Abel Tasman National Park may be New Zealand's smallest national park, but it's also one of the most beautiful places in the country. Home to one of New Zealand's Great Walks, the national park boasts white sand, secluded coves and the occasional waterfall, all nestled in lush, green bush.
Many of the park's visitors are here for day trips, spending their time doing a short section of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track or just relaxing at a tiny bay. However, there's also a range of accommodation options available if you want to stay longer or overnight. There's also a variety of outdoor activities to keep you busy, including kayaking between the bays and swimming in the clear water.
Being so close to nature is a peaceful experience and the scenery at the park is truly stunning. On a sunny day, the water in the little bays is so clear you can see down to the sandy bottom. Whatever you do at the park, your adventures at Abel Tasman National Park will be one of the highlights of your travels in New Zealand.
Most visitors to the national park will be driving (Nelson Airport is about a hour's drive from the park), although there are some tours available from Nelson. However, cars are only allowed as far as Totaranui campsite in Abel Tasman National Park and cannot drive any further into the park.
That means that if you're driving, you'll have to park your car and access the bays or tracks by water taxi, kayaking or walking. While there are a number of entrances into Abel Tasman National Park, be sure to pick one that works with your mode of transport.
Kaiteriteri is a beautiful beach 61km from Nelson and you can kayak or catch a water taxi into the park from here. It's a lovely way to approach the national park and is very popular with visitors, especially those doing a day trip. However, this is not a point you want to walk from, as it's a 7km from Kaiteriteri to the closest walking track entrance.
If you want to walk into the park, start in Marahau, the southern entrance. There's a DOC car park here where you can leave your car or campervan. It's 67km from Nelson and is the only entrance where you can walk directly into the park.
If you're coming from Takaka, the northern entrance, Wainui is probably the most convenient. There is a carpark here as well. Just keep in mind that the last 2km of road is unsealed and you'll have to walk for that bit of the journey.
Water taxis are available all year round and have a fairly regular schedule. You do have to book these in advance, but the day before or morning of your visit is usually fine. The scheduled water taxi pickup locations are Apple Tree Bay, Anchorage, Medlands Bay, Bark Bay, Tonga Quarry, Onetahuti, Awaroa and Totaranui.
Some of the water taxi and kayak companies will have a shuttle bus to pick you up from your accommodation and take you to one of the park entrances.
With relatively mild winters across most of the region, you can visit the Abel Tasman National Park at any time. Go between November and May to make the most of the your time outdoors hiking, kayaking and camping in the bush. If you want to spend most of your time on the beach, keep your trip for the summer. As well as swimming in the secluded coves at Abel Tasman National Park, you can also swim and sunbathe at beautiful Golden Bay on the other side of the mountain range.
If you're visiting the national park in winter, and also enjoy snow sports , include nearby St Arnaud in your itinerary. The Rainbow Ski Field offers skiing and snowboarding options for all abilities. The Nelson Lakes National Park is also stunning in winter so enjoy those spectacular, snowy views.
One of New Zealand's Great Walks, the Abel Tasman Coastal track follows the coast through the Abel Tasman National Park. The walk takes 3-5 days along a shady track surrounded by native bush. There are multiple huts and camp sites along the track, usually at one of the tiny bays which are scalloped into the coastline.
Walkers usually walk in one direction, taking a boat back the other way. If you're a bit more ambitious, you can do a full circuit around the park, which takes about 5-7 days. Just keep in mind that the Abel Tasman Inland Track (which is part of the circuit route) is very steep and doesn't have the same beautiful viewpoints as the coastal track.
Here is an outline of the typical route along the track:
Cross the estuary over the Marahau causeway, and follow the track through open country, then lush beech forest. The track turns inland, before emerging to a stunning view of the beautiful Anchorage Bay.
Take a short side trip to Tinline Bay to see an unusual tree growing in an odd spot.
Cross an impressive suspension bridge takes you over Falls River. Then meander through lush coastal forest before being led back to the sea and the idyllic golden sands of Bark Bay. Note: Torrent Bay estuary can be crossed within two hours either side of low tide, or you can take the all-tide track around it (takes an additional hour).
You can take a side trip to Cascade Falls, a beautiful waterfall hidden in the trees, or Cleopatra's Pool, a clear rock pool perfect for swimming.
Follow the track around the estuary, before veering up into the trees. This stretch takes you to Onetahuti Bay, one of the longest beaches in the Abel Tasman, and eventually over the forested Tonga Saddle to Awaroa Bay. Take care to stay below the high tide mark away from nesting birds.
