Hiking in Abel Tasman, New Zealand

Abel Tasman National Park is located approximately 450km North of Christchurch, New Zealand. It is a fantastically scenic and untouched coastal reserve that services tourists from all over the world. The entire coastal track takes up to 5-nights to complete and although Chris and I knew we didn’t have enough time to walk the whole track, we decided it would be a wonderful place to explore and to spend a few days in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

After many hours of preparing for the trip; such as organising food, a tent, sleeping gear, wet-weather gear, packs, cooking equipment and various tenting permits for along the track, we were finally ready to set off. At about 8am in the morning we jumped in a little convertible and began the 5 and-a-half hour drive to Abel Tasman. We had checked the weather forecast earlier and it looked like we may encounter some colder and wetter-than-usual weather for the time of year, but we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.

About an hour and a half North of Christchurch is a tourist resort called Hanmer Springs. Here they have thermal hot pools in a picturesque alpine village. We decided to stop here on our way up the country to have a soak and a picnic lunch. I loved the little village and would highly recommend a stop there if you are ever in the area. After lunch and a lovely soak in the boiling sulphur pools, we were ready to head back onto the road to make sure we arrived at our destination before night-fall.

After a long drive through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, we arrived in Motueka to stock-up on some more food and fuel for the car. I especially enjoy the Lewis Pass and The Nelson Lakes National Park (mountains and native bush that looks like it’s straight out of the prehistoric ages). We hit the road again and shortly arrived in Marahau and more specifically, a quaint little camping ground called Old MacDonalds Farm ,which was a short walk from the trail-head.

We found a nice spot to set up our tent and were relieved to find well-maintained showers and toilets – we knew we would miss these basic amenities as soon as we set out on the trek. Once camp was set up we decided to take a short drive over the hill to Kaiteriteri; a cute beach resort with golden sands. This was the first time I had been to New Zealand so she took her time soaking in the beautiful scenery. We scrambled around some rocks and went exploring amongst tide-pools until we sat and watched the sunset together. As the light began to fade we set off back to base, cooked up some dinner on our little camp burner and then tucked in for the night, ready for a big day ahead.

Bright and early, we savoured our last shower and packed away our tent and equipment. After leaving our car in a secure parking area we made our way to the trail head to start our journey together.

Note must be made here of the vicious sand flies! In this area of New Zealand they are particularly big and nasty and can quickly ruin your day. We had already purchased some expensive repellant but it wasn’t doing the trick. Luckily, at Old MacDonaldas farm, we bought their homemade recipe which consisted of Detol and baby oil. This worked a treat but absolutely stunk. The smell reminded me of when I was a kid and scraped my knee!

Ready to begin!
Ready to begin!

Our journey had begun, laden down with our hiking packs and equipped with smiles ear-to-ear. The weather was beautiful and the serene ocean, a pale shade of turquoise, sparkled in the morning sun. The coastal trail crept up and along the hills, directly overlooking the ocean and the bright yellow sands below. It was very well maintained and we made quick progress, grabbing a photo or two along the way and the nice one below, taken by a cute old couple whom we managed to pass at least five times – no idea how they kept getting in front of us!

Day one on the walk
Day one on the walk

Over the course of a few hours there were many stunning beaches to walk down and explore but we had heard great things from a friend of mine about one called Stilwell Bay. It would be a total understatement to say that this beach did not disappoint. We broke the relative shade of the tree line and stepped out into the sunshine which bounced and ricocheted off the perfectly still water. As we approached the beach, it reminded me of the movie ‘The Beach’ when Richard, played by Leonardo DiCaprio discovers ‘The Beach’ for the first time. It really was beautiful and our pictures don’t do it justice.

The beach itself only had a few other trekkers on it and a couple of small boats that were out in the water pulling water-skiers about. After exploring a cave and the nearby rock formations we headed back onto the trail, soon to be drenched by a short-lived downfall of rain. This would be the only nasty weather we would encounter.

