Abel Tasman National Park: The Complete Guide

A walk path to a grass covered mountain in Abel Tasman

TripSavvy / Angelina Pilarnos 

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Abel Tasman National Park

Address
South Island 7183, New Zealand
Phone +64 3-546 9339

New Zealand’s Abel Tasman National Park, at the top of the South Island, is one of the country’s most easily accessible parks, as well as the smallest. The park is popular because it is located in one of the sunniest parts of the country, the sea is clean and clear, and the sand on the beaches ranges in color from sparkling white to deep gold. It offers several of the things that visitors to New Zealand come to experience, all in an easy-to-reach location.

Just offshore is the Tonga Island Marine Reserve. All marine life here is protected and fishing is not allowed. The estuaries and other waterways within the park are almost pristine, and birdlife is abundant. The Abel Tasman National Park is not an untouched wilderness due to its history as cultivated land in the 19th century, but it’s in recovery and offers rich and diverse natural rewards. 

The indigenous Ngati Tumatakokiri tribe lived in the area for several hundred years, fishing, hunting in the forests, and cultivating kumara (sweet potato). In December 1642, Dutch navigator Abel Tasman was the first European to set foot on the land that became New Zealand, when he anchored his two ships in Golden Bay, just west of the park. European settlement began here in the 1850s, leading to deforestation, quarrying, the clearing of hillsides, and environmental degradation. 

By the mid-20th century, conservationists in Nelson recognized that the area along the coast should be preserved. In 1942, 37,000 acres of crown land was turned into a national park and named after the first European to set foot here, Abel Tasman. The name was fitting, as 1942 was the 300th anniversary of his visit. The park is now much larger, covering more than 55,000 acres.

Things to Do

Visitors to Abel Tasman can be as relaxed or as active as they wish. You can find a beach to lounge on for a day or two or embark on the famous Coast Track: a three-to-five-day hike that follows the park's rugged coast. Somewhere in between, you can go snorkeling, take shorter day hikes, kayak around the coastline, go birdwatching, or take a scenic boat ride. While many of these activities are best done in the warmer months, many are also possible in the winter, when the park is much less crowded. You won’t want to swim without a wetsuit in the winter, but you can still enjoy beautiful beach walks.

A rocky beach
TripSavvy / Alisha McDarris

Best Hikes & Trails

In addition to the famous Coast Track, one of New Zealand's Great Walks, there are many trails of different lengths and difficulties for hikers and mountain bikers. When doing a multi-day hike in the park, you will need to pre-book a place in a Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite or hut.

  • The Coast Track: Considered one of New Zealand's Great Walks, you will need three to five days to complete this 37-mile (60-kilometer) one-way route that can be walked in either direction. Along the way, there are four huts and 18 campsites which must be booked in advance. You will need to be aware of the tide as you plan your trip because certain areas are only passable during low tide.
  • Gibbs Hill Track: An advanced hiking trail and a Grade 3 mountain biking trail, this 14-mile (23-kilometer) route begins at Totaranui Campground.
  • Harwoods Hole Track: It takes about 45 minutes each way to complete this easy trail, which leads to the deepest vertical shaft in the country. There are no barriers, but park officials warn that is very dangerous to approach the edge of the hole.
  • Inland Track: This three-day advanced trail offers something different than the usual coastal routes, passing through undisturbed forests on a 25-mile (41-kilometer) one-way route which has three huts to stay in along the way.
  • Totaranui Walks: Around the Totaranui campsite there are a variety of short and medium-length walks suitable for many different skill levels.
  • Wainui Falls Track: This short and easy route leads to the beautiful Wainui waterfall and only takes about 80 minutes to complete.

Kayaking

In this stunning coastal park, kayaking is the best way to visit many of the sheltered beaches and coves that are missed if you are walking along the Coast Track. You can also visit the Adele and Fisherman islands. This is a great way to travel around the park and camp at different sites that can only be accessed by boat, but a guided trip is recommended for inexperienced kayakers. You will need to book your campsites in advance and keep an eye on the weather forecast. Kayakers are warned not to go north of Onetahuti Bay because the coastline is quite exposed and can be dangerous.

Where to Camp

There are 19 campsites in the area with good facilities, most of which are only accessible by hiking or boating to the location. There is only one campground which can be driven to directly.

  • Totaranui Campground: This large campground across from the beach offers plenty of room to kayak or explore the trails in the area with 269 non-powered tent sites and a wide variety of facilities like toilets, cold showers, potable water, and a boat launch. There are six amenity blocks spread throughout the area and the Totaranui 'Ngarata' Homestead is an education center that can also be booked for private groups with room for 40 in the bunks.
  • Mosquito Bay Campsite: Only accessible by private boat, this beachside campsite has 20 non-powered tent sites. No trails lead here, so make sure you arrange your boat before booking.
  • Mutton Cove: Only accessible by foot or boat, this lovely beachside campsite has 20 non-powered sites and flush toilets. The campsite is located off the Coast Track between the Waiharakeke and Whariwharangi sections.

Where to Stay Nearby

If you just want to visit the park on a day trip, Nelson and Motueka are good bases, with plenty of accommodation options for all budgets. To stay closer to the park, look for accommodation in the small villages of Marahau, Kaiteriteri, or Takaka.

  • Abel Tasman Lodge: In Marahau, this 4-star hotel is a five-minute walk to the park and offers modern chalets which range in size from suites to two bedrooms.
  • Kaiteri Motels and Apartments: Close to the beach, this hotel offers a variety of room sizes, from studios to one-bedrooms, and many offer sea views.
  • The Resurgence: A luxury eco-lodge nestled in the mountains 24-minutes away from the park, this hotel offers incredible luscious and remote suites with outdoor baths. Excursions to the park can be organized through the hotel.

How to Get There

The nearest city to the Abel Tasman National Park is Nelson, about an hour’s drive away. From Nelson, you can get organized tours to the park, or drive yourself. Follow State Highway 6 from Nelson to Richmond, then follow State Highway 60 to Motueka. The park is well sign-posted—look for brown road signs.

To get to Nelson from other parts of New Zealand, you can fly directly from Auckland, Wellington, or Christchurch. Alternatively, many travelers come overland, taking the Interislander Ferry from Wellington to Picton, and then driving about two hours west, along SH6, to Nelson. There are various ways of getting there from the south: via Kaikoura on the east coast, Westport and Greymouth on the west, or Murchison to the south, further inland.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Abel Tasman is as popular as it is beautiful. If you plan to visit in the summer, it’s important to book accommodation, including campsites, well ahead of time.
  • If undertaking the Coast Track, be prepared for all weather conditions. Although "the top of the south" is known for its hot summers and year-round sunny conditions, New Zealand is a small island nation in the middle of a vast ocean; so expect rain at any time.
  • If it’s not raining, be prepared for hot conditions in the summer, and strong sun.
  • The i-Site tourist information centers in Nelson and Motueka can provide a wealth of information for visitors to the park.
  • The park is extremely popular with both domestic and international visitors, especially in the summer, with around 300,000 people visiting annually. But, if you visit outside of the peak season (December to February), it’s much more peaceful.
  • There are no wheelchair-accessible trails or cabins in the park, but the Totaranui campsites can be accessible with some assistance.
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Abel Tasman National Park: The Complete Guide