Hiking the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, New Zealand

The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.  It is also one of the most popular tramps during the summer, and for good reasons too!  The path is nice and wide through the bush, and has many access points through the sounds to lovely beaches!  During the summer, locals take their togs and pack a lunch for day hikes.  There are also many who take multiple days to hike different sections of the Abel Tasman trail, so booking a hut or campground during the summer months is essential if you want to camp overnight!

Casey and I decided to hike the full trail, from Marahau to Wainui. We no longer had our campervan, so we would need to carry all our belongings with us.  Some we left with friends in Blenheim, but what we would need for our two month journey around the South Island in winter was in our packs. Because of this, our packs were heavier than we would have liked for this long of a hike.  This would not be the only unplanned and unfortunate event of the trip.  Even so, the whole thing was well worth the work!

We arrived at Marahau with some friends.  They were taking the ferry out to Barks Bay and would be hiking the opposite direction of us; so we would pass them on on first day, their second day, as they were coming out and we were starting.

We camped at Old MacDonald’s Farm the night before beginning our big hike in Marahau. We opted to stay in a backpacker cabin, with a small heater.  The campground is just about 1k away from the start of the trail, which is why we decided to stay there one night.  A short walk down the road is a nice food truck, and we enjoyed some treats.

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Casey and I also did a little walking around the area and beaches before starting our hike.  It is a very pretty area!

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Day 1: Marahau to Anchorage

We left the warm beds of our backpacker hut and were on the trail around 9am.  Our packs were very heavy!  We began waddling down the trail, crossing the first bridge.

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Start of trail in Marahua.

Most of the day we were in the shade, under the cover of the forest.  It was already getting chilly for late autumn, but the shade made it much cooler.

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There was some steep hills and open areas as we made our way to our first campsite.  I started to notice weka and enjoyed the red eyed, inquisitive birds.  Casey seemed to enjoy my enthusiasm as I would shout with excitement at the discovery of a new bridge to cross.  (And this trail was not short on bridges!)

We arrived at Anchorage around 4pm.  We were quick to setup our tent, and the sun would soon be setting and we were already quite cold.  And to be honest, very sore from the weight of our packs.

As we were making dinner, a cheeky weka came onto our picnic table and took off with some of our sandwiches.  Casey luckily got it back, but we were on guard for the rest of the evening.

camping anchorage Abel Tasman Coastal Trail

I was really happy with our decision to buy thermal sleeping mats.   They were soft to lay on, but really helped trap in the heat!  Our sleeping bag liners also made a huge difference.  I was completely exhausted from the day.   We crawled into out tent around 5pm, and I was asleep soon after!

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Morning of Day 2: Anchorage

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Day 2: Anchorage to Barks Bay

When we woke up on the morning of day two there was frost on our tent and backpacks.  It was cold and we wanted to get moving and warm up quickly.  We were ready and moving a little before 9am.  We had the same steep hills to hike to get back to the main trail.  (There is a low tide crossing, but the bridge was out and the tide was not at the correct timing).

The forest became thicker, and at times the trail was pretty narrow.  At one point we had to navigate around a fallen tree on the path.  Which had the added difficulty of our heavy packs.  It was also raining on us, but we were prepared for that.

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Taking cover from the rain.

Despite the rain, the New Zealand bush was stunning!  Everything was green, even with it being near winter.  Occasionally we would catch a glimpse of some birds too.  I will never forget the sounds of nature we got to experience on this hike.

We made one side trip this day to visit Cleopatra’s Pools.  We left our big, heavy backpacks at the fork in the trail.  This gave us a break and allowed us to visit the pools quicker.

When we arrived at Bark’s Bay we were trying to decide if we should put up the tent, or go inside the hut.  There was a chance of rain, and I wasn’t sure we wanted to have a wet tent to worry about.  There were only two other hikers in the hut when I went over to check it out.  Since the hut was not full, it was decided we would just sleep in the hut.  We roomed with a Canadian woman, Angie.  She was going in the same direction as us.

Later in the evening, after we had all enjoyed dinner, a conservation group stopped by.  They were working in the area and told us a little about their projects.

