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If you're reading this, you've probably got a bunch of questions about 'how and where do I explore in New Zealand?'. That’s because it truly is a magical place that has something for everyone – there’s a reason it’s often referred to as “The adventure travel capital of the world!”. So if it’s adventures you’re after, I think I know of a place that might just make your feet that little bit itchier.
Abel Tasman might be New Zealand’s smallest National Park, but it quite possibly has the most 'must-see views’ of any National Park that I’ve experienced while exploring the New Zealand outdoors. You can walk along majestic beaches, almost impossible to describe, but sure to leave you with incredible memories and a longing to return someday. Full of incredible New Zealand bush, with beautiful fauna such as the iconic silver fern, brushing passed you as you walk, the Park really has everything. My favorite moments on the trail there are coming across a break in the forest canopy, as it opens to wild views and then on to bays upon bays of beautiful coastline sprawled out beneath you. For any adventure-seeking tourist, it's a warm welcome to some of New Zealand's finest offerings of nature.
With that being said, how about I share with you my 5 top reasons why the Abel Tasman should be at the top of your list, for places to see and visit in New Zealand.
We're so fortunate here to be literally spoilt with the sheer amount of tramping (Kiwi for hiking) opportunities to do. With little or no harmful critters, it happens to be one of the safest places to go hiking in the world; none of those slippery snakes or poisonous spiders like our Aussie neighbors. With over 3,000km’s of hiking trails available, we have 9 in particular that the nation has designated as 'Great Walks.' The Abel Tasman National Park just so happens to play host to one of them called, The Abel Tasman Coastal Track. I had the pleasure of not only walking this track several times but also working there as a Ranger for the Department of Conservation. With that experience, I can simply say it's not necessary to walk the entire 60km track to experience the true beauty of the place. Convenient access at both ends means easy-going day hikes are more than achievable, enabling you to find incredible settings and golden sands within easy walking distances. Sweet as!
As well as being an explorer's paradise, the Park is a protected nature reserve, meaning there are restrictions on fishing and hunting in order to preserve what has become, an abundance of native wildlife in the area. It's not uncommon to see species of dolphins from the shorelines and even the fascinating Orca. If you're a keen bird enthusiast, then the Abel Tasman is a perfect spot to see an array of birds up close. Us kiwis have gone to great lengths to protect our native birds, with many of them being flightless, they are mainly at risk to non-native predators. With conservation initiatives and the good sorts at the Department of Conservation, the Islands in the Park are now declared as 'pest-free,' meaning you've got a great chance of seeing those unique species of New Zealand birds, in particular, the iconic national symbol; the Kiwi.
Plodding on for km’s on end isn’t for everyone, which is why this incredible setting is one of my favorites and sits apart from other famous walks around the country since you can experience it by water! Kayaking and boating are definite means of doing so, for some of the more isolated bays can only be accessed by water; more reason to don a paddle and jump in a kayak. Another way you can reach these picture-perfect settings is by taking a Water Taxi... straight to them! At this point, your ears are probably tingling with excitement and your feet that bit itchier, but it's all very true. Water Taxies operate throughout the year to provide transport to and from points along the track. With much of the trail water-accessible, you can pretty much get dropped off anywhere you want! With no roads meaning no cars, it’s just you and nature at it’s very best.
The location couldn’t be more perfect. Situated on the Northern tip of the South Island, this particular area happens to have the most sunlight hours, as well as one of the mildest climates in the whole of New Zealand, enabling comfortable vacations year-round. Sweet! For this reason, many choose to go against the status-quo and visit in the off-season, which could be suitable for you. Generally, from March to October, there are fewer tourists dwelling on the trail. However, although the weather is much more forgiving in this region than other parts of the country during the off-season, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. To increase your odds and a more likely chance of experiencing those blue-bird days, I’d recommend the summer season. Have a look at the weather averages for the region.
Imagine yourself immersed in the magic of the Abel Tasman Track – hiking through luscious native forest, seeking and finding golden sandy beaches that meet crystal blue waters and deep blue skies. After a day packed with adventure and exploring, you’re met with a well-earned, cold kiwi beer, glass of wine or a simple cup of tea with nibbles and food prepared for you while enjoying New Zealand perfection; now we're talking... Glamping unites both the comforts you might expect in a hotel, with the ambiance and surroundings of wild-camping, giving you the combination of nature and comfort that no other accommodation can. Sleeping comfortably, under the clear starry skies, whilst listening to the sounds of the waves rolling in on the nearby Tasman shores; it sure sounds a little too good to be true, but this time, it really is true. With 'Glamping' options available on some of the most iconic parts of the track including Awaroa, Torrent Bay and Anchorage, you’ll have a night’s sleep worthy of telling your friends/family back home about.
Not so experienced out on the trail? Want a more personalized experience whilst exploring this stretch of coast packed with extra knowledge and even a secret gem or two? Guided-walk options are readily available to experience the Abel Tasman the right way. We Kiwis know we’re onto a good thing here in the Park and I can guarantee there are a few places and secret spots that only the local guides know of that you might otherwise miss discovering and explore during your short time here.
Now of course by now you're thinking, 'If there's 60 km of track to cover, where are the best parts?'. That's always going to be a subjective topic for sure, and with the many bays and beaches stretching along this coast, you'll find yourself at a loss to pick out the best. I've had difficulty figuring this out myself, but with a few visits to this coastline under my belt, I've slowly been able to figure out some personal favorites which I'd like to share with you:
Anapai Bay: Located at the Northern end of the track, I can’t think of much better spots to enjoy swimming in the pristine waters of the Tasman Coast. Fantastic golden sand backing onto thick, lush beech forest, it’s a spot that can be easily accessed by water transport if you don’t fancy the long walk in from the Northern end.
Stillwell Bay: Just 7km in from the Marahau entrance to the track, you’ll find this detour via a steep down-hill signed trail, leading into Stillwell Bay, one of my personal favorites. Each time I have walked the trail, I’ve stopped here for a light snack and rest to enjoy incredible sunrises, as well as stunning views out to Adele Island.
Sandfly Bay: My favorite. A 200m detour will give you more than a rewarding view of one of the spectacular 'lagoons' found here on the Tasman coast. Perched on house-size boulders, you'll have waves swirling at your feet at high-tide, yet, a picturesque setting for a well-earned swim at low-tide.
Anchorage: If there is anywhere on the track I would want to spend the night, it's definitely at Anchorage. With countless bays and the renowned 'watering cove' nearby, a night immersed in the surrounding of this stretch of coastline will be one to remember.
Shag’s Harbour: The best-kept secret. Shags harbor can only be accessed by kayak. I personally delved into a 6-hour return kayak from Totaranui to reach here once; I don't regret it one bit. A narrow entranceway can be easily missed, but once through it, a serene setting and crystal-clear waters lay on the other side. Here I swam with seal pups that actually jumped onto my kayak when I began to leave!
What I’m trying to say is that if you're ever in New Zealand, then this really is a must-do. With comforting logistic measures, incredible nature, iconic scenes and a variety of options to flavor your own personal adventuring preferences, your experience in the Abel Tasman will entail some of New Zealand's most exquisite, contributions of nature, that are both humbling and rewarding.
Rest assured, with its golden sandy coves, sparkling blue waters and pristine forests, the hardest things you’ll experience is saying goodbye.