The first time I heard about New Zealand’s famous Great Walks, Uschi and I were camping in Nova Scotia on Cape Breton Island. We got to chatting with another couple at our campground, and they told us about their experiences travelling throughout Australia and New Zealand, mentioning ten beautiful multi-day walks that exist in New Zealand. According to them, these walks offer incomparable views, and are DEFINITELY worth doing.
This little tidbit of information slipped my mind until we arrived in New Zealand, when thoughts of these magical walks were rekindled by the gorgeous scenery and my desire to explore.
While working in Franz Josef I began researching the walks (surprise surprise), and ended up devoting many hours to finding out everything I could about these tracks.
Essentially, New Zealand's Great Walks are multi-day tracks maintained by the Department of Conservation (DOC), ranging in length and difficulty, displaying some of the most spectacular and diverse landscapes New Zealand has to offer.
Trampers (New Zealand's term for hikers/backpackers), can plan their trip by visiting the DOC website to book campsites or huts to stay in during their journey. Campsites cost less than huts, although depending on the track and the unpredictability of the weather in the area, for some, staying in a hut might be worth the extra cash.
The costs and specifications range slightly depending on the track. For example, the more popular Milford Track in Fiordland National Park requires trampers to stay in huts rather than campsites and the track often books up months in advance for the high season (October-April). Trampers often book up to nine months in advance to hike what some say is the most beautiful track in New Zealand, and possibly the world.
Costs for the tracks are considerably lower for New Zealand residents, and for both residents and visitors during the low season (May-October) when the weather is less savoury.
But despite how or when you choose to tramp, with the scenic mountain views, coastal beaches, lush rainforest, rugged bush, and awe-inspiring volcanoes, there is a Great Walk for everyone!
See for yourself and take a peak at the DOC's website to learn the unique features of each walk.
While of course Uschi and I would love to hike them all, there are several factors which we needed to consider when choosing which Great Walks we would be able to complete.
We are only planning to be in New Zealand for one year (if not slightly longer), which means one high season. Because many of the tracks book up quickly, and because we did not book before we arrived in the country, it will be impossible for us to book some of the more popular tracks for this season. And completing the tracks in low season is often more difficult due to bad weather conditions.
The walks must be planned and booked in advance, requiring us to know where we will be and when, and because we are both working and travelling we are unable and unwilling to set ourselves to a rigid schedule.
The walks cost money, and while to us it is undoubtedly worth the expense, to book ten Great Walks all during the same high season would be extremely expensive. Especially when the gear needed for each track can vary based on weather conditions, landscape etc...
So we were left to choose.
Which tracks would suit our needs, AND be available to us?
We were located on the South Island, and the popular Milford, Kepler, and Routeborn tracks were all unsurprisingly booked up. That left us to choose between the Abel Tasman and Heaphy tracks.
Why not begin with a beautiful coastal track, we thought, picturing ourselves walking along gorgeous beaches, swimming in the turquoise waters, and tramping through lush forest. Plus, the Abel Tasman Great Walk is said to be one of the easier tracks, and we hadn't done much in the way of long-term hiking for quite some time.
So we booked Abel Tasman, bought a tent and a couple sleeping bags, and were off to the races!
If you don't care about any of the planning or preparation, and want to skip ahead to read about our adventures and look at the pretty pictures, feel free to scroll past the next part!
If you're anything like me, the preparation will be the most daunting part of your Great Walk experience. As a visitor to the country, and lacking experience in multi-day hikes, I wanted to make sure I was completely prepared before setting out.
The DOC website for Abel Tasman offers an incredible amount of information including what to pack, walking routes, popular side trips, where to find drinkable water, where to stay, weather conditions, tide times, and more.
Abel Tasman National Park is located in the northwest corner of New Zealand's South Island. As such, the weather is usually mild, and trampers don't need to worry much about rain (although that is not to say it doesn't happen - it's always best to be prepared for anything, especially in New Zealand).
However, because the weather can be quite warm, trampers must remember to pack lots of sunscreen, drinkable water, and bug cream for those pesky sandflies!
