Upper South Island and the West Coast Feature
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Abel Tasman National Park
Golden sand, sheltered bays, and granite headlands are washed by clear blue water and fast-moving tides; rocky inshore islands provide habitat for shy native birds, while migrating wading birds crowd the sand flats. It's a vibrant place of sun, sand, and sea.
Abel Tasman is New Zealand's smallest, and most accessible, national park. The terrain varies from exposed mountain tops swathed in native beech forest to easy walking tracks through low coastal manuka bush, to a coastline bejeweled by a long string of sheltered bays. It's small enough that you can spend just a day here walking, kayaking, or simply cruising; or you can get serious and head off on a multiday trip combining all of the above, in quantity. If you're new to outdoor experiences this is the perfect place to start. The park has a number of walking and water-based options, and good road access from the north and south. Shuttles and water taxis can take you to the trailheads or pick you up afterward.
BEST TIME TO GO
October through April are best, but avoid the six-week Christmas rush from late December until early February when the locals flock in numbers. If you prefer your solitude, there are far fewer people around in winter, but the weather can be unpredictable.
Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, for whom the park is named, was the first known European to visit the area, although he never made landfall. His murderous encounter with local Māori is thought to have occurred near Whariwharangi, on the western side of the park.
Features, Flora, and Fauna
This pert little island just north of Marahau is completely uninhabited, and its peak is covered in low native forest. Through a significant ecological restoration project to revitalize the birdlife on the island, rats and stoats have been eradicated, and native birds like the South Island robin (kakaruai) are being reintroduced. There is also a great-spotted kiwi (roroa) nursery.
The prevalent granite headlands in the park drop off dramatically into the sea, eroded by sea action at the coast. This is most obvious around Separation Point, Arch Point, Tonga Quarry and the coastline south of Awaroa Bay. Tonga and Adele Islands are also good examples.
High in the interior of the park and reached by rough road from the top of the Takaka Hill, Harwoods Hole is a 180-meter deep, 60-meter wide karst sinkhole. It drops deep into the country's largest underground cave system. With an entry rappel drop of 160 meters it's definitely for experienced cavers, but it's worth a look from the top.
Sitting between Bark Bay and Awaroa, the tiny island looks like a pile of granite blocks covered with a blanket of bush. Now a fully protected marine reserve, no fishing is allowed, and the island is a breeding ground for seals and blue penguins.
Weka (Bush Hen)
These cheeky flightless birds have disappeared from many parts of the country, but they're still common here. They resemble heavy brown hens, and dart across tracks and campsites. If you let them, they'll help themselves to your lunch (not encouraged, for their sake), and if you leave your tent open they might just run off with a shoe.
Stay the Night
Plan ahead to stay in the park overnight at a Department of Conservation hut, like the one at The Anchorage, a 4-hour, 12.4-km walk from the start of the track at Marahau. As it's a part of the national Great Walks system, the NZ$30 per night hut tickets must be bought beforehand, either in Nelson or Motueka, or through the Web site. Huts are basic, with cooking, shower, and toilet facilities. The Anchorage Hut has 24 bunks and 50 campsites, if you'd rather camp out. You will need to bring all your food and water, or carry water purification tablets, as the park water is not potable. You will also be expected to pack out all your rubbish. There's a lovely short walk from the bridge over the Torrent River inland a short distance to Cleopatra's Pool. This rugged rock pool sits in between huge granite boulders and is surrounded by bush. But it's a frosty swim, even in summer.
Best Ways to Explore
Cruise or Water Taxi
In mid-summer the coastline buzzes with water taxis and slower catamarans delivering people to various parts of the track, picking up those who have walked a section or two, dropping off supplies and delivering kayaks. And if you just want to sit back and enjoy the idyllic scenery then join a cruise up the coast and back.
Sea kayak is popular, and several companies offer packages, often combining paddling and walking. These can be from half-day to multiday trips, freedom or fully guided and catered, with optional accommodations arranged. Water taxis will deliver your packs. It's a pleasant invigorating trip, especially if the wind is going your way.
Almost without fail a healthy sea breeze comes up along the coast every summer afternoon. With this in mind catch a sailboat cruise out of Kaiteriteri in the morning. It's a slow gentle way to interact with the park. Then hang on as the skipper hooks the boat into that sea breeze on the way home behind a fully set spinnaker.
The entire 52 km Abel Tasman Coastal Track, from Wainui Bay in the north to Marahau in the south, can be walked in three to five days, depending on your fitness level. This designated Great Walk is well formed and easy to follow. You walk short sections by arranging a drop-off and pickup by water taxi. Bark Bay to Torrent Bay and Awaroa to Torrent Bay are ideal for this. Several short sections of the track are covered at high tide. Each of these has a longer all-tide alternative, but remember to allow for this if you are meeting a water taxi. The tracks inland to the mountain areas are quite rugged, at times unmarked, and best done by experienced trampers.
Tucked high up under the Takaka Hill, between the Abel Tasman and Kahurangi parks, The Resurgence is a purpose-built lodge with a commanding view. It was constructed with local timbers, using sustainable principles, and the 50-acre grounds are being let go to allow the native bush, which was once cleared for farming, to regenerate. And although areas look a little unkempt as this process happens the owners have chosen to only mow walking tracks through the rough growth. They also promise to plant a tree for every guest who stays; and the trees are irrigated by grey water and treated black water from the lodge. Hot water for the kitchen is heated by solar energy, and the buildings use passive solar heating. The owners are currently investigating photovoltaic power production and the viability of running an electric car.
Depending on where you're staying, some operators will pick you up from accommodations as far away as Nelson. The drive across to the park takes around 90 minutes from Nelson, and around 30 minutes from Motueka. If you are driving there is parking available at Kaiteriteri and Marahau Beach, depending on where you are catching the boat.
Slow catamarans or faster water taxis carry you up the coast to Bark Bay. On the way you may pass Split Apple Rock, a giant granite marble in the sea that looks just like … a giant split apple. Further up the coast you'll pass sandy beaches like Apple Tree Bay and Coquille Bay before cruising past Adele Island. Then, the boat hits open water for a short stretch before rounding Pitt Head and calling in to Torrent Bay and The Anchorage to drop off and pick up walkers, kayakers, and supplies. Stay on the boat to Bark Bay, a little farther up the coast, where you'll be dropped on the beach and shown where to join the track to walk back past Torrent Bay.
The track climbs quite steeply from Bark Bay for a time, before ambling around several hillsides. In summer you'll meet plenty of other walkers on the track. Follow the track to Torrent Bay, where it drops sharply to the coast again. Depending on the tide you can either cross the estuary or walk round the all-tide track to The Anchorage. Pass through the DOC campground and wait for your boat back to Kaiteriteri or Marahau down on beach.
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