The Abel Tasman track is a beautiful multi day walking track, and one of the most best Great Walks of New Zealand. It is 60km in total and is generally walked in three to five days in either direction. It's a unique Great Walk in that it can be walked in a variety of ways and the majority can easily be carved up into day walks using the water taxi services.
As it is one of the easier Great Walks it would make a great introduction to multi day tramping. The forests are spectacular and alive with bird song and the beaches are quite frankly out of this world. We expected to enjoy this hike but didn't expect it to be one of our favourite Great Walks of New Zealand.
We'd recommend this hike to anyone, though if you are walking the track in the warmer months do expect it to be busy. Unlike the alpine Great Walks the Abel Tasman Track can be walked year round so if you walk in the cooler months you will probably find it far less busy. Whatever time of year you hike we're sure you'll be blown away by the scenery.
If you're interested in our experience walking the track you can read about it here, this blog is about all the tips and tricks to help you organise your hike.
Booking the Abel Tasman Track
If you are planning to stay in any of the DOC huts or campsites along the trail you will need to book these in advance. They don't sell out as quickly as the Routeburn, Milford or Kepler Tracks but if you have specific dates in mind it would be best to book as far ahead as possible.
The huts and campsites are pretty cheap for a walk this popular and for the standard that you get, being far cheaper than on the Fiordland Great Walks. If you walk the track in the Great Walks season (1st October to 30th April) the huts cost $38 per night and the campsites cost $15 per person. Outside the main season when facilities are reduced the price falls to $32 for the hut, camping remains the same price.
If you think the spots look pretty special and want to stay a few extra nights be aware that in Great Walks season you can stay a maximum of two night in all huts or campsites except for Totaranui which is one night all year round. Outside the main season you can stay a maximum of five nights.
Huts on the Abel Tasman Track
There are four huts on the Abel Tasman Track, Anchorage (sleeps 34), Bark Bay (sleeps 34), Awaroa (sleeps 26), and Whariwharangi Bay (sleeps 20). We only visited the Anchorage and Bark Bay huts on our tramp and can say these were excellent huts, we heard good things about the other two from hikers we met along the way too.
Note that there are no gas burners in any of the huts, even in Great Walks season so you must bring your own gas. We stress this in particular because several other Great Walks do have gas and it could be easy to assume the Abel Tasman Track is the same.
Anchorage hut in particular felt ritzy and new with numerous small bunk rooms with individual bunk beds (all the better for avoiding snorers) and good flush toilets. There was also a nice seating area outside to eat at with glimpses through to the beautiful beach.
Bark Bay hut is in a beautiful spot with lovely views out to the bay. There are two bunk rooms, each sleeping 17 on long sleeping platforms (top and bottom). The toilets are flush. Rather remarkably there is also a shower! We are pretty sure it's the only one on any of the Grea Walks. It's in the forest and modesty is preserved with some material covering the gaps in the wood. A rare treat!
If you prefer to camp there are a staggering 18 campsites along the way, details of which are on the DOC website.
Other Abel Tasman Track Accommodation
This is something we loved about the track, there are actually other options if you would like to stay somewhere a little bit more luxurious than one of the huts or campsites. The track was the fifth in our 9 Great Walks in 9 weeks challenge and we were ready for a little mid-trail pampering.
We decided to stay in the Awaroa Lodge. This was quite a splurge for us and we thought a lot about it but in the end we were glad we made the investment. It made the whole track feel like a holiday! The lodge is around 30 minutes walk (on the low tide track) before the Awaroa hut, this means the day's walking is only 9.5km. That gave us ample time for a leisurely walk with the whole afternoon to relax at the lodge.
The room was spacious with a great comfy bed and good shower. I had wished for a bath tub, but you can't have everything I guess! It also had a balcony with comfy lounger overlooking the bush. There was a coffee machine (winning) and the opportunity to have room service, which felt almost sinful on the track!
There is also another accommodation option in between the Awaroa lodge and the hut which you could look into, Awaroa Glamping. They only have a couple of tents and were booked out when we tried to snag one on our dates. I read quite a few Tripadvisor reviews which sounded great, with access to a hot shower and the chance to have dinner cooked for you.
We did walk past what looked like a third glamping option but it doesn't appear in any google searches so we can't be sure. It was called something like Sheep Lodge, if you know about this one please get in touch so we can include it properly in this blog!