The Abel Tasman track runs between Marahau and Wainui. Trampers and kayakers (another popular way to explore Abel Tasman is by kayak) can begin their journey on either end of the track, and finish anywhere they like.
Depending on your time constraints, fitness level etc... you can plan your trip to be as short or as long as you like. Some people choose to hike in for a night of camping, and back out the next day. Some people forgo the hiking altogether and take a water taxi to one of the campgrounds. There are many ways to enjoy the beautiful Abel Tasman National Park, so feel free to cater your trip to your exact needs!
I planned for us to begin in Marahau and end in Totaranui, about 3/4 of the way through the track, and to return to Marahau by water taxi, which I booked online in advance.
Because we wanted to be able to take our time and really enjoy the hike, we planned to do this section of the track in three and a half days/three nights, so that we didn't need to rush.
The Abel Tasman Coast Track Guide will be your best friend when planning where to stay during your trip. It details a map of the track, and exact distances between campsites.
Based mostly on distances, and slightly on some extra research of my own, I chose to book us into the Te Pukatea, Bark Bay, and Awaroa campsites for our trip. I will describe the campsites in more detail further on in this post.
When preparing, we aimed to pack as light as possible, bringing only our small backpacks.
Our packing list included:
Lifestraw Water Filter
First Aid Kit
Uschi's Knee Brace
Monopoly Deal (of course)
Two Person Tent
One Sleeping Bag Liner (for Uschi to use in place of a towel b/c it was lighter)
For clothing, we each wore a bathing suit, pair of shorts, tank top, and socks. Additionally we each packed one warm top and bottom for the evenings, our rain jackets, one extra tank top, and one extra pair of socks. I also brought rain pants.
Because we don't yet have a backpacker's camping stove, we had to plan our meals carefully ahead of time.
We prepared peanut butter sandwiches and wraps for lunches, and spaghetti with olive oil, herbs and salt for dinner. Beyond that we packed four pieces of fruit, four carrots, and ten power bars each, and one bag of salted peanuts and one sleeve of Oreos to share (for when we needed a little sugar rush).
Incredibly, we ended up packing pretty much the perfect amount of food for our trip - not too much, not too little, juuuuust right.
Day One: Marahau -> Te Pukatea
13.4 kms approx. 4.5 hours
Day one of our trip saw us waking up at a free campsite in Motueka where we had spent the previous day preparing for our journey. From our campsite it was approximately a half hour drive to the free parking lot in Marahau where many people leave their vehicle during their trek.
We left Motueka early, at 7:00am, because we weren't sure how quickly the parking lot would fill. We arrived to discover that the parking lot is huge, with many spaces available, so we definitely did not need to worry.
We spoke to a DOC employee before we began our trip who assured us that the parking lot was safe to leave our van in (although we did buy a chain to lock our kayak to our roof rack).
Additionally, the parking lot has bathrooms and maps of the trail.
After a hearty breakfast of black bean veggie burgers, we completed our final pack, said goodbye to Jack Jack and hit the trails!
It was around 9:15am when we set out. The sun was high in a cloudless sky, and a light breeze saved us from what was quickly becoming a scorching day.
Almost immediately into the track we were greeted with gorgeous views of the water and beaches, which were peaking out here and there from the forest we were tramping through.
The trail itself is quite mild, with some areas of slight incline or decline, but if you stick to the main trail the walking is generally not very strenuous - we saw people of all ages during our trek.
There are many opportunities to stop along the track to explore lookouts and hidden beaches. We took advantage of many of these, and leisurely made our way along the trail.
We stopped for lunch around half past twelve at a little hidden bay called Observation Beach. It's a steep ten minute walk down from the main trail, which means the return is all uphill. But don't let that deter you, the beach is a lovely spot for lunch, and apart from a few kayakers and a couple hungry seagulls we were the only ones there.
After lunch we continued on our way for a couple more hours until we emerged at Anchorage Beach. This seems to be the most popular first night destination for trampers who begin their trek in Marahau. The beach is big and beautiful, and welcomes a flurry of water taxis and tourists everyday.