Casey and I walked the beach that night to look at the stars.  I was stunned by the Milky Way!  I had never imagined the size of it correctly – it stretched from one horizon to the other and had a beautiful glow to it.

We slept good inside the hut, falling asleep to the sound of the rain.

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Hiking away from Barks Bay.

Day 3: Barks Bay to Araroa

We woke up to the sound of rain.  We slept in a little hoping the rain might disperse.

Angie, our newly made friend, was on the trail before us.  We started hiking around 10am with light raining falling on us.  It rained on and off the whole day.  I was glad that our rain gear worked really well!

Abel Tasman Coastal Track resting on bench

I was a happy hiker when we were able to find a bench to sit on.  Though my pants were mostly soaked from the rain anyway, and occasionally having to find a wet ledge to rest on.  A bench meant taking my pack off to stretch our legs a bit.

We had another very steep climb near the beginning of the day (a pattern I would not realize until much later in the trip).  We hiked together through the beautiful, lush forest in silence for a while.  I loved hearing all the birds calling.  Especially the Tui.

We saw some other multi-day hikers going the opposite direction of us.  It was nice seeing families hiking together.  I was surprised to see some younger kids with their parents on a hike.  The said they had been dropped off by ferry at Araroa. It made me think of my own future, and hoping one day to share our love of hiking.

There were some low tide crossings.  They were not bad, and one was on a beach and had some nicely made platforms and bridges to walk on.

The last stretch of the day included an infuriating hill section.  It had both Casey and I cursing, which we can now laugh about!  When we made it to Araroa hut, the fire was already going.  We paid the DOC warden to stay inside the hut, since we had originally planned to tent camp.  There was plenty of room available (luckily not many people hike the trail in fall/winter).

We met up with Angie and chatted, as she had gotten to the hut much before us. We had two sets of other small groups in the hut with us, both traveling the opposite way.  They had just crossed the Araroa estuary. We had watched the two women make their way across.  It was much deeper than what I would have expected, and as we would soon learn it is actually a low river crossing.  Coming to about knee height.

After dinner, we went to bed early to rest up for the big hike tomorrow – and because we would have to get up early for the low tide crossing of the Araroa estuary.

Day 4: Araroa to Whariwharangi

I have to laugh at Casey and I.  This was a rough day.  My journal entry reads: “There is no high tide track – you have to cross the Araroa Estuary.” Every other section has a low tide and a high tide crossing.  The high tide being the route you take if you cannot make the low tide time.  Well, Araroa is not like this.  It only has the one track, which is across the river.  Yes, it is actually a river and at low tide it comes to your knees.

Every piece of information I got about the Abel Tasman Coastal Track failed to prepare me for this section.  I have to laugh at us, as we timed this horribly!  The low tide crossing time was around 5:30 am.  We were near winter, and the temperature that morning was 0°C/32°F.  It was dark outside, so we wore our headlamps and carried our torches.  Wearing our jandals and shorts.  Everything else was tide up and sealed as best we could, in case we tipped over in the water and got everything wet.

Our friend Angie was catching the ferry out that morning, as she had not wanted to cross the Araroa estuary.  She was kind to sit outside the hut with her own torch so we could see where we had started.  The two women that crossed the previous day had gotten up to watch us.  They said the marker was barely reflective on the other side, and we would have to be extremely close to notice it.

Crossing the estuary, my feet were absolutely numb! We took slow, shallow steps as we tried to walk in a straight line across the estuary.  As we neared the other side, we were not seeing the trail marker.  We had been trying to keep left as much as possible, so we thought maybe that is how we got off a bit.  We tried to correct our path by moving along the shore/bank of the river to the right.  We soon heard tiny voices shouting “left, “LEFT!”  We chuckled and quickly changed directions.  It was soon that we saw the dim orange panel and the ramp to exit the river.

I am extremely thankful for the ladies across the estuary taking the time to help us.  In all my adventures, I will say runners and hikers have been the nicest people I have come across.

