Visit Abel Tasman Coastal Track, New Zealand
Forget those $400 return tickets to Fiji and that $500+ accommodation. You can experience the ultimate tropical getaway at the top of New Zealand’s west coast.
Abel Tasman, the first man that discovered New Zealand, is the name sake of Nelson's Coastal Walk, also known as the getaway we’ve been looking for. I’ve always loved travelling, teaching myself Italian through the Internet at ten years old, I knew I wanted to see the world. After travelling to stunning places such as Cuba, Hungary, and Rarotonga, I often thought about discovering my own country. New Zealand welcomed over 3.7 million tourists in 2017, arriving to discover what is dubbed as the most beautiful country in the world.
So, when the opportunity to walk three days of the Abel Tasman Coast arrived, I couldn’t say no. With unparalleled beaches, beautiful native bush, cheeky coloured birds and stunning sunsets, this South Island gem is one to cross off your bucket list.
Here is an overview of our three-day trek from Marahau to Awaroa.
DAY ONE: Marahau to Anchorage
Begin your morning in Nelson, catching a 45-minute bus transfer to Marahau curtesy of Marahau Water Taxis. Marahau Water Taxis are just one of the providers for transfers and water taxis, but as you’ll read throughout this piece, the team went above and beyond the entire journey. I could not rate them highly enough!
We dropped our bags at the Marahau office before we set off with our day packs to conquer the first 12.4km of our journey. Within 15 minutes you’ll arrive to a view of Marahau and it’s stunning coastline, only for you to, 25-minutes later, come across the first of many divine beaches – Apple Tree Bay. It’s worth the 5-minute decline to have a snack and take in the views. Don’t spend long here, because Stilwell Bay, 50 minutes down the track, should be your midday pit stop.
With clear waters, a sandbank for photos, and a perfectly-placed northern-end island, this view is straight off a postcard. You’ll quickly realise that Golden Bay lives up to it’s name with it’s pure golden sand. You’ll never seen anything quite like it.
Stilwell Bay has water for refills, although it should be boiled or treated first, and it offers a toilet stop – which are, surprisingly, very clean.
After lunch, walk for another hour and half, taking in the peak-top views of Torrent Bay and the islands to the north, before heading down to Anchorage Bay. What I dub as the Cathedral Cove of the south, this beach is heavily populated with day-walkers and visitors.
However, in the evening, you’re left with a mere 33 other hut-goers and the odd camper. It’s just them, you, the golden coastline, those emerald green waters, and awe-inspiring rock structures. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot pods of stingray swimming about as you watch dusk set in for the day.
Pick up your bags that have been safely delivered to the beach, and deposit them in the same spot the next morning, ready for their own journey to Bark Bay. The Anchorage hut offers 4 rooms with 8 – 10 bunk beds in each, an open dining and kitchen area, as well as 2 sets of bathrooms. It’s a comfortable, clean, and easy stay.
Pre-book your transfer, bag movements and return water taxi through Marahau Water Taxis here.
DAY TWO: Anchorage to Bark Bay
Wake in the morning to watch a beach sunrise right from your hut. Today’s trek can be 11.5km or 8.4km depending if the tide is in your favour.
The low-tide track is a three-hour journey that crosses the low ridge to Torrent Bay estuary. This is what makes New Zealand hiking so special; trekking across the beach is something else. If you have to take the high-tide track, like we did, it is an extra hour, but you do have the opportunity to make a 10-minute detour to Cleopatra’s Pool.
A natural rock pool with a cascading waterfall is the perfect place to stop for a mid-hike dip. What makes the stop off even better, is it's natural moss-covered waterslide, perfectly positioned with a plunge pool at the end. Perch on one of the many large rocks to soak up the sun before continuing on. Be sure to stop to snap a picture of the incredibly clear waters that follow you along your trek to Torrent Bay.
I’d recommend stopping for lunch, a swim, and a little R&R at Torrent Bay. Warning: You will probably become extremely envious of the small amount of property owners at Torrent Bay. Only accessible by a one day hike or a 30-minute boat ride from Marahau, it’s the remote island-life many of us dream of. Torrent Bay’s untouched waters are beyond dreamy, as is the beach-front camping spot, plus it's the ultimate place to relax before your 15-minute climb to Falls River. This steep climb is hard but it’s worth it. Don’t look down as your wander across the 47-metre suspension bridge before enjoying the coolness of the lush forest as you arrive into Bark Bay.
Bark Bay hut offers 4 lots of 7 beds on one bunk, across 3 separate rooms. It’s a lot more snug than Anchorage hut, nevertheless, it offers you a great opportunity to chat and meet other hikers. Just don’t forget your ear plugs and eye mask! Bark Bay’s facilities are very clean, including flushing toilets, and a cold-water shower – talk about luxury!
DAY THREE: Bark Bay to Awaroa
It’s the final day of your trek and take me very seriously when I say, start early! Not only do you want to allow for time to have a wine and a platter at Awaroa Lodge before catching the final 3pm boat, but you definitely do not want to start a 25-minute steep climb in the heat. Unlike the hike from Anchorage to Torrent Bay, if the tide isn’t in your favour, your detour from Bark Bay to Awaroa is short. Either cross the Bark Bay estuary or follow the 15-minute all-tide track.
Climb to the saddle, one of the toughest hills of the walk, before descending into the historic Tonga Quarry for a bathroom break. Carry-on for a short-distance before arriving to Onetahuti Bay. Venture to the rock pools for a pit-stop or carry north along the beach to the board walk. What we didn’t know, is there is an all-tide track available including a bridge. We, instead, got wet up to our hips as the tide came rushing into the estuary - a fun but telling experience. Begin your second big climb of the day before descending down the non-DOC track to Awaroa Lodge.
If you can book a late flight the next day, we recommend staying a night at the luxury accommodation. With lush rooms, chic furnishings, and delicious local food and wine, it is the perfect way to finish your stay. If not, celebrate the finish of your three-day hike with a platter for two and a local Rosé. Then, venture down the non-DOC track for 15-minutes to ‘our’ beach. Awaroa beach went up for tender in 2016 under a private sale. 39,249 Kiwis raised a total of $2,259,000 to buy the beach, gifting it to Department of Conservation for us, and our future generations to enjoy. It's cliché, but walking out onto the white sands of the bay, emerald blue water lapping at the shore, surrounded by lush native forest, it is truly what I imagine heaven to look like. But if it doesn’t, that’s okay, it was my reality for the entire day.
Relax on the beach, swim with the stingrays – I did, not voluntarily I might add, and soak up the last of your beach views while you wait for your water taxi. The team at Marahau Water Taxis not only are friendly and helpful, they go above and beyond. Our skipper, Brett, took us for a detour to Tonga Island to spot New Zealand Fur Seals as well as popping into each bay so we could get a coastal point of view of our hike. This was all done on his own accord and as an added plus – how grateful were we to soak up the last of the Abel Tasman views.
We arrived back to Marahau for another celebratory drink at Hooked on Marahau before heading back to Nelson for the night.
During my time away, I had many messages on Instagram asking what ‘island’ I was at, and if I was in Rarotonga, Samoa, or Tonga. I was so incredibly proud to say that it was our own country, and I got to lay on a beach that I and, the rest of New Zealand, own!
If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with me here.
You can get to Nelson with Air New Zealand, Sounds Air, Jetstar or Interislander. When in Nelson, stay at The Rutherford or The Hotel Nelson. We recommending eating at Burger Culture and Cod & Lobster.