Hiking the Abel Tasman Trail

Preparing for the Trail

We returned to Nelson, where we stayed with our friend, Steve, for a couple of nights prior to setting off on the Abel Tasman Coastal Trail. The day before we were due to leave, we wandered around Pac n’ Save, the local supermarket, stocking up on supplies. Basket overflowing, we couldn’t believe just how much we would need for a four-day hike; Cheese, eggs, coleslaw, tomatoes, carrots, apples, almonds, crackers, bread rolls, Nutella, tortilla wraps, hummus, chocolate chip cookies, granola bars, a party mix bag of sweets and of course bottles of water all went in the basket. We certainly wouldn’t be going hungry! But would we be able to carry it all, along with our camping gear and everything else?!


We usually travel light, so Steve leant us a huge tramping bag. Into this, we packed our tent, roll mats, tarp, duvet and clothes. The other bag, a thirty-litre day pack, contained food, water and everything else. Although we had completed the Inca Trail in Peru a few years back, on that occasion we hadn’t had to carry our own gear. This would be different. Fully packed, the bags were barely manageable. We weren’t confident we would make it to the bus stop, let alone to the end of the 46.5 km trail!

Setting Off

On the long-awaited day, we set off at 7.15 am on the twenty-minute walk to the main road, where the bus was picking us up to take us to the trailhead. (Yes! We did make it to the bus stop with our fully-loaded packs!)

About an hour or so later, we were dropped at Marahau, the tiny village, where the trail started. We were surprised to find a café there, and decided to enjoy breakfast before hitting the trail. The café was cool with hippie vibes, and the delicious breakfasts went down a treat.

Adjusting to Trail Life

And then we were off! The trail wound itself around beautiful bays, glimpses of which we saw through the native trees. If it hadn’t been for the weight we were carrying, it would have been a walk in the park. The trail was fairly undulating, but Ku, not being accustomed to the weight was feeling pressure in certain areas after an hour or so. As the trail became increasingly challenging, the twinges disappeared, so it was probably just a case of physically adjusting to carrying the heavy pack.

Te Pukatea Campsite

Our First Camping Spot

We passed Tinline, Coquille, Appletree, Stillwell and Akerson Bays. 12.4 km after we started, we had a late lunch of cheese rolls on Anchorage Beach.We were just half an hour from our final destination for the day, Te Pukatea Bay, where we would be camping for the night.

Te Pukatea was a great choice of campsite. From our tent, we could see the golden sands and rocky headland of the small bay. There were cool rocks on either side of the beach, and the water was incredibly clear. We sat on the rocks, feet in the sea, enjoying the coolness of the water and watching a school of tiny fish. A small prawn-like creature nipped T on her big toe.

The day had started off overcast, but by the time we reached Te Pukatea, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. That night, we had the most amazing view of the Milky Way we had ever experienced, and fell asleep to the sound of the waves lapping at the beach.

View from the tent

Sunrise over the Tasmanian Sea

As we packed up the tent, the sun came up in spectacular style over the Tasman Sea. We left Te Pukatea at 8.00 am and were planning to cross the Torrent Bay Estuary. When we arrived, not only were we early for low tide, but it wasn’t very obvious as to where to cross. We therefore decided to take the high tide track trail which was a little hilly, but we took our time, had a breakfast stop and enjoyed the scenery.

Overlooking one of the many lovely bays

Again, we had glimpses of enticing beaches below. The vegetation was lush and we passed rocky waterfalls and crossed over small streams. Birds sang and sometimes flew alongside us! The weather was fine, just a little cooler than the previous day. The packs were already feeling lighter. We knew we would be able to obtain filtered water at the next two campsites, so we drank fairly freely.

Swing Bridges and Sandflies

Ku on the Swing Bridge

At Falls River, we crossed the first of two swing bridges. For obvious reasons decided not to visit Sandfly Bay! Having had only just recovered from our last assault from these mini Dracula’s when camping near Milford Sound. We knew we would be encountering them again at some point on the trail, but thought a visit to Sandfly Bay would be asking for trouble!

We made it to Bark Bay by lunch time, where we pitched up, had something to eat and sat on the beach for a while. It was a little chilly, so we retired to the tent early and read by torchlight.

Calm Waters

Turquoise Waters

Again, we left at 8.00 am and took the high tide track, rather than cross at Bark Bay Estuary. We didn’t want to hang around another couple of hours for low tide and it only took us about fifteen minutes longer to walk around the bay. We crossed our second swing bridge. Between Tonga Quarry and Onetahuti Bay, the trail looked down upon the most sublime turquoise water we had ever seen.

On the beach, we came across a dead albatross, its wings spread as though in flight. It was huge. We sat on the beach (not too close to the dead albatross!) for a break. Walking along the sand carrying a heavy pack was quite exhausting. Not the same as a barefoot stroll!

The beautiful turquoise water

A Disappointing Detour!

The trail then headed up and over to the large Awaroa Inlet. It was toughest climb yet. As the trail levelled out, we spotted a sign for Awaroa Eco Lodge. Offering open sandwiches and all sorts of delicious food, we were tempted enough to go off trail and find the remote lodge. After a detour of about half an hour, we arrived, only to discover they weren’t serving food! We settled for a coffee and a coke, and headed back to re-join the trail.

Another stunning view

We eventually hit Awaroa Inlet, and continued to walk along the sand until we came to our campground at around 2.30 pm. After pitching up, we tucked into cheese and tomato tortilla wraps, followed by chocolate chip cookies for dessert. We had found ourselves a nice sunny spot and spent the afternoon recovering from our 15km walk (including detour) and fighting off sandflies.

On the Trail

Crossing Awaroa Inlet

Awaroa Inlet was the only place on the trail that didn’t have a high tide track, so we had to wait for the tide to withdraw before we could cross. At about 12.00 pm, we walked across the wide stretch of sand to the water and prepared ourselves by taking off our hiking boots and socks. We waded into the unknown, knee deep, the tiny shells hidden in the sand, sharp against our feet. We made it to the other side in about twenty minutes or so, and then trudged through a mud-like substance into which we could feel ourselves sinking if we lingered a second too long.

Awaroa Inlet

The Last Leg

The trail continued through the bush and was fairly level, coming out at Waiharakeke Bay, where we walked along yet another perfect golden sand beach. The final beach we hit was the lengthy Goat Bay, where we passed interesting rocks and native sea birds

The last leg was over the hill to Totaranni, our final destination. As is often the case, the last part was the toughest. Due to erosion, a lower track had been closed and we were forced to take a more elevated route. A series of seemingly neverending steep slopes took us to the summit and finally down again into Totaranni Bay. 

Backpack-free and enjoying a stroll along beach!

The End of the Trail

We had completed the Abel Tasman Trail without any rain, injuries or mishaps! With one more night in the tent before being picked up the following morning, and had just enough food left! We pitched up on a large patch of grass and were soon surrounded by Weka birds who were extremely inquisitive and checked out our belongings thoroughly!

The beauty of the trail certainly lived up to expectations. Although it was only a few days, it was wonderful to escape from traffic and technology for a short while. Being in nature gives a sense of peace and detachment which is impossible to find in everyday life, and the Abel Tasman Trail provided nature and beauty in abundance

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  1. Great trail and a well documented hike. Well done!

  2. Thanks for the escapism! I’d love to hike this beautiful trail.

  3. Thanks so much. And you must do it, if you get the opportunity.

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