We took off our packs and dried our feet.  Trying to warm them a bit before putting on our hiking boots.  It was just starting to become light out. We ate some granola bars as our breakfast and soon were marching on the trail once more.

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Cold and damp, I could not muster a smile for this picture.

This was going to be our longest day of hiking.  And we had started fairly early, but the estuary crossing had taken a lot of time, plus trying to warm up before starting again. Though this was all made worth it as we came to the first beach section at sunrise.  I was shouting at the top of my lungs as I saw the hues of pink and orange and heard the sounds of waves.  I was at the height of happiness in that moment!

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The morning fog coming off the ocean was sight to behold.  There was a bit of difficulty, due to my poor navigational skills, getting across the beach.  But thanks to Casey we were able to make it.  The trail this day would wind through the bush and beach several times. This was one day I wish it was warm so we could have enjoyed a quick swim in the ocean.  At one beach location we came across a shag warming itself.

shag warming up on beach Abel Tasman Trail

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We had a pretty nice day for hiking.  Some clouds and it didn’t start to rain until we had just about made it to Whariwharangi.  We arrived around 3:30pm, so we felt like we had made decent time.  As it was raining, we made a little fire in the hut to warm us up.  We played some cards and did some reading while we rested in the hut.

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The hut was actually an old homestead.  It had two floors, and we took the bunks in the upstairs, as there was a man and a woman staying in the downstairs rooms.
Day 5: Whariwharangi to Wainui

We took a morning hike to Separation Point as we were told we could find fur seals and pups there.  Little did we know, that we would encounter one soon before that.  We had just started walking away from the hut and stopped on the beach section close by.  Suddenly I look over to my right and there is a fur seal sunbathing!

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Can you spot the fur seal?

We snapped a quick photo and then left on our way.  We did not want to bother it.  It was an hour hike in the direction we had hiked yesterday, and since we had left our big packs at the hut we made the trip in good time!

When we got to Separation Point we saw the tower and area where they were trying to re-establish a gannet colony.  That was interesting to learn about.

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It was a pretty day and the area had beautiful views.  We were able to find some fur seals, and even see some pups!  I could have spent a lot of time just watching them sunbath or waddle from rock to rock.

We hiked back to the hut and had lunch before setting off on the last leg of our hike.  It was our shortest day.  The sign said it would take and hour and a half to hike to Wainui.  There was a steady incline, but soon turned to a steep decline near the end of the trail.  We arrived at the Wainui parking lot around 3pm.  I loved seeing the beautiful archway with Maori symbols at the trail head and took Casey’s picture under it.

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We decided to cross the estuary to get to the main road, as it seemed like the quicker option.  We were lucky it was close to low tide, so it wasn’t too wet in most areas.  We tried to keep to a straight line and ended up deciding to walk through some of the water. We had to switch to our jandals once we finished crossing.

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Our plan was to hitchhike to the nearest town after we had finished the trail.  So, once we got to the highway we were looking to hitch a ride before dusk!  We were heading to Takaka, and about 9 cars passed us before a man in a truck picked us up.  He put us in the back of the truck bed and we cruised along the curves of the coast, watching the sunset and enjoying the views.

The man wasn’t going all the way to Takaka, so he dropped us off at a Holiday Park near to where he was going.  This worked well for us too.  We rented a little cabin for the night and enjoyed a hot shower before heading to a little local restaurant for some beer and delicious food!  Another stroke of luck, there was live music playing.

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The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is probably my favorite hike we have done so far!  It has the most incredible views and some pretty lux huts!  I understand now why some people will take a water taxi out to one of the spots so they can enjoy the stunning beaches, as hiking the distance did not give us much time to play around on them.  Though, we did hike in autumn/winter so we had less daylight and colder weather too.  Even so, thinking back on this hike fills my heart with joy.  Hope you get the chance to one day enjoy this beauty of a trail!

*I would have loved to share more images, but since it was raining the first half of our hiking trip we did not end up taking many pictures.  Trust me though it was absolutely beautiful even in the rain!


Ever taken a hike and had something unusual or unplanned happen?  Share you stories below in the comment section!

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Thanks for reading!

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