The northern end of the South Island of New Zealand has many overnight hikes to choose from. After a bit of research I was stuck between the Queen Charlotte Track, Heaphy Track, and Abel Tasman Coast Track; all of which are known for beautiful New Zealand coastline. After speaking to a local friend of mine he couldn’t give a direct answer to which one was the best. However, I was running short on time and he bluntly told me Abel Tasman would be the easiest to check off the list. Queen Charlotte is tricky to organize, Heaphy is difficult logistically, but Abel Tasman Coast Track is all-around easy to plan. Thankfully there were still spots available and we booked them right away.
Planning for Abel Tasman Coast Track
Preparing for Abel Tasman is easy. The doc website has lots of information about the 9 Great Walks and explains everything that needs to be done for the trip. Both huts and campsites are available along the trail, but both tend to sell out during peak season so don’t linger with booking. One of the great things about the Abel Tasman Coast Track are the plethora of campsites and huts to choose from, which means there is no ultimate itinerary. “Google image” different campsites to see which ones you like best.
Torrent Bay Village Campsite – Lots of individual tent sites. Few benches. Basic pit toilets. 3 minute walk to the beach. Unfiltered water.
Awaroa Campsite – Right next to the tidal crossing. Large grassy area for tents. Several benches. Clothes line. Filtered water, sinks, running toilets.
Mutton Cove – Directly in front of beach. Large grassy area for setting up tents. Basic pit toilets. Unfiltered water. Several benches. Wekas (will steal your stuff).
The only difficulty with organizing Abel Tasman are the tides. Awaroa Inlet must be crossed between 1.5 hours before low tide or 2 hours after low tide. It takes about 30 minutes to make the crossing so it is best to plan the hike around tide times. Low tide was at 6am when I did the track, which meant I had to stay in the campsite closest to the crossing. I was up at 6am and made the crossing at 6:30. Do not attempt to cross Awaroa Inlet at any other time because the water is chest-level and there is a possibility of getting swept out to sea.
Another thing to organize for Abel Tasman Coast Track is where and how to finish. One option is to add 3-4 days and hike back on the 41km Inland Track. Another option is to book a bus from Totaranui or Wainui Bay back to Marahau (the start). The easiest thing to do is book a water taxi. Multiple water taxis pick up and drop off at different spots along the track. Totaranui is the furthest pickup point for the water taxis heading back to Marahau.
Seeing everything from the water taxi is a great experience and it’s easy to feel proud of what you’ve accomplished when speeding past the now-familiar beaches. Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi is a small boat compared to some of the other water taxi companies, but I have to recommend them based on my awesome experience. The skipper went into inlets only kayaks and small boats are able to access. He also stopped to check out seals and penguins. It wasn’t just a boat ride from point A to B, it was a tour.
Totaranui Beach is the furthest pick up point for a water taxi but the Abel Tasman Coast Track ends 16 kilometers after this beach. This creates the need to back-track but depending on how important it is to complete the whole track it may be simpler to finish here. That being said, it’s easy to complete the track by staying at one of the two campsites (Mutton Cove and Whariwharangi Bay) past Totaranui Beach before possibly backtracking.
Marahau to Torrent Bay Village Campsite
The best place to park is Abel Tasman Carpark next to The Park Cafe. The gorgeous scenery which Abel Tasman is known for begins immediately and continues for the entire 60 kilometers. Brilliant blue water and tropical vegetation makes it look like paradise. The trail is relatively easy due to the little change in elevation, especially to Torrent Bay.
One thing I enjoyed about Abel Tasman Coast Track was the many trails deviating from the main one. There are plenty of chances to hike down to a beach or viewpoint. It’s worth wandering down as many of these trails as possible because all of them lead somewhere beautiful.
The Torrent Bay Estuary can be crossed during low tide in three hours or walked around at any time of day in four hours. The trail around the estuary also goes by Cleopatra’s Pool which are pretty little green-hued ponds perfect for cooling down and taking a plunge. It’s only a short walk from the main trail and looks like an enchanted fairy land.
From Cleopatra’s Pool the Torrent Bay Village Campsite isn’t far. We made it by early afternoon, and after setting up camp we put on bathing suits and headed to the beach. The waves oscillated between warm and cold and I could only manage to stay in for 10 minutes. We walked back to shore and saw the shadow of a HUGE ray swimming in the shallows. I wanted to run over and investigate but decided it wasn’t the best idea.