Difficulty & Elevation of the Abel Tasman Track
We believe this is the easiest of all the Great Walks of New Zealand. Although there are some hills to climb up, there are only a couple that exceed 100m (and they don't exceed it by much). The elevation at no point felt really steep and it's likely that the total elevation you'll do each day is about 300-400m maximum. When compared to the other Great Walks this is a flat hike.
We believe that anyone of average fitness can do the DOC recommended version of 4-5 days on the trail as the distances aren't too long either. If you add in a pack transfer, then you should have plenty of time each day to rest or do other things like kayaking or swimming at the beach.
The trek gets a little harder if you combine days. We combined the first and second of the DOC recommended route and by the end of the first day we did feel pretty exhausted! However, that was more because we hiked side trails and additional parts, making it nearly 30km of hiking that day.
Pack Transfers on the Abel Tasman Track
Now this is probably one of the most wonderful phrases in the English language, pack transfer. This is another of the many reasons this hike felt like a holiday to us, we didn't need to carry everything on our backs. If you think it's cheating, try it and then let us know : )
You can't quite manage a pack transfer for each leg but you can walk almost the entire track pack free.
The water taxi services can transfer your pack between Marahau and Anchorage hut, Anchorage hut and Bark Bay hut, Bark Bay hut and Awaroa Lodge (not the hut, you would need to collect your pack and head over to the hut at low tide to make the journey 30 minutes. The high tide track is much longer) and Awaroa Lodge and Marahau. If you stay at the lodge the hotel staff bring your pack from the beach to your room!
We used Aqua taxi and paid $16 per pack per transfer (we combined our belongings so only needed to use one backpack). The max weight per bag is 20kg. You drop your bag in at their office in Marahau and they will drop it at the various beaches along the way. You then drop your bag at the same spot on the beach the next day to be moved to your next accommodation. They let you know the times that your bag has to be on the beach by and the latest your pack will arrive so there are no surprises!
How to visit the cafe on the Abel Tasman Track
This is another treat that makes this hike even more luxurious. You will find the cafe between Bark Bay and Awaroa. It is run by the Awaroa Lodge but you don't need to be a guest to eat there. It serves pizza, salad (which are huuuuge!), wraps and beer, wine and coffee.
There are picnic tables and bean bags and almost everyone who hikes the trail seems to stop by for lunch or dinner. We tried the pizza and salad and both were great. We've heard they close the cafe in bad weather so you might want to check if the forecast is looking iffy for your hike.
It you are staying at Awaroa hut it wouldn't be a detour from the main trail if you are able to take the low tide trail (30 minutes from lodge to hut). It is before the hut, you turn off at the signpost on the main trail for the Awaroa lodge, we noted that if you have to take the high tide trail the sign post said it was still another one hour and 30 minutes further on and this wouldn't include the 20 minute track from the main trail to the cafe. If you don't want to walk too far after all that pizza make sure you check the tide times and plan accordingly.
If you are after something a little more fancy you can also eat at the main restaurant at the lodge for lunch or dinner. Personally having tried both I think the pizza cafe was tastier and better value!
Water taxis on the Abel Tasman Track
Several companies offer water taxi services on the track. We used Aqua Taxi but you could also try Abel Tasman Sea Shuttles or Marahau Water Taxis.
Aqua Taxi and Marahau Water Taxis operate out of Marahau, Abel Tasman Sea Shuttles operate from Kaiteriteri.
The time tables for the companies are here:
Prices for all the services seemed fairly standard so it will just be a case of which timetable and route suits you best.
Our water taxi had around 16 seats so you may want to book ahead of time if you have a fixed schedule in mind, though we did see people booking on very last minute and changing times when at the beach itself so it seemed fairly fluid.
Car Relocation Service on the Abel Tasman Track
If it suits your itinerary better to have your car transferred to either Marahau or Wanui Bay (depending on which direction you are hiking in) then you may prefer to use a car relocation service rather than a water taxi.
We were interested in this option as we planned to hike from Awaroa to Wanui Bay in one very long day. We were unable to use the water taxi transfer as they do not service Wanui Bay and if you looped back to Totaranui to pick up the water taxi the last service was at 3pm.
You are only able to cross the Awaroa Inlet two hours before low tide which for us was at 12.50pm rendering the route impossible. However as we were hiking following the terrible landslides caused by a recent cyclone the option of car relocation was not available to us either, due to slips on the road.
