We drove through the slip at Takaka and onto Wainui with the idea of hiking the final leg in reverse (mainly to avoid a very windy road from Wainui to Totaranui).
The sun was out and we start on the track that went uphill almost immediately. The Gibbs Hill Track was noticeably different from the Abel Tasman Track: two tyre tracks led the way through the grass and dense vegetation in front of us. To the sides were beautiful views of Wainui Bay and other beaches, glowing an azure blue in the midday sun.
Getting a sweat on
Another difference between this and the main Abel Tasman Track was that it was incredibly exposed and there was barely a breath of wind to cool us down. This wasn't too bad for the first hour, but after the turning for Whariwharangi Bay Hut the track decided to get pretty steep and a little slippery.
After half an hour of two steps up, one slide back, we were edging closer to the top. The views got better, even if our clothes were now soaked (you would have thought hiking got easier five walks in....)
Once at the top, the track didn't flatten out, but immediately dropped downhill. Hiking poles at the ready, we swiftly sped downhill. Before we knew it we'd arrived at Totaranui to finish in rather unconventional fashion.
Abel Tasman Track Overview
The Abel Tasman Track is one of the most popular Great Walks in New Zealand and we really saw why. It's not just that you weave through stunning forests and across spectacular beaches, it's also that it's the most accessible and easiest to tailor to how you want to hike. The water taxis to the start and end of each day mean you can do the majority of the track without even needing to spend a night on the trail.
It's also the easiest of all the Great Walks we've done so far (if you don't combine days). There's not much elevation to climb and the days can be pretty short if you do the five day version, giving you more time to relax at the beach or head out on a kayak.
However, the ease of access means it can get really busy. We did the track on a weekend and we passed quite a lot of people on the first two sections. As it's the most popular thing to do in the area, the Abel Tasman Track is not going to be for those who like to get away from everything into peace and quiet. But don't let this put you off, it's utterly spectacular and we've currently placed it in the top three Great Walks we've hiked so far.
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Would you like to hike the Abel Tasman Track? Would you do the luxury version (pack transfers and fancy lodge) or choose the DOC Hut/pack carried version? Let us know in the comments below.