The campsite resembles a large holiday park, with 100 sites, several kitchen areas, bathrooms with working toilets, and drinkable water. It's busy with the hustle and bustle of families, day trippers, and campers of all ages.
We chose to continue on to Te Pukatea Campsite, which is about one kilometre further from Anchorage. Although Te Pukatea Bay is only 20 minutes away, it might as well be on Mars for how different the two campsites are.
Te Pukatea only has ten sites, and is a small oasis compared to the boisterous atmosphere of Anchorage.
We arrived at the campsite around 3:00pm and chose a spot directly in front of the beach to set up camp. Afterwards we quickly made our way down to the beach to rest after our first day of walking.
While there were a few people here and there, we had the large beach almost to ourselves. We swam, ate dinner, and relaxed in the sun.
Day one also saw our first Weka sighting (although we didn't know what it was at the time). The Weka is a native New Zealand species, comparable in some ways to a chicken. They are clever, cunning, and will undoubtedly try to steal your food.
Unfortunately we didn't know this, and I ended up getting burgled by a crafty Weka at Te Pukatea. I was unpacking my gear and foolishly had my power bars spread out on the picnic table. I hadn't seen or heard of any reason to be cautious about food here in New Zealand, but sensing that my guard was down the Weka made her move. She snatched a power bar off the table and swiftly ran off into the forest before I had even realized what had happened.
The couple in the site next to ours was from Christchurch, and quickly brought us up to speed on all things Weka. Safe to say we were much more careful for the remainder of our trip.
That evening the sunset was spectacular, and we decided that because it was so warm, we wanted to sleep under the stars. So we spent our first night in the tent coverless.
Day Two: Te Pukatea -> Bark Bay (side trip to Cleopatra's Pool)
12.5 kms approx. 4 hours
I woke early on our second morning to do yoga on the beach before departing our campsite, and was greeted by an incredible sight.
I had the beach to myself as I watched the sky lighten, my only companions a family of variable oystercatchers making their way along the water's edge searching for breakfast
I returned to our site, and Uschi and I packed up camp and ate breakfast before heading back out the way we came. We arrived at Anchorage before 10:00am, where we filled our water bottles and headed back up to the main trail.
We walked for an hour or so until we came upon the short trail heading up to Cleopatra's Pool - a small area with freshwater pools and waterfalls.
We splished and splashed in the water here for an hour or two, even riding down the natural water slide pictured on the right hand side (getting a few bumps and bruises in the process). We relaxed on the rocks and shared a few snacks while talking with fellow backpackers.
I would definitely recommend this little detour as it's not far off the beaten track, and although it was quite busy, it was very refreshing to spend some time in the pristine freshwater pools.
From there, we continued on towards Torrent Bay.
This part of the track takes you a little further inland away from the coast, where the landscape carries with it a different kind of beauty - less coastal and more foresty.
Before we knew it we were in Torrent Bay, a little village with a campsite, toilets, and some very fortunate people's (summer?) homes.
There are multiple parts of the track that give you a trail option where you can cross at low tide, and a trail option where you can cross at hide tide, this being one of them. The hide tide tracks are often slightly longer, but also give the options to explore side tracks such as Cleopatra's Pool. If you prefer to do the low tide crossings, make sure to check the tide times before you go.
Once past Torrent Bay Village our pace began to slow. Call it the day two blues, but our feet were beginning to get tired, our backs beginning to ache. And although most of the track is fairly level, day two brings with it a few steep climbs. We couldn't wait to arrive at our campsite.
By the time we arrived at Bark Bay, we were hot, tired, and ready to take off our hiking boots and go for a swim.
Bark Bay Campsite is a gorgeous beach site located in Bark Bay. If you get the chance to stay here, DO IT. This was my favourite site by far. It has a nice kitchen area, drinkable water, running toilets, and although it's slightly bigger than Te Pukatea with 40 sites, it is spread out enough so that it doesn't feel crowded.
