Hiking The Abel Tasman Great Walk (My Tips)

Tristan Balme My Complete Guide To the Abel Tasman Great Wallk

Disclosure: I’ve hiked the Abel Tasman twice (almost). Once in the reverse direction from Totaranui to Marahau doing a car swap before setting out. The second time was in part from Marahau using the water taxi to return to our car at the start.

The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is one of the most popular walks in New Zealand. It follows the coastline of the Abel Tasman National Park, passing through beaches and lush forests. It can be walked in parts as a day hike, but it is most commonly done in 3 or 4 days as a Great Walk of New Zealand. 

I had the chance to hike this amazing track and in this post, I’ll share my tips for making the most of the adventure. 

Quick Overview Of The Abel Tasman Coastal Track

The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is located in the north of the South Island in the Abel Tasman National Park. It’s 60 km long and takes 3 to 5 days to complete. You can walk it in either direction: from Marahau in the south to Wainui or Totaranui in the north, or vice versa. It’s mostly flat and easy, with some gentle climbs and descents. It’s best enjoyed when the weather’s warmer and drier–from October to April.

The track’s also advantageous in that you can walk the entire track or just a section of it by taking advantage of water taxis to navigate different points along the way. 

Tristan Balme Abel Tasman Hike 23
Tristan Balme Abel Tasman Hike 10

Abel Tasman Duration and Distance

You can expect to cover a distance of 60 km. But this can vary depending on your starting and finishing points. There are several side trips along the way, which extend the time spent on the trail if you decide to take them. The Abel Tasman is divided into four sections which can be completed in 3 to 5 days.

Jump To: Able Tasman Route Guide

How To Get To The Abel Tasman National Park

The nearest end of the abel tasman is Marahau which is a 1hr / 60km drive from Nelson. This is accessible by shuttle bus and is the point where the water taxis leave from too – so a good starting point if you don’t have your own vehicle.

Here are some of the ways to get to the park from Nelson.

By car

You can drive to either end of the track where you can leave your vehicle for free. You can also arrange for a shuttle bus or water taxi to pick you up or drop you off at either end.

By bus

There are regular buses from Nelson to Marahau and Totaranui. The journey takes about 1½  hours and costs around $30 NZD one way.

By water taxi

You can take a water taxi from Nelson or Kaiteriteri to any point along the track. This is a convenient way to return to your starting point. 

I’ve done an excellent day trip into the Abel Tasman by taking the water taxi to Torrent Bay and then walking the 18km back to Marahau (stopping at Cleopatra’s pools along the way).

You can find more information on the Abel Tasman tourism website.

By Kayak

There are also options to hire kayaks and either experience the able tasman by sea, or Kayak the great walk and pitch your tent at beach campsites along the way. That’s probably a different guide to this one, which is about walking the Abel Tasman, but you can check our NZTravelTips for some deals on kayak rentals to get you started.

Three Main Route Options:

One of the fantastic things about this track is you can customize your route according to your preferences and abilities. You can walk the whole track or just a part of it, and you can start and finish at different points along the way. You can also combine walking with water taxis or shuttle buses to shorten or lengthen your trip. Here are some of the most common route options for walking the track:

Option 1: Walk most of the way and water taxi back

This is the best option if you want to see most of the track but don’t have enough time or energy to walk the whole way. You can start at either end of the track, and walk as far as you want, then take a water taxi back to your starting point. You can also choose which sections of the track you want to skip or include. 

Option 2: Walk the whole way and shuttle back

If you want to complete the whole track but don’t want to walk back to the starting point, you can start at either end of the track, and walk all the way to the other end. From here, you can take a shuttle bus back to your starting point. 

Option 3: Book A Shuttle Bus

You can book a shuttle bus service that will pick you up and drop you off at either end of the track. Several companies offer this service, but I found the likes of Golden Bay Coachlines and Abel Tasman Coachlines offer stellar services. 

Option 4: Leave a car at each end

You can also leave your car at Marahau or Totaranui and drive back to your starting point after finishing the walk. While this option is flexible and convenient, be mindful that you’ll need to pay for two car parks and arrange for someone to transfer one of the cars back to where you started. 

What I Did: We did a car swap by meeting first at the Maharua Beach car park where we left one car, then drove over the hill to Totaranui

Which Direction Is Best To Walk?

The path can be walked in either direction, from Marahau in the south to Totaranui in the north, or vice versa.

There is no right or wrong route because they both provide a fantastic experience and a different perspective of the trail. To help you decide which will be your starting point, here are some factors to consider.