Assuming you are more lucky than us you could use the company which we spoke to, to transfer your car so it is waiting for you at the end of your hike. Trek Express offer the service for $275, more details can be found on their website.
Tides on the Abel Tasman Track
It would be remiss of us not to mention that it is CRUCIAL to check tide times on this track. It really affects the length of your hike each day as sometimes the low tide track will take 30 minutes and the high tide one hour and a half to walk.
However, where it is most imperative to know the low tide time is at Awaroa Inlet, which begins directly from Awaroa Hut. This can only be crossed at low tide (and up to two hours beforehand and afterwards), after that it is swimming territory and people who have attempted to cross at high tide have reported it is extremely scary. It's best to check the tide times before you book the track as Whariwarangi Bay is approximately 16km from the Inlet, so booking on a day where low tides are the middle of the night and in the afternoon could mean you arrive very late at the hut.
Current tide timetables can be seen at this link. Note that when we crossed the inlet one and a half hours before low tide there was still water up to our knees at points so I imagine this is never a completely dry crossing!
The low tide time will be particularly important to note if you are planning to merge any days together (which is quite common on this track as often the individual days are not too long) or if you have a water taxi booked from Totaranui.
Day Walks on the Abel Tasman Track
The beauty of this track if you prefer not to sleep on the trail is that the majority can be done as day walks, including (in our opinion) the most spectacular sections. You could also enjoy many of the unspoilt beaches as day trips too.
Using water taxi services you could try the following day walks:
Marahau to Anchorage - 12.4km
This pretty section of track is a fairly easy walk due to limited climbs and also passes several lovely beaches. It will give you a good look at the forest and many of those beautiful tree ferns. You could stop for a swim at several beaches, our favourite was Stillwell Bay, about halfway between Marahau and Anchorage.
You will also get to see one of the prettiest viewpoints on the trail, just before you reach Anchorage.
Anchorage to Bark Bay - 11.5km (if using the high tide trail)
Though you could shorten this walk to just 8.4km using the low tide track, we would recommend taking the high tide route. This was a particularly stunning stretch of trail and also allows you access to the popular swimming hole, Cleopatras Pool (20 minute return side track).
The high tide trail does begin with a steep climb but don't fear because it soon flattens out and becomes a relatively easy jaunt. You pass through some pretty forest with lovely freshwater pools. If you do turn off to visit Cleopatras Pool you'll be treated to a refreshing (read freezing) dip in a natural pool which has a small waterfall running into it. In the spirit of full disclosure we'll let on that we could only manage a paddle, that's what four years living in Australia will do to you!
The trail then winds around Torrent Bay giving you lots of ooow aaah moments as you watch kayakers paddle around the bay and the odd wader who braved the waist high low tide route a little too long after low tide! You will also walk through a small settlement which was quite interesting as we hadn't realised anyone lived in the national park itself. Just after the settlement is a beautiful beach which was a lovely spot to sit and relax or go for a dip in warmer water! When we passed by a family had just swum with over 40 sting rays and you could still see them glide by from the beach, which was a special experience just to watch, so I can't imagine how magical it felt to be out swimming with them.
Shortly after this beach you climb a hill to see what must be one of the most spectacular coastal views in New Zealand. In fact it reminded us of The Whitsundays in Australia, which we absolutely adore.
After that it's back into the forest but still hugging the coast with frequent views before you reach Bark Bay where you can take a water taxi back to the start.
If you made us choose this would be our favourite of the three day walks we recommend!
Bark Bay to Awaroa Bay - 10km
This is a lovely walk with the opportunity to also grab some lunch at the cafe or restaurant run by the Awaroa lodge.
You start the day with a fairly steep climb through a lovely section of forest with the most bird song we heard on any of the track sections. Your reward for all that effort first thing in the morning is an exquisite view over Onetahuti Bay. This is another of the best views in the entire national park. You soon head down to the glorious beach itself and it would be easy to while away the whole day here, in fact if you want more beach than hike you can do just that as the water taxis service this bay.
Assuming you want to hike on a little, after a paddle and some time spent watching the numerous oyster catchers, you head over the bridge and up into the forest once more. It's another climb but not so long and not so steep and before you know it you will come to a sign for the lodge and cafe. You'll find the cafe around 500m from the lodge and around 20 minutes down this trail.
After a spot of lunch and maybe a glass of wine or two you can take a short stroll to Awaroa Bay, your water taxi pick up point.
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