Located at the top of the South Island in the Tasman Bay area, Abel Tasman National Park is world famous for its lush native forests, beautiful clear waters, blue skies and golden sands. While it is the country’s smallest national park covering approximately 225 square kilometres, it is packed to the brim with adventure activities and beautiful natural attractions.
Being one of the sunniest areas in New Zealand, the Park is perfect for visiting at any time of the year and people come not only for the dozens of beautiful walks that crisscross the park, but for the abundance of water based activities. Cruising by boat, sailing by catamaran or paddling by sea kayak allows access to some of the more sheltered coves sometimes inaccessible from the walking tracks, while readily available Water Taxi services provide convenient drop offs and pickups from designated points along the coastline.
The Abel Tasman National Park walking track terrain ranges from easy to difficult, with some making scenic day trips and others requiring several days to complete. The most popular track in the area by far is the very scenic Abel Tasman Coast Track, with the 23 km Gibbs Hill Track also very well liked – particularly with mountain bikers. The Harewoods Hole Track boasts New Zealand’s deepest vertical shaft at an impressive 176 metres and the Inland track takes walkers along a 40 km hike through regenerating and untouched forests.
The nearest towns to the Abel Tasman Nation Park are Takaka, Kaiteriteri and Motueka, all with excellent facilities for camping or staying overnight. Boat and kayak rental is available if you would like to explore the beautiful bays yourself. If planning on going for a tramp, make sure you are properly prepared and know the location of the Department of Conservation provided huts along the way.
Abel Tasman National Park also has a couple of settlements namely Wainui Bay and Marahua, which serve as entrance locations to the park, both can be reached from Takaka or Moteuka. Visitors to the park should note that there are no vehicles allowed in the northern areas of the park, so these remote locations can only be reached by boat or foot.
Trekking and walking along the rocky coast is popular with tourists and locals alike. In fact, many come specifically for the Abel Tasman Coast Track, a famous hiking and walking area that covers approximately 60 km. As well as the stunning ocean vistas and native forests there are an abundance of streams and inlets that flow into the ocean to explore and enjoy along with some of the most stunning beaches New Zealand has to offer.
Walking the Abel Tasman Coast Track takes anywhere from 3 to 5 days, depending on the pace and number of stops. There are campsites and Department of Conservation huts available for trekkers along the way as well as basic facilities. The track is walkable all through the year, but most popular over the summer months. The northern stretch from Totaranui to Wainui is usually the quietest leg.
Along the way, you will come across stunning coastal areas, lush native forest, Cleopatra’s Pool – a pool with a naturally formed water slide, a 47 m suspension bridge and pockets of fur seals sunning themselves along the rocks. The Te Puketea Bay walking track leads up along what is known as Pitt Head to an ancient Maori pa site where evidence of the traditional terracing and ancient food pits are still visible.
In addition to the fur seals, which are very common in the park, you will also likely encounter other types of marine wildlife along the way. There are countless seabirds and penguins, which call the park home, as well as dolphins, which jump through the waves. Birds you might encounter are petrels, shags, penguins, gulls, terns, and herons. Possums, wild pigs, deer and goats are also common inhabitants of the park. If you are out on the water in the months of November or December, you may also catch a glimpse of an Orca Pod as they migrate past New Zealand.
The closest entrance to the Park is via Marahau which is roughly an hours drive from Nelson and a half hour from Motueka, however some trekkers choose to walk the track in the opposite direction starting at Totaranui near Takaka which is approximately three hours by car from Nelson. The road trip between the two entrance/exit points is extremely windy and narrow at times, be prepared to take it slow.
Because the Abel Tasman Coast Track does not complete a full circuit it is necessary to arrange transport both to your starting point and from your exit point. It takes roughly two hours by car to drive between the top most entry/exit point of Totaranui and the closer entry/exit point of Marahau. By boat this same trip takes approximately an hour and a half.
When travelling by rental car from Nelson keep in mind if leaving the car at one end of the track you will require transportation back to the vehicle at the completion of the track. Many people choose to make use of the Water Taxi service as it is the fastest way back, and also adds a different perspective to the trip.
When entering any of New Zealand’s national parks it always pays to be prepared even if you do not plan on staying overnight. Warm clothing, lightweight food supplies and waterproof coats are all highly recommended along with firm comfortable footwear. Always check local weather information and track conditions before setting out, and keep the following in mind when heading out on the Abel Tasman Coast Track.