Scenery

If you’re looking to take in the beauty of the trail, I recommend you walk from north to south. This path is more varied and scenic. But. I’ve encountered some walkers who prefer the southern section because they felt it allowed them to end on a high note. 

Tides

There are 4 tidal crossings that can only be crossed at low tide. The tide schedule varies depending on the day and month, so you need to check it before you start your walk and plan accordingly. Generally speaking, walking from south to north may give you more flexibility and convenience. You can start your walk at any time of the day and adjust your pace and stops according to the tide. Walking from north to south requires more planning and coordination, and you may need to start your walk early in the morning or late in the afternoon to catch the low tides.

Accommodation

You’ll encounter 4 huts and 18 campsites along the track. When booking, consider how far you want to walk each day, how comfortable you want to be, and how much you want to spend. I prefer staying in huts because they offer more amenities and security, but they don’t come cheap. And during the peak season, they can get really crowded. If you want the luxury of freedom and privacy, you can definitely opt for campsites. Staying at campsites also requires more packing: bringing your own tent, sleeping bag, mat, stove, and utensils. 

Abel Tasman Water Taxis

One of the unique features of this track is that you can use water taxis to access different sections. They really came in handy and helped me to get to and from the trail and to skip parts I didn’t want to walk or that were closed.

There are several water taxi companies with different services and prices. Water taxis usually depart from Marahau or Totaranui. They can take you to any point along the track and can also take you to some of the side trips or attractions along the way, giving you a chance to spot some of the wildlife. 

While they are very convenient in every sense of the word, there are some drawbacks you should be aware of: 

  • They are subject to weather and sea conditions; always check the weather forecast and contact your water taxi company before you start your walk.
  • Because they are subject to tide times, they may not access some parts of the track. 
  • They are small. As such, they won’t accommodate all your luggage or equipment on board. Pack light or arrange for your pack to be transferred by another service if you want to use water taxis. 

My Experience: 4 Days / 3 Nights Walking The Abel Tasman Coast Track

I chose to walk from north to south, starting from Totaranui Beach and ending at Marahau, and staying in 3 huts along the way. 

This meant we had a nice short first day which we needed to allow time for the ferry crossing, getting some last minute supplies, and arranging our car swap before setting off.

Here’s a summary of my itinerary.

Day 1 – Totaranui Beach Campsite to Whariwharangi Hut

I arrived at my starting point after driving from Takaka. I followed the trail along the coast for about an hour and reached Whariwharangi. En route, I encountered a side trek leading to the beach. Instead of taking the detour, I continued walking to Totaranui. 

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Day 2 – Whariwharangi Hut To Awaroa Hut

Once I got to Totaranui, I walked south for another hour until I reached Awaroa. This is where I encountered the first crossing.

Note: Awaroa Inlet Tidal Crossing

This is by far the largest and deepest crossing on the track. It’s wide and shallow and is located about an hour north of Awaroa hut or campsite. 

Normally, you’d cross this section bang on low tide, with enought leewawy to cross up to 1.5hrs before or or after the tide change. Unfortunately we were running late (2hrs after low tide) and water was already rushing in. At its deepest i had to carry my pack on my head so it didnt get wet.

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Tristan Balme Abel Tasman Hike 13

Side Trip:

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Day 3 – Awaroa Hut to Onetahuti Beach

Following an early morning rise and quick breakfast, I walked south through various landscapes until I reached two tidal crossings: Onetahuti Beach and Tonga Saddle. I made use of the water taxi because I spent time enjoying a swim and took time out to see some of the wildlife. 

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Onetahuti Beach to Bark Bay Hut and Campsite

From Onetahuti Beach, you’ll climb Tonga Saddle and descend to Bark Bay. This is a great spot to explore the nearby estuary–home to various birds and fish. 

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Bark Bay to Torrent Bay

This section is not only the busiest but also the longest and most rugged one. You’ll experience steep climbs and descents and several tidal crossings. The trail passes through some more bays, beaches, and even more side tracks. Once you’ve navigated this section, you’ll reach Torrent Bay. 

Tristan Balme My Complete Guide To the Abel Tasman Great Wallk

Side Trip: Cleopatra’s Pools

The best fresh water swimming spot in the Abel Tasman national park is Cleopatra’s Pool which includes a completely natural rock water slide.

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Torrent Bay to Anchorage

From Torrent Bay, you’ll walk along the beach for another 15 minutes until you reach the crossing. This section is an exhilarating way to experience the tide. 

