It doesn’t take long to see why people fall in love with New Zealand. There is literally something for everyone. It was always the snow-capped peaks that took my breath away, preferring to stick to the bottom of the South Island where mountain ranges are a plenty. But my brother and I decided to trade the snow for the sand in June and head to the Tasman Region in the north west of the South Island to do the 51 km Abel Tasman Coast Track.
The Abel Tasman National Park is the smallest in New Zealand, but also the most popular, attracting some 700 walkers a day in Summer. A fellow tramper said the track was somewhat like a conveyer belt of hikers in Summer, needless to say we were happy we had chosen Winter to hit this track. Don’t let Winter put you off either, it’s still relatively mild and we rarely saw more than a dozen other walkers each day. The coastal track is scattered with 19 campsites and 4 huts. There were plenty of times we stopped along the way saying how amazing it would be to camp here or there. Camping is only $14 per night as well, and gives you a lot more freedom in regards to how many k’s you walk per day.
The track is one way and can be started at either Marahau or Wainui. We opted to start at Marahau which is only 20 minutes from Motueka, where you can stock up on food and fuel for the track. Either end does have a carpark though, so it doesn’t really matter where you begin.
Packing our bags under the shelter at the beginning of the track the weather was pretty dismal. I’m sure the views would have been stunning, but alas we would not be seeing them on this particular day. It’s only a short 12.4 km to the first hut and campsite – Anchorage. The track is really easy going, and follows the coastline the whole way until it ventures out to the point at Anchorage. Walking down into the bay, we spotted houses nestled in the forest, surely owned by the rich and the famous.
The rain was relentless all day so we quickly set our tent up and then retreated to the hut, after the hut warden assumingly took pity on us. He asked us if we wanted to upgrade, but alas we were budget travellers for this walk and the campground had a covered kitchen area which we made claim to, so it wasn’t all bad.
Later that night we went exploring at the advice of a kayak guide who said that there was a cave on the beach full of glow worms, only accessible at low tide. Walking to the end of the beach it didn’t take us long to find the cave. Trippy green worms glowed in the cave, it was pretty unreal but that was only the beginning of it. Walking back along the beach someone noticed our foot prints were glowing on the sand. Literally glowing for seconds after each step! But the magic continued – the crashing waves were also lit up, sort of like the moon was shining on them, but there was no moon in sky. It was unreal! The glowing footprints and waves are caused by bioluminescent phytoplankton, that slowly release energy in the form of light. I’d never seen anything like it before, but apparently it’s quite common in New Zealand, a highlight nonetheless.
An early start the next morning ensued. We had a tidal crossing across Torrent Bay and 22 k’s to cover to reach Awaroa. It was a beautiful morning, sun was out, warm weather and superb surroundings. Heading from Anchorage towards Bark Bay we followed a mostly inland forest track. Just before reaching Bark Bay we crossed a huge suspension bridge and before we knew it we’d reached the hut. We sat down on the balcony to a fine dining brunch experience of mi goreng and cheese whilst watching the tide engulf Bark Bay. If this isn’t living, then I don’t know what is. Before we knew it almost 2 hours had passed and we figured it was probably wise to get a wriggle on. After all, we still had 13.5 km to Awaroa. The beaches along this stretch are stunning and I would highly recommend stopping for lunch and/or camping at Tonga Quarry and Onetahuti Bay.
The final section to Awaroa is like reaching multiple false summits. Maybe it was the combination of a long day and delirium but it felt never-ending as we descended into Awaroa Inlet. We could see the houses scattered on the coastline, raising our hopes that we were close. Upon reaching the inlet however, we had to walk around the bay at high tide. It was no easy feat and the water was freezing! Sheamus could only laugh at my pitiful struggle, I was reduced.
We quickly set up the tent, so that it might dry a little in the setting sunlight and then ventured over to check out Awaroa Hut. It’s beautifully situated on the bay, and watching the setting sun was magical. I’m not sure what it was about us, maybe we looked a little ragged and reduced, but the ranger offered us a place in the hut for the night because there were only three other people booked in. Sure we said! Screw the tent, I’ll take a night in the relative luxury of a DOC hut over a tent any day, and plus it fit our budget (free). The fire master managed to get the fire going and a comfy night’s sleep in the hut was had.
The next day we continued on to Mutton Cove, a campsite on the beach front which I had read was the best on the Abel Tasman. We had only 12 or so kilometres to cover so after having a bit of a sleep in we dawdled across the tidal crossing at Awaroa and soaked up what the morning had to offer. It was a cracker of a day with blue skies all round. We’d hit the jackpot. This was probably my favourite day and as I just couldn’t get over how beautiful the New Zealand coastline is. Being a Queenslander I thought I’d seen the best, but alas New Zealand is something else.
We walked along one beautiful beach after another, passing through Goat Bay, Totaranui, Anapai Bay and finally Mutton Cove. Every campsite we came across we noted how awesome it would be to camp at. This section between Awaroa and Whariwhangi is scattered with campsites which are so much more secluded than the huts. Except for Totaranui, which is a huge camp area with parking, a visitor centre and phone, you can even leave the track from this point if the whole route is not for you. We didn’t see another soul though, the perks of walking in Winter.
It was such a nice day, really easy going and I can’t recommend stopping at Mutton Cove enough. There is room for a dozen or so tents, fire pits and a toilet and the grassy patch overlooking the ocean is stunning. We even went for a swim before the sun had disappeared behind the hills, set up the hammock, spotted a couple of fur seals and tucked into our palatable backcountry meals (mmm).
After a peaceful night at Mutton Cove, we only had a cruisy 10 k’s to go, and our shuttle wasn’t arriving until 11am. It’s a fairly short stroll to Whariwharangi hut and then up and over a hill, with views of Wainui Bay before you reach the carpark. We came across a couple of trail runners, but apart from that didn’t see anyone else all morning.
Overall the Abel Tasman was an awesome 3-day track. I definitely wouldn’t do it in any less than 3 days, as it is nice to have a bit of extra time in the morning and arvos to soak up the sun and enjoy the serenity. The camping fees are cheap as compared to the huts and probably aren’t as overcrowded as the huts in Summer. It’s such a beautiful part of the South Island, and is well worth a visit.