Along the track, the scenery alternates between sandy beaches and rocky headlands of regenerating kānuka. Awaroa Inlet can only be crossed within 1 hour 30 minutes before and 2 hours after low tide.
Follow a trickling stream and climb above the bay to a saddle overlooking the serene Wainui Inlet. At this point you can either descend to the car park at Wainui or take a left turn onto the Gibbs Hill Track. This will take you to Tōtaranui where you can get a water taxi back to Mārahau.
If you have a limited amount of time in the area, there's always the option to visit Abel Tasman National Park for a day. For a day trip, I suggest either kayaking or taking a water taxi into the park. Approaching the beautiful bays from the water is a magical experience and you'll pass the famous Split Apple Rock on the way.
Once you choose which bay to start from, you may decide to relax by the water or walk a section of the Abel Tasman Track before being picked up again. It's possible to visit a number of the bays by water taxi, depending on how much time you want to spend in the park. One of the most popular options for a day trip is kayaking into the park, doing a bush walk, then taking a water taxi back to your starting point. Some points of interest for a day trip include the swing bridge near Bark Bay, Tonga Island and Cleopatra's Pool.
After strolling through the beautiful, native bush, you may want to stop by a picnic near one of the turquoise coves or head to Akaroa Lodge for a delicious meal before taking the water taxi back. If you happen to be at the park in the evening, you may even see some little blue penguins on your way home.
If you don't want to arrange water taxis or cruises yourself, you can also visit as part of an organised day trip. Most tours leave from Kaiteriteri Beach and there is parking on-site. Here are some popular tours:
Most people walking the Abel Tasman Coastal track either camp in the park or stay in one of the DOC (Department of Conservation) huts in the park. Most of the campsites are simple and near the beach, however, as there's no vehicle access into the park, you'll have to bring all your food and camping gear with you on the water taxi.
If you're walking the Abel Tasman Coastal Track and don't want to carry as much with you, staying in a DOC hut may be a better option.
If you want to camp or stay in a hut, you'll need to book in advance on the DOC website.
While there are a number of lodges on the outskirts of the park, the only backpackers in the Abel Tasman National Park itself is Aquapackers. There's just one catch - it's floating backpackers on a boat moored near Anchorage. Your nightly stay includes a BBQ dinner and breakfast, meaning you don't need to bring all your food with you.
Awaroa Lodge and Torrent Bay Lodge offer comfortable accommodation and beautiful views within the park. These provide full linen and have on-site dining options so all you have to bring is yourself and your clothes. If you're after a peaceful getaway with all the luxuries of home (and probably a few more), staying in one of these lodges could be the perfect option. There is also glamping available in Awaroa during the warmer months.
The only accommodation options within walking distance of Abel Tasman National Park, Marahau makes a great starting point for the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. As well as being close to the national park, it also makes a great place for exploring the wider region, with Kaiteriteri, Motueka and Nelson all easy drives away.
Stay at the Abel Tasman Lodge, with a hot-tub and sauna, just a five-minute walk from the national park.
As well as being the launching point for water taxis and tours into Abel Tasman National Park, Kaiteriteri is a stunning beach in its own right. This is a great base for doing day hikes around the park and kayaking along the bays.
Stay at Kimi Ora Eco Resort with a pool and lovely sea views
If you want something a bit smaller with some local character, stay in Motueka. Its artsy shops and pretty little coffee shops will keep you entertained between your day trips to other parts of the region.
Stay in a studio apartment at Abbey Court Motel in the middle of town.
For some serious beach time and to get away from it all, hang out somewhere around Golden Bay. You can enjoy a slower pace of life and centre your holiday around those golden sands.
Stay at Ratanui Lodge, just a minute away from the beach.
The major city in the region, Nelson is a much. With a charming, decidedly English town centre, you’ll find your choice of bars and restaurants. The city centre is small, but easily walkable, with a fun lively atmosphere in the summer.
Nelson is near the centre of the region and makes a great base for exploring the region – and for enjoying some civilisation before and after any multi-day hikes in Abel Tasman National Park. Nelson is an hour's drive from Abel Tasman National Park.
Stay at Sails for comfortable accommodation and off-street parking in a central location.
From Abel Tasman National Park, you're in the perfect place to explore the Nelson region. If you haven't spent any time in the city, now could be a good time to do so. Otherwise, there are a couple of national parks close by and many gorgeous beaches.
The Marlborough Sounds are close by with wonderful fishing, boating and hiking opportunities. Or, head south to the West Coast to experience the rough, wild beaches first hand.
Last Updated 28 September 2023