Day 4 – Anchorage To Marahau Town

As you head south, you’ll pass through some of the oldest and largest forests and also the most tranquil bays. You’ll also encounter one last tidal crossing. After crossing, you’ll continue along the coast for another hour until you reach Apple Tree Bay and descend to the town. This is where your adventure ends. You can buy some souvenirs, celebrate with a glass of beer, or travel back to your accommodation. 

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Tidal Crossings On The Abel Tasman

When hiking this track, you’ll deal with several tidal crossings. There are 4 main ones: Bark Bay Crossing, Torrent Bay Crossing, Awaroa Inlet Crossing, and Onetahuti Beach Crossing. They are not challenging or dangerous, but they can be cold and wet. I recommend you wear sandals or water shoes to protect your feet. You may also want to have some dry clothes or towels ready after you cross. The water level varies but you can expect to be submerged ankle to waist deep. 

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Bark Bay Crossing

Bark Bay Crossing is a narrow and shallow channel that connects with Tonga Island. It’s located about an hour south of Bark Bay hut or campsite. 

Torrent Bay Crossing

Also narrow and shallow, this crossing connects with the mainland. It’s about 15 minutes away from the accommodation.

Awaroa Inlet Crossing

This is by far the largest and deepest crossing on the track. It’s wide and shallow and is located about an hour north of Awaroa hut or campsite. 

Onetahuti Netahuti Beach Crossing   

Onetahuti Beach is wide and can only be crossed within 1½  hours on either side of low tide. You’ll encounter it about an hour south of Onetahuti campsite.

Huts On The Abel Tasman Track

There are 4 huts on the Abel Tasman Coast Track: Anchorage, Bark Bay, Awaroa, and Whariwharangi. Most contain:

  • Communal kitchen areas
  • Dorm-style rooms lined with bunks
  • Sink
  • Toilets
  • Water taps
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Great walk season

Walking season runs from 1 October to 30 April and you can expect the trail and huts to be crowded. Because of the influx, the huts tend to be expensive. Here’s what you can expect to pay during this time: 

  • New Zealand citizens: Adult (18+ years): $38 per person, per night; Child (17 years and under): free but booking still required
  • International visitors: Adult (18+ years): $76 per person, per night; Child (17 years and under): $38 per person, per night

Off-season

The off-season runs from 1 May to 30 September. You can expect the huts to be less crowded and less expensive. Here’s what you can expect to pay:

For all visitors: Adult (18+ years): $32 per person, per night; Child (17 years and under): Free

Camping In The Abel Tasman

There are 18 campsites ranging from small and secluded to large and lively. 

Campsite fees

Peak season

  • New Zealand citizens: Adult (18+ years): $16 per person, per night; Child (17 years and under): free.
  • International visitors: Adult (18+ years): $24 per person, per night; Child (17 years and under): $12 per person, per night.

Off-season 

For all visitors: Adult (18+ years): $16 per person, per night; Child (17 years and under): Free

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Pack Transfers on the Abel Tasman Track

If you don’t want to carry your heavy backpack while walking the path, you can arrange for a pack transfer service with a water taxi company. A few reliable ones include: 

  • Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi
  • Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle
  • Wilson’s Abel Tasman

They will pick up your pack from your departure point and deliver it to your next destination on the track. You can also store excess luggage with them while on the track. The pack transfer fees vary, but they are usually around $10 to $15 per pack per day. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to walk Abel Tasman?

It usually takes 3 to 5 days to complete the Abel Tasman track.

Are there toilets on the Abel Tasman walk?

There are toilets on the Abel Tasman Walk. You can find them at every hut and campsite, and some of the water taxi stops and picnic areas. 

Do you need tramping boots for Abel Tasman?

You don’t need tramping boots for Abel Tasman. The track is mostly flat with gentle climbs and descents. But I recommend you wear comfortable and sturdy shoes suited for hiking and all weather conditions. I hiked at the Abel Tasman in jandals (flip flops) so it’s pretty mild terain.

What do you wear to the Abel Tasman walk?

You can wear any comfortable clothing that allows you to adjust to different levels of warmth and coolness. 

Abel Tasman vs Queen Charlotte Track

The main difference between the Abel Tasman Track and the Queen Charlotte Track is that the former is 60 km long and can be walked in 3 to 5 days, while the latter is 70 km long and can be walked in 4 to 5 days. The Abel Tasman track is gentle, while Queen Charlotte is hilly and rugged, with some steep climbs and descents. Lastly, Abel Tasman has four tidal crossings and Queen Charlotte track has none, but it has some sections exposed to strong winds and waves.

Can you drive in Abel Tasman National Park?

You can’t drive in Abel Tasman National Park. There are no roads or vehicles allowed in the park, except for some service vehicles used for maintenance or emergency purposes. 

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