The atmosphere at this campsite is very laid back and relaxed. Campers are able to set up their tents directly on the sand, and with the warm breeze blowing through the trees it's very welcoming after a long day of tramping.
We set up our tent and then I settled in with my book while Uschi took off down the beach to do some yoga.
Day Three: Bark Bay -> Awaroa
13.5 kms approx. 4.5 hours
The next morning I woke early again to do yoga on the beach.
The campsite was so peaceful; I savoured the silence while watching the sun come up.
Although each day was incredibly beautiful in its own way, day three was by far my favourite. The sun was out; it was hot; there was not a cloud to be seen in the bright blue sky.
The walk itself was gorgeous, and at every turn offered us views of sandy beaches and crisp blue water. Not to mention this was also the day of our first beach walk!
We headed out of the Bark Bay Campsite around 9:00am, and were feeling re-energized after a night of relaxation.
About an hour and a half into the hike we came across Tonga Quarry, a beautiful beach and picnic area, where we stopped for a quick break to drink some water and reapply sunscreen.
Though reluctant to leave such a beautiful beach, we knew there would no doubt be more. And besides, a water taxi had just deposited a boatload of day trippers, so we pressed on.
After a steep climb, we rounded a bend to catch our first sights of Onetahuti Campsite, the location of our first beach walk.
We took off our shoes to walk through the water, and it was glorious to feel the sand beneath our toes and the cool water on our feet.
We made our way along the stretch of beach for a short time, maybe twenty minutes or so, after which we stopped for a quick swim in the ocean and a snack before lacing our boots back up and carrying on.
After the beach we climbed upwards through forest, making our way towards Awaroa.
Although we decided not to take the side trip to Awaroa Beach (40 minutes one way) we were rewarded for our climb with stunning views of Awaroa Beach and Inlet.
Descending the hill we soon came upon Awaroa Campsite, our final site.
Awaroa campsite differed from the others as it was not directly on a beach. The campsite is located on a nice grassy area, but campers need only walk a short distance to go for a swim in the ocean (unless it's low tide and then it's a bit further).
We pitched our tent and settled in.
Because we arrived quite early, we had lots of time to read, swim, relax, and hang out with other trampers, even playing a few rounds of Monopoly Deal with some new friends!
Sadly it was early to bed for us on our final night as we had to wake up at 5:00am for the tidal crossing at Awaroa Inlet. This was the only tidal crossing we ended up doing during our trip - the others didn't work out for us because they were either very early in the morning or late in the afternoon. This one however, was necessary.
Day Four: Awaroa -> Totaranui
7.1 kms approx. 2.5 hours
We woke at 5:00am to total darkness. Checking my phone to make sure it was in fact morning, we crawled out of the tent and set to work packing up by the light of the moon.
Awaroa Inlet is the only necessary tidal crossing on the section of the track that we completed. It's only safe to cross between 1.5 hours before low tide up until two hours after, and it takes approximately 20 minutes to cross.
People told us stories of crossing the inlet with water up to their thighs, carrying their backpacks over their heads. We thought it was best to go right at low tide just to be safe, plus we wanted to see the sunrise from the other side.
The crossing was beautiful. We were one of the first groups to cross over from our campsite.
Although it was low tide we crossed it in bare feet (and at times flip flops) because we still had to wade through water at some parts.
By the time we had crossed, the sun was rising and we watched many other campers make the crossing. It looked like a migration.
We enjoyed the sunrise while eating our breakfast and chatting with fellow trampers, before lacing up our boots to walk the last few hours of our journey.
This day was quite short, only two and a half hours of walking. Because we crossed the inlet at 6:00 am, we began our trek early.
A few climbs awaited us on this section, and a couple more short beach walks, before we arrived in busy Totaranui.
I had foolishly booked our water taxi for 3:00 pm, not realizing we would arrive at the beach so early in the morning. So we had a lot of time to rest and relax.
The beach was beautiful but busy as this appears to be more of a holiday destination for families who drive in and set up camp for extended periods of time.
Unfortunately the day was quite windy as well, whipping sand at us, and so we found a nice shady spot on the grass to wait out the day.
