Abel Tasman National Park is in the Nelson Bays region of the South Island of New Zealand, between Golden Bay and Tasman Bay. Understand : Located in the Tasman District on the northern tip of the South Island. The park is closed to vehicles, and access is either on foot (from one of the various carparks mentioned below) or by boat, or if you’ve got money to spend it is possible to charter a helicopter or small plane (Awaroa only). Some of the land in the park is privately owned – mainly in Awaroa Bay and Torrent Bay. It is important to remember this when visiting the park – the locals are friendly but they don’t want loads of travellers walking through their backyards all the time! However these areas are clearly marked so you shouldn’t have any problems.
History : Abel Tasman, a Dutch explorer, was the first European to visit New Zealand, and he anchored in Golden Bay on 18 December 1642. He encountered the native Maori people there, who attacked the foreign intruders. Tasman sailed on up the west coast of the North Island, avoiding further contact with native New Zealanders.
Around 1855, more Europeans began to arrive and permanent settlements began to spring up. These settlements began to pillage the land’s resources – logging for homes and ships, mining of granite, and creation of pasture through burning. The park, created out of protest due to concerns about heavy logging in the area, was officially opened on 18 December 1942, exactly 300 years after Abel Tasman’s visit. The initial grant was 15,000 hectares of government land and the park has since grown to over 22,000 hectares, though it is still New Zealand’s smallest national park.
Landscape : The most notable feature of the park are its beaches. The golden sands bring many visitors, some for just a day, others for overnight trips. However, moving away from the beaches and inland, the park is mountainous and rough.
Some areas of the park are very tidal. Watch out in particular for the estuaries at Torrent Bay and Awaroa – these can drain almost completely at low tide! So be aware of this before anchoring your boat in some places. In fact, at low tide it is possible to walk from Torrent Bay to Anchorage by walking across the empty estuary – this takes about 25 minutes, whereas the track around the outside of the estuary takes closer to 2 hours. Some beaches also have unusual sand bars – if in doubt, don’t go too close to shore in your boat, or you might run aground unexpectedly!
Flora and fauna : Much of the nature vegetation was destroyed by the area’s early inhabitants, but the park is now slowly renewing itself. All four species of New Zealand beech trees (Nothofagus) grow in the park, an unusual find. Wildlife consists mostly of avian life, but rare birds such as the kiwi are not present. Other wildlife, such as the blue penguin, can be found in the more isolated areas of the park now that their population have begun to dwindle. You can still see (and hear!) lots of birds – keep an eye out for wood pigeons, tuis (you will definitely hear these even if you don’t see them), bellbirds, wekas (rare flightless birds), pukekos, oystercatchers (by the sea) and cormorants.
Much of New Zealand’s native wildlife is under attack by introduced species and the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) are trying desperately to halt these attacks. Stoats, a relative of the ferret, were introduced into New Zealand to control rabbits in the 1880s. However, those stoats, then and today, prefer the native animal populations such as the blue penguins over rabbits or their other “normal” prey.
When exploring Abel Tasman or any other national park, you may see traps for introduced species such as the stoat or the possum. Please do not disturb these efforts to maintain New Zealand’s natural wildlife.
Access : Coordinates: -40.833333, 172.9 / By car : There are four carpark entrances to the park. From here, you walk into the park. Marahau. The southern entrance, 67 km on a sealed road from Nelson. Wainui. 21 km from Takaka. The road is sealed for all but the final 2 km. Totaranui. 32 km from Takaka. The road is sealed for all but the final 13 km.
Awaroa. 31 km from Takaka. The road is sealed for all but the rough, final 12 km. This road has two fords which are susceptible to flooding.
By boat : Most companies depart from Marahau or Kaiteriteri going to the main beaches of the park. Wilsons Abel Tasman , Either Vista Cruise – comfort, speed, environmentally friendly – or Vigour Water Taxi – the adventurer’s choice. Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi. Sailing from Marahau for $25 to $50.
Fees and permits : There are no fees to enter the park.
Get around : Wilsons Abel Tasman, Water transfers in style and comfort / Cruise & Walk (guided or unguided) Guided Kayak & Walk / Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi. Hut-to-hut pack transfers for $8-12 depending on weight.
- Seals. Fur seals can be seen in a number of places in the park and there is a large colony at Tonga Island. Do not get closer than 20 metres of the seals.
Tonga Island Marine Reserve. Approach on foot. Start from Awaroa Hut toward Venture Creek and then over Tonga Saddle to Onetahuti Beach. If coming from the carpark at Tonga Quarry, a low tide crossing is required.
- Totaranui beach : Totaranui beach It is located in Abel Tasman National Park toward the northern end of the Abel Tasman Track and is often used as a starting or finishing point for short hikes to Anapai Bay or to Goat Bay.
Approach by sea. The nearest boat ramp is at Totaranui and caution should be used due to unmarked reefs as well as strong winds.
By bus or hired boat. Consult the visitor centers in Motueka, Takaka, or Nelson.
- Cleopatra’s Pool. This is a beautiful rock pool with a natural, moss-lined waterslide! It is about 1 hour’s walk from Torrent Bay and from Anchorage. If you follow the high tide track between these two places, you will eventually reach the turn-off to Cleopatra’s. A couple of things to be aware of – firstly, the track to the pool crosses the river (there’s no bridge, you have to hop across a few rocks), so if it has been raining over the last couple of days, it can be quite dangerous to cross. Secondly, the bottom of the ‘waterslide’ sometimes has a few hidden rocks – check it and clear away any big rocks before using the slide.
- Falls River bridge. An impressive footbridge which crosses the Falls River. It is on the track between Bark Bay and Torrent Bay.
- Cascade Falls. A beautiful waterfall hidden in among stunning bush. The river, while cold, is also a good spot to cool off. Cascade Falls is located about 1½ hours walk from Torrent Bay. This is one of the more difficult tracks as it is quite steep in parts, but it is definitely worth the hike! Set out from Torrent Bay on the High Tide track to Anchorage and follow the signs – the turnoff to Cascade Falls is approximately 15 minutes from the Torrent Bay campsite.
Activities : Abel Tasman Coast Track. A 51 km walking track that is one of the Department of Conservation’s Great Walks./ Hunting. This is allowed in 2 sections of the park / Mountain biking / Swim. The beaches are safe / kayaking / Guided sea kayak tours from half-day to five days. / guided walking tours. / No horse riding. This is not allowed in the park.
Go next : Kaiteriteri. / Marahau. / Takaka. / Kahurangi National Park / Nelson if you want some urban excitement and culture