This wild and postcard-perfect National Park is set within a range of limestone and marble hills along a coastline of hidden coves and remote inlets. It’s where Dutch seafarer Abel Tasman anchored his ships in 1642 – the first European to visit New Zealand.
Located on the very top of the South Island, the Abel Tasman region has the highest amount of sunshine hours in the country.
Although it’s the smallest national park in New Zealand, it’s also the busiest - with 230,000 visitors to the region every year. Visitors flock here due to the many gorgeous beaches with soft golden sand, clear water (and wild fur seals lounging on the rocks!), and the stunning Abel Tasman hike - which we'll tell you all about here.
Where is Abel Tasman National Park?
Walking the Abel Tasman Coast Track
One of the Great Walks of New Zealand, the Abel Tasman Coast Track is a stunning hike through golden sand beaches, rugged seaside tails and lush beech forest. The full track is 60 km and takes around 3-5 days, but it is possible to break it up into shorter day hikes. Base yourself in Marahau and you’ll have a number of options.
If you plan to do the full walk, you can stay overnight at Department of Conservation (DOC) huts and campsites. Or, you can book lodge-style accommodation via a tour provider. Reservations for huts and campsites should be made in advance.
The full walk is not a circuit, so you’ll need to arrange transport on either end. Shuttles and water taxis can be booked in advance. Some water taxi services even offer a bag drop service, so you can hike without carrying your backpack.
Short Day Walks & Hikes
There are several great short sections of the Abel Tasman Coast Track that can be completed in one day:
Marahau to Anchorage: This four hour journey marks the beginning of the track. It will take you across the estuary over the Marahau causeway – through lush beech forest with large kanuka trees.
Anchorage to Bark Bay: This beautiful day hike is 5.2 miles (8.4 km) at low tide, or 7 miles (11.5 km) with a high tide detour. You’ll traverse a 47 m long suspension bridge over a river and you’ll also see the lovely Cleopatra Pool.
Awaroa Pioneer Trail: This trail from the Awaroa sandpit will take you through a historic region, with relics from European and Maori settlements. The 3 mile walk over a forested saddle to Onetahuti includes a boardwalk designed by local Maori.
Whariwharangi Bay to Wainui Bay: This is the last and shortest section of the Abel Tasman Coast Track, consisting of a 3.5 mile (5.7km) climb over a saddle from beautiful Whariwharangi Bay to Wainui Bay.
Cascade Falls: This is a side trip from the track – a beautiful waterfall hidden in native bush. The track is steep, but the cool, clear rushing water is worth it! It’s a 1.5 hour way from Torrent Bay.
Boat Trips and Kayaking
One of the best ways to explore this region of New Zealand is by boat. You’ll have the freedom to reach remote coves and inlets along the coast that are otherwise difficult to get to. There are many different options for boat trips, including sailboat charters, cruises and tours.
It is also possible to hire a kayak, so you have the freedom to paddle down the coast on your own and explore at your pace. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see blue penguins, fur seals or dolphins as they frolic in the water.
Best Beaches in Abel Tasman National Park
Bark Bay: This remote and beautiful beach has a spit and tidal area that can be walked through two hours before or two hours after low tide. There’s also a beautiful camping hut just steps from the beach.
Mutton Cove: A peaceful and quiet beach, the sand at Mutton Cove is finer and softer than other locations along the coast.
Onetahuti: A beautiful long beach in the Northern section of the park, Onetahuti is often used as the starting point for kayaking trips to Magical Marine Reserve.
How to get to Abel Tasman National Park
The closest airport to Abel Tasman National Park is in Nelson. From there, you can drive or take the bus to Kaiteriteri (a 1 hour 20 minute journey).
If you're coming from Wellington, you could choose to take the scenic route - a 3.5 hour ferry to Picton and a 3 hour drive to Kaiteriteri. It will take longer, but the scenery is absolutely stunning.
From Picton, you can take the beautiful Queen Charlotte Scenic Drive (3 hours) or fly from Picton waterfront into Abel Tasman by floatplane. If you are travelling from Christchurch, drive to Kaiteriteri via the Lewis Pass - a 7 hour journey.
The Landscape and Climate
Peak season for this national park is between mid-December and March, but this will also be the most crowded time of year. If you visit during this season it’s especially important to book your water taxi in advance, even for a day trip.
Mid-December gets even busier, as families from Australia and New Zealand will be on their school holidays.
To experience fewer crowds while still enjoying pleasant weather, we recommend a visit in November or in March-April. In these shoulder season months, the weather will be chilly at night but still quite sunny and pleasant during the day. The springtime is when the vegetation and native flowers will be in full bloom too.
Accommodation in Abel Tasman National Park
There’s a huge amount of choice when it comes to accommodation in Abel Tasman National Park.
For those on a budget, there are campsites, basic lodges and hostels. In the mid-range category, you’ll find several family-friendly holiday park cabins and motels. There’s even the option to stay on local farms and vineyards.
If you want to treat yourself to the finest accommodation, there are beautiful luxury hotels such as Split Apple Retreat and Awaroa Lodge.
The main town in Abel Tasman National Park is Motueka. You’ll find the basic amenities there, including a supermarket, a pharmacy and an assortment of shops and services. There are also banks and ATMs available.
Plus, the Motueka Sunday Market runs every Sunday from 8am to 1pm and offers delicious local produce, baked goods and souvenirs.
You’ll also find the Abel Tasman i-SITE Visitor Centre, which offers helpful advice on the local area. Keep in mind that phone reception is poor in the Abel Tasman area, so you might find yourself off the grid during your trip.
Visiting Abel Tasman with MoaTrek
Abel Tasman is a favourite on our small group tours, which we visit for the day from Nelson. Take your pick from a scenic day cruise, or cruise / walk combo, and be back in Nelson in time for dinner.
There are a number of MoaTrek tours that include Abel Tasman National Park:
The best of both islands, all the spots we loved to visit as kids. From Rotorua and Tongariro National Park in the North and Abel Tasman, Milford Sound and Mt Cook in the South. All the comforts of home and unforgettable experiences every day.