Some areas of the Park are closed off to visitors, Tonga Island where there is a large breeding colony of fur seals is one of those. Only kayakers can approach the Island, but they must remain at least 20 metres from the breeding ground sites.
The Abel Tasman Coast Track is well signposted, but some sections can be rugged and steep and if weather has been wet recently the track can get quite muddy. There is a compulsory tidal crossing on the way which can only be crossed at certain times, it is necessary to consult a tide timetable when planning you trip.
Kayaking all or part way around outskirts of the Abel Tasman National Park is a popular way to break up the hike. There are a number of kayak hire companies to choose from, guided tours are available from Kaiteriteri, Golden Bay and Marahau, or it is possible to rent a kayak and make your own way around the bays (This option requires a minimum of two kayakers and previous sea kayaking experience). It is not recommended kayakers venture north beyond Onetahuti Bay due to the conditions. Obviously kayaking is weather dependent and travellers should take this into consideration when booking.
Whether staying in the Department of Conservation huts or pitching a tent at one of the provided campsites, booking ahead is required. Camp Passes can be booked in advance all year round, with current hut prices ranging from $32 in the winter season to $38 per night in the summer months. Anyone without the appropriate camp pass will be charged a penalty fee or asked to leave the park. All of the individual campgrounds also require booking at a cost of around $15 per night per person.
Fishing is prohibited around certain areas bordering the Park particularly in the Tonga Island marine reserve. This reserve runs between Bark Bay and Awaroa Head. The Horoirangi Marine Reserve near Nelson and Whanganui Inlet Marine Reserve near Golden Bay are also prohibited areas. Catch limits will also apply for certain species so it pays to be informed and adhere to Ministry of Fisheries regulations and restrictions as there are penalties if the rules are breached.
Be aware that the Giardia bacteria is present in park waters. Tap water is available at campsites along the Coast Track, however it must be boiled or treated before drinking. The Anchorage campsite has a limited supply of safe drinking water, along with the Totaranui campground, Whariwharangi Bay Campsite and Bark Bay. Between December and March the ocean is usually at a comfortable temperature for swimming.
All of New Zealand’s national parks have a “pack-in pack-out” rubbish policy. Be prepared to carry out all of your waste and leave nothing behind but your footprints.
If traveling to the Abel Tasman National Park it is well worth stopping off to see Split Apple Rock. Just a bit over an hour by car from the heart of Nelson, you will find famous Rock, a unique, giant boulder that is split into two pieces. Nestled on Tasman Bay on the edges of Abel Tasman National Park, this formation is visible from the sandy shores, or you can take a short kayak ride into the bay to view the rock up close and personal.
Split Apple Rock looks just as its name implies. It is a large, round piece of granite made of quartz, feldspar, mica, and quartz, and it is literally split in two, just as an apple looks when it is cut down the middle.
Scientists estimate that the rock is approximately 120 million years old, and there are both scientific and mythical possible reasons for this unique formation. Scientists believe that water seeped into the rock and during the last ice age, the water froze, expanded, and it caused the rock to split into two pieces. There are also Maori and Zeus legends that offer slightly different versions.
In the Maori story, there were two gods who were fighting over the rock. In order to settle their fight, each god took hold of one side of the rock and used their intense strength to pull the rock in half. The other has to do with Zeus, the Greek ‘God of the Sky’ and Poseidon, the Greek ‘God of the Sea.’ In this story, the gods were fighting over the goddess Dione. Poseidon and Zeus were bothers, and fighting over the love of Dione. Legend has it that Zeus used a sword and in anger slashed the rock in half, ultimately winning the goddess.
There are a number of water activities near Split Apple Rock, and it is a popular location for kayaking. People also come to the area for hiking and other outdoor activities. There are also several tour operators in the area.
Getting to Split Apple Rock from Nelson via rental car is simple, even if you are not familiar with the area. Simply drive west on State Route 6 to State Highway 60, and then follow 60 north for approximately 49 km until you get to Riwaka-Sandy Bay Road. Turn right on Kaiteriteri-Sandy Bay Road, and then follow that until you hit Tokongawa Drive. Follow that road to Split Apple Rock.
The Abel Tasman National Park is the ideal holiday destination for anyone, whether you are looking for some trekking adventure or a lazy day relaxing on the beach. Since it is easily accessible from Nelson by rental car, you can choose to visit the area for the day or plan to stay for an extended time. Plan to spend some time at Split Apple Rock and then head on out to Abel Tasman National Park for a destination that will stun your senses.
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