Great Walking: The Abel Tasman Coastal Track

Shade Chasing

April school holidays including Easter and ANZAC Day inspired us to get away on a decent adventure, and after a good friend sighed on Facebook about how awesome a Ranger Expedition to the Abel Tasman looked, we had found our plan.
We opted to go lush, and spend three nights across two huts, allowing for relaxation or exploration, whichever we felt up to at the time, as a way to break up the required 20km of walking over two days.
Our friend sadly had to cancel at short notice as her work refused her leave, and we were sad to not have her and her kids with us.
The climbs were bigger than I remembered, and we spent a lot less time walking on a beach than I remembered, but we also had amazing weather, just as we had hoped. Warm and sparkling clear skies with no rain, and not too hot (but warm enough to opt for shade when resting).

The Track

The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is a Great Walk, with huts and campsites requiring booking in advance, year-round. In the height of the season, bookings can sell out on opening day, so you need to plan well ahead. Some huts have solar lighting and flush toilets, but you need to carry your own cooker. In the summer there will be a warden on site, and the summer season for wardens runs from October to April.
When planning your tramp, it is absolutely essential to consider the tide times. While most parts of the track have high-tide alternatives, if you are walking between Totaranui and Awaroa, you will have a compulsory tidal crossing, which is only passable within 2 hours of low tide, and within daylight hours.

Day 1 (Marahau – Bark Bay)

Since we had planned to have three under-10s with us, we took the easy option and were dropped by water taxi at Bark Bay Hut. If we had managed to find in advance the information that the water taxi we used also offered bag portage, we would have arranged for our bags to be dropped there while we were dropped further up the coast at Onetahuti Beach.
Instead, we were dropped at the far corner of Bark Bay, with a wet-foot landing on to the beach. Our poorly packed bags were hefted on to shoulders and we trekked (bare foot) across the sand, and around the estuary to the hut, which is hidden in a scrim of trees.
We grabbed lower bunks on one platform, had some lunch, and then wandered off exploring to find a swing bridge at the head of the estuary. Later in the afternoon, we wandered on to the now drained estuary, making it all the way across the low-tide crossing with dry clothes.
Eating dinner outside at a picnic table with a couple of curious weka for company was lovely. We then retreated indoors to socialise with our lovely (heavily kiwi) fellow guests, and put Mr 6 to bed.

Day 2 (Bark Bay – Anchorage)

Our timing for the low tide crossing was forecast to be perfect (we’d booked this way around and these exact dates because of the tide times), so we had a cruisy breakfast and re-pack before wandering off, knowing we had plenty of time to get to Torrent Estuary at about lunchtime.
There is one really solid climb on this day, but Mr6 flew up it. The walk was otherwise straightforward, with some sections enjoying excellent shade, and others offering up expansive views. We had to rush our way down to Torrent Bay Village as Mr6 urgently needed the bathroom, but once there, we luxuriated in a long picnic lunch stop at the wharf, watching the water recede.
Across the estuary in our boots (because the sand is full of sharp shell fragments), we were up and over the rise and on to Anchorage beach in the very early afternoon. We settled in to a bunk room, set our food out in the kitchen, put our boots in the sunshine to dry and went out to the beach for a paddle and swim. The water was refreshingly cool.

Day 3 (Anchorage and surrounds)

Mr6 decided this morning that he was going to sweep the decks of the hut to get rid of all the sand. So that kept him occupied for a good chunk of time before we headed for a walk out to Pitt Head. I actually don’t recommend this walk as the views are average.
After lunch back in the hut, we headed out again, this time for Cleopatras Pools. We thought we might be able to walk down the estuary to get there, but weren’t keen to risk that being wrong, so took the high tide track there. The Pools were too deep in both shadow and water flow to consider getting in for a swim, and we opted to walk in the estuary back to the hut.
Another relaxing evening at the hut, watching a gorgeous sunset. Highly recommend a “rest” day at Anchorage, it’s a great place to chill out.

Day 4 (Anchorage – Marahau)

Unless you are stopping along the way to camp an extra night, this is always going to be a long day. We half-heartedly debated using the free wifi at the hut to book ourselves a water taxi back to Marahau, as the “rest” day the day before hadn’t actually been so restful.
The day starts with a climb. And it’s a good one. I remember this one being brutal, and it definitely lived up to memory. Mr6 struggled, but eventually made it.
There are two great things about this section of the track when walking out. One is that there are plenty of campsites and coves you can drop down into for a rest, a picnic table, or a toilet break. The other is that at regular intervals there are numbered markers that count down to the park entrance. Hunting out the next number was all that kept us moving for certain intervals of the day.
If the tide is low, I heartily recommend dropping out onto Sandy Bay the first opportunity you get, and crossing direct to the bridges (which you may need to clamber up to to get across the stream), as the last bit of the track undulates, which is hard work on tired bodies.

Getting There

We opted to take the ferry to Picton and drive across to Marahau, stopping for a couple of nights at the Top 10 Motueka on the way. Flights and a bus would have been a similar price, but we would have needed to find somewhere to leave extra gear, and probably to have paid for extra bags, given our other holiday plans after the tramp.
This isn’t a loop track, so chances are you’re going to want a water taxi either in or back. If you park at Marahau, you can walk on or off the track direct to your vehicle, and there is a designated long-term car park. There are several firms who offer such services, and I recommend querying with them bag portage, as most don’t mention it on their websites.
To finish our stay, we treated ourselves to a night at Kaiteriteri Recreation Reserve Campground in one of their cabins. A generous sized room, and a fantastic restaurant are complemented by an amazing beach and a useful convenience store.

Final Thoughts

This track is beautiful, even on a third or fourth visit. For a future visit, we would like to do the section of track north of Bark Bay Hut, including maybe all the way around the top through Whariwharangi Bay to Wainui.
If you like solitude, you may be lucky and find some here, but you are more likely to be dismayed at the large crowds – even in the shoulder season. The weather can be mild in mid-winter, so for peace, I’d recommend then.

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