Torrent Bay Village Campsite to Awaroa Campsite
Terrain on the second day is more exciting. There is more elevation gain and a good combination of beaches and forested inland trail. After some ups and downs the trail eventually leads to Awaroa Bay where there is suddenly a big gain in elevation. I was told this part of the trail used to skirt around the hill instead of over it, possibly the cause of a recurring rock slide.
After panting up the hill it’s just a short walk to Awaroa Campsite. Once again we donned our bathing suits and jumped in the water. It was much warmer than the day before and we spent an hour playing around in the high tide. Someone attempted, and failed, to cross Awaroa Inlet long before the recommended time. Seriously, don’t even try it before low tide.
We had something special planned for dinner that night and backtracked 2 kilometers to Awaroa Lodge. The main trail also goes to the lodge but it’s much faster to take the low tide route. This route passes by Awaroa Beach, a beach purchased through local fundraising and given to Abel Tasman National Park in 2016. After this beach turn slightly inland and follow the signs to Awaroa Lodge.
On slow nights the restaurant at the lodge allows non-hotel guests to dine there. We tried our luck but unfortunately it was a busy night and were turned away (it probably didn’t help we smelled like sweat and seawater). Instead, we were directed to the pizzeria. It’s a cute outdoor setting with umbrellas and wooden benches. The menu offers Meat Lovers, Vegetarian, Pepperoni, Hawaiian, or Margherita. The pizza is good and the beer cold and delicious.
Awaroa Campsite to Mutton Cove Campsite
Low tide was at 6am so we broke down camp at 6:00 and made the tidal crossing at 6:30. It was the perfect time to cross but even then the water was occasionally knee-high. Oyster Catchers leave sharp, broken shells lying around so crossing in bare feet is not recommended (unless you have Hobbit feet). The crossing takes about 30 minutes. There is a wooden platform on the other side which is convenient for drying feet and changing shoes.
It started as a cloudy day but the gorgeous views were hardly hindered by the gloom. The trail runs close to the beach for most of the day and there is little elevation change. The main event is Totaranui, a giant campground easily accessible by car which includes a visitor’s center, showers, and 269 unpowered campsites. Most importantly Totaranui has a picture-perfect, burnt-orange sand beach.
Since we were backtracking to Totaranui the next day, we continued on to Mutton Cove. Mutton Cove was easily my favorite campground because of its peaceful, ocean-front location. However it’s still several kilometers from the end of the trail so after setting up camp we started walking again.
Separation Point leads off the main trail to a lighthouse and fake gannet colony. Before clambering down take a quick glance towards the lighthouse and view the colony. After a longer inspection there is noticeably something off and none of the birds are moving. The gannet colony at Farewell Spit (which is awesome, read about it here), is at risk and scientists are trying to relocate them to Separation Point. This was successfully done on the North Island so hopefully it will work here too.
After Separation Point there is a big climb in elevation to “reception peak.” There is indeed reception here and we embarrassingly spent 20 minutes glued to our phones. A short walk later we looked down at Whariwharangi Bay and reluctantly decided it was time to turn around. Growling tummies and a setting sun convinced us this was the furthest we would get on Abel Tasman Coast Track.
Before dinner we of course went swimming. The water temperature was perfect and Mutton Cove’s remote location gave it a certain charm. After our swim we ate dinner and watched the wekas steal people’s belongings and run away with them (Hahahaha!). There couldn’t have been a better ending to the Abel Tasman Coast Track after watching the beautiful sunset on the beach and going to bed full and happy.
Totaranui to Marahau
After breaking down camp it only took an hour and a half to walk back to Totaranui. We still had two hours before our water taxi arrived so we jumped in the water. It was a perfectly sunny day and we thoroughly enjoyed our last few moments on the Abel Tasman Coast Track. Right on time the water taxi pulled up and we zipped across the bay, exploring inlets and searching for wildlife along the way. Kayakers were making the impressive journey around Abel Tasman and I logged it in my brain as a must-do if I was ever back in the area.
Once the water taxi pulled into Marahau a tractor hitched up to the boat and towed us through town. From Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi it’s less than a kilometer walk to the carpark. After we put our gear in the car we walked to The Park Cafe for lunch. The cafe has a nice patio and yummy sandwiches. We topped it all off with some “real-fruit” ice cream as a tasty end to our time on the Abel Tasman Coast Track.