Our water taxi picked us up promptly at 3:15, and we spent the next hour and a half flying by the distance that had taken us the previous three and a half days to walk. It was a very cool way to end our journey, being able to experience a completely different perspective of the beautiful Abel Tasman National Park.
Uschi and I absolutely LOVED our trek. I can't count the amount of times we turned to one another and exclaimed "Wow! This is so beautiful!"
The beauty of Abel Tasman National Park is almost unbelievable. Pictures do not do it justice, and if you have the opportunity you should see it with your own eyes.
Uschi and I plan to return within the next week or so to kayak the section of the track that we didn't tramp, and I'm excited to experience the park in a new way.
Know Before You Go:
If you are planning your own trip to Abel Tasman, here are a few tips it's good to know beforehand:
There is drinkable water: There are taps for treated and untreated water all over the track at the various campsites. We brought our Lifestraw water filter just in case, but didn't end up using it. There was drinkable water at Anchorage Campsite, Bark Bay Campsite, and Awaroa Campsite, and because we brought three water bottles (and one was quite large), we had enough for our tramps each day.
There are toilets: There are toilets located all over the track as well. Some are running toilets, and some are long drop, but all have toilet paper. It was not necessary to bring our own.
There are showers: We didn't bring any soap, just natural face wash and baby wipes, but if you prefer to be able to shower, there are places for this at certain campsites. All campsites have freshwater taps with untreated water, and Bark Bay and Awaroa both had actual freshwater showers. When we arrived in Totaranui we were greeted by a volunteer from the campsite who directed us to showers on site there as well. It was very refreshing to be able to pop under the cold water on our final day of tramping.
This also means it wasn't necessary to bring an extra tank top. When I arrived at each campsite I would simply rinse my clothes with fresh water and leave them to dry in the sun.
I brought a full size towel and Uschi brought a sleeping bag liner to act as one because it was lighter and dries faster. If you have a small quick drying towel I would recommend bringing that.
It's hot: If you plan your trip in high season like we did, it will most likely be quite hot. I'm very happy that we brought three water bottles, electrolyte tablets, hats & sunglasses, and plenty of sunscreen. Protect yourself from that hot New Zealand sun!
Book ahead of time & have a plan: It's necessary to book your campsites/huts ahead of time and to bring your ticket (proof of booking) with you. We took a screen shot of our confirmation email, but although DOC employees do come around to the campsites each night and to ask for campers' names, we were never asked for our ticket.
It is also necessary to plan how you will get back to your vehicle. We booked our water taxi at the same time as we booked our campsites. The water taxis book up as well, and it's nice to have peace of mind knowing your return trip is taken care of. You can also travel by land - taking a bus or hitchhiking.
Take your time: If possible, take your time. This track is gorgeous and not overly difficult. There are so many places to explore and beaches to be enjoyed. I'm very happy with the amount of time we gave ourselves, although if we were to do it again I would plan to complete the whole track. I'm told that the area between Totoranui and Wainui is less traveled, and I would have loved to explore that area.
Sandflies and other bugs: We were told that the sandflies would be terrible, and based on our previous experiences in New Zealand, we accepted the information without question. However, we didn't end up noticing them much. We bought Bushmans bug cream because we were told that it's the only cream/spray that really works. It's 80% Deet so that's not great, but when you're being attacked by swarms of sandflies natural products don't always do the trick. I find that it's not necessary to apply the cream everywhere, mostly just legs and feet. It's water repellant, and because it's so high in Deet, it lasts close to 18 hours. We found it at the Warehouse Pharmacy.
Also, I was surprised at how many bumblebees we saw throughout the track. They are EVERYWHERE. And although it can get annoying sometimes, please be kind to the bumbles, they don't mean you any harm.
Whether you prefer to tramp or kayak, stay in a quiet bay or bustling campground, spend one day or five, I know you'll enjoy your trip to Abel Tasman.
There's a reason why it's one of the most popular tracks, the scenery is stunning, and the track is accessible to people of all ages. If you have the chance, don't hesitate to plan your visit.