Abel Tasman Coast Track – Great Walks NZBackpacking . Hiking . New Zealand . Outdoor Recreation . Tent Camping . Travel . Worldwide Travel
Recommendations for Your South Island New Zealand Itinerary: Abel Tasman Coast Track – Great Walks NZ
Abel Tasman Coast Track – Great Walks NZ. If you’re thinking of either a long day hike or a longer, overnight trek, add Abel Tasman National Park to your list of stops on your two week trip. We’ve hiked the Milford Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, and many shorter treks throughout the South Island. The scenic views, secluded beaches, and dense native bush of Abel Tasman make this one of our favorite areas to hike and camp (and we have a lot of favorites in New Zealand!).
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Camping spots in the National Park consist of tent campsites like the one we stayed at in Mutton Cove, and a few huts, both of which can be reserved in advance at the Department of Conservation’s website. New Zealand citizens and residents pay NZ$38 per person per night, and children under 18 years of age stay free. International visitors pay NZ$75 per person, regardless of age. Book early, as there are limited spots available at each of the designated camping sites.
We approached the coastal track from the Northwest trailhead and hiked past the Whariwharangi Homestead (one of the huts that can be reserved) to the campsite at Mutton Cove. The official distance listed on the DOC Abel Tasman Coast Track brochure shows about 5 miles (8 km) from Wainui Bay to Mutton Cove. With switchbacks and the winding trail, we measured a full 7 miles (11.15 km) for that stretch of trail, up and over two ridges. We made the trek with a 3-year-old and a 9-year-old, but by the time we returned on the same route the next day, our 9-year-old had reached her limits. (Our 3-year-old had the distinct advantage of traveling by backpack in our Deuter Child Comfort 3, so no complaints from her).
We stayed at Motueka both before and after our hike, but there are great accommodations closer to the Northwest trailhead in Takaka and Pohara, including a beachfront Superior Top 10 Holiday Park just minutes from Wainui Inlet, Takapou Bay, and the Wainui Bay carpark at the trailhead. As with any trek or backpacking trip, be sure to have appropriate gear and supplies; if you need any lightweight, freeze dried meals or other supplies, stores in Takaka have backpacker essentials. Having traveled directly from the U.S., we didn’t have any fuel canisters for cooking on the trail, but we found the fuel and bug spray we needed at the Fresh Choice Takaka.
Abel Tasman Coast Track – Great Walks NZ
Abel Tasman Coast Track – Great Walks NZ. Setting out from the Wainui Bay carpark, the trail begins under ornate Maori carvings before circling around Takapou Bay, past the Wainui Inlet and above Wainui Bay. The wide trail begins gradually, winding around the steep vertical ridges with dramatic views of the coastline and the Golden Bay at the Northernmost point of the South Island.
Because we stayed in Motueka the night before the hike, we had a bit of a drive over the winding pass back down to Takaka and then on to Pohara and Wainui Bay. Add to that the inevitable extra time it takes to prepare two small humans for an overnight backpacking trip, and we didn’t set out on the trail until early afternoon. We were prepared for rain, but never had a drop of moisture. Fortunately, we all had hats, because it was the sun, not the rain, that made the distance more difficult. We quickly ascended the trail, up and away from water, and once we left the lower elevation, there was no water source until we arrived at the Whariwharangi Homestead. Our ceramic water filter was useless, but we brought enough water to quench our thirst all the way to the hut.
The coast trail is wide and dusty, exposed to the elements until after the first summit. Once we arrived at the top of the first ridge, tree cover and native bush encroached, sheltering the trail from the onslaught of the direct sun. Each twist and bend of the trail gave way to a new view of inlets and coves and crumbling rock formations beaten down by the constant ebb and flow of the Tasman Sea. As the afternoon wore on and we crested the first ridge, sunlight sparkled on the water, contrasting with the deep blue and turquoise colors beneath the shallow waves.
The Whariwharangi Hut: Abel Tasman Coast Track’s Most Comfortable Wilderness Accommodations
Abel Tasman Coast Track – Great Walks NZ. The Whariwharangi Homestead, a home built by John William Handcock on land he leased from Maori owners in 1898, sits a few hundred yards from the coast at Whariwharangi Bay. Handcock lived on the site with his wife and children for 15 years, clearing timber and surviving with a variety of other trades and services before finally abandoning the property. Today the homestead has been re-fashioned as a camping hut, complete with upstairs bunks and a second story fire escape that brings the old home up to contemporary safety standards. You can even sit on the covered patio and rest your tired feet while native Wekas meander, looking for bags stuffed with edibles they can snatch when you least expect it.
We arrived at the hut mid-afternoon, thirsty and ready for a pit stop. Behind the hut, a mesh-covered wooden path leads to several covered sinks with potable water and toilet facilities a little further back. Had we been slightly more prepared with our online DOC booking, we probably would have stayed at the hut. But given our propensity to procrastinate, Mutton Cove turned out to be a fantastic choice; the seclusion of the rustic campsite right on the beach outweighed the difficulty of tramping up and over a second ridge with the two little ones in tow.
Mutton Cove: Abel Tasman Coast Track’s Finest Wilderness Accommodations
The Whariwharangi Homestead Hut may have been comfortable, complete with soft mattresses and a functional kitchen, but the campsite at Mutton Cove is unforgettable, a serene and picturesque spot nestled between dense native bush and the undulating sea. The grassy tent sites sit alongside a sweeping, sandy beach that looks out past the Cove to Cook Strait and the North Island. The sound of crickets and birds emanates from native bush, a carpet of green that rolls down from the hills only to stop at the edge of the sandy half-moon bay.
By the time we hobbled into camp around dusk, there were a few other small groups of hikers who had arrived before us. They quietly organized their gear and fluffed their sleeping bags while others sat comfortably in the sand beneath a giant conifer reading by the sea. We set up camp, unfurled our sleeping mats and down bags, careful not to wake Renn, who was already sleeping soundly in her backpack. We ate on the beach, watching the sun descend as we pressed our tired feet into the warm, gritty sand.
Abel Tasman Coast Track: The Long Walk Back to Wainui Bay
Abel Tasman Coast Track – Great Walks NZ. Our only regret at this stage of our South Island adventure was that we didn’t have another night at Mutton Cove or the campsites further South along the coast track. Our overnight backpacking trip was without question one of the highlights of our trip, so we took our time walking back the long, dusty trail that leads up and over the scenic rolling hills along the South Island’s North shore. We stopped to dip our feet in the cold water at Whariwharangi Bay, the girls only hesitantly poking at the water with their toes before deciding on more of a sand-and-sun play date. After splashing around just long enough to get the sand off, we walked up to the hut for lunch and to refill our water bottles. After 10 miles (16 km) in less than 24 hours with another 4 to go, Renn was the only one of us with a lot of energy left. But we set out again, slowly at first, making our way up the switchbacks that lead from Whariwharangi to the top of the ridge and then back down toward Wainui Bay.