Ash discovers Stilwell bay
Ash discovers Stilwell bay
Striking a pose
Striking a pose at Stilwell Bay

By the time we made it to Anchorage we had worked up a huge appetite and wanted to get warm and dry as soon as possible. The sky had completely cleared by now so we set up tent in a clearing of trees, alongside a few other campers. Like most of the National Park, this campsite looked out over another stunning beach, so as dusk settled we meandered along it, picking through shells and stones and admiring the peaceful surroundings we were now truly emersed in.

Day two of our journey on the track saw us break camp bright and early and hit the road with a spring in our step. I was slightly concerned as I didn’t think we had brought enough food with us, not helped by the massive food envy that overcame us when we saw what the other nearby campers were cooking up! Our goal was to reach Torrent Bay and then further along to Bark Bay to set our next camp for the night.

We both knew we could take a massive short-cut across an estuary if we left at low-tide but I had heard great things about a spot in the bush called Cleopatra’s Pools. This was about an hour to the West of our destination and not exactly on the way; but because we had left our camp site so early I figured we had ample time to see it. After trekking though the bush for an hour or so, we made it up a valley and arrived at the beautiful pools. With the day heating up and not having had a shower in over a day, I decided to jump in the ice-cold water. After a (very) brisk dip, Chris jumped out and taunted me to do the same. A few minutes later we were both sitting on a rock shivering, but at least a little cleaner and better smelling for it!

We headed back down the valley towards the main track and from there we set off towards Torrent Bay again. About an hour down the track we happened upon a slight clearing in the bush and a small drop down to the estuary below us. We still had plenty of time before the tide would came in, and knew that if we crossed it we would cut some time off our journey.We clambered down the rock-face and set foot onto the estuary, which stretched as far as the eye could see. It was like walking on quick-sand made out of millions of sea-shells and dead crabs. Here my shoes started to got soaked, so we both took ours off and made it to the small Torrent Bay settlement barefoot.

We stopped for lunch and decided to spend a while on the nearby Torrent Bay Beach. This was incredibly beautiful, just like the rest of the National Park and we particularly enjoyed wading out into the water, towards a small sand-bar which we claimed as our own. Half an hour or so later, a shocker sunburn on our backs and some great pictures, we headed back to the beach (so that we weren’t stranded by the rising tide) and then back onto our path.

Ash on the estuary
Ash on the estuary

From here I decided to walk barefoot for the rest of the way as my shoes were soaked and filled with sand – not ideal! For a couple more hours we trekked through the bush, passing water-falls, Tui’s (a native bird) and large banks of silver ferns (the New Zealand national icon). We finally reached the Bark Bay campsite, pitched our tent and ate another meal. By this stage we were feeling a little worse for wear so we found a secluded part of the beach, walked out chest-deep into the water with a bar of soap and scrubbed away the layers of dust and grime.

This gave us renewed vigour so we decided to take our headlamps and go for a small bush walk in search of glow-worms; something I was determined to find. As the sun began to sink below the hills we headed back towards our campsite. When the light disappeared completely we switched on our headlamps and went delving into any cracks and crevices that may have harboured glow worms. Unfortunately we had no luck so we made it back to our tent and settled in for our last night on the trail.

In the morning we cooked up the last of our food, packed up our tent and waited a couple hours for our water taxi to arrive. As the little boat pulled up to Bark Bay beach, we walked out into the water, clambered aboard and enjoyed the spectacular view as the boat sped along the coastline, back towards Marahau. As the motor boat pulled into the bay, a tractor sat, waiting to pick up our boat and pull it onto the main road and back to the taxi office. From here we walked to Old MacDonalds Farm, stashed our gear in the boot of the car and drove back over the hill to Kaiteriteri again, to fuel up the car in preparation for our long drive back to my hometown of Christchurch.

I couldn’t recommend Abel Tasman National Park enough, it was a wonderful experience that I will always cherish.

If you are thinking of heading to this part of the world then make sure you fully prepare for the walk, pack more food and water than you think you will need, bring ample warm and wet-weather gear as the New Zealand climate can switch in an instant, and make sure you book campsites in advance and take all your rubbish out with you.

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