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Friday, May 24, 2013

    The Abel Tasman Coast Track is located in Abel Tasman National Park on the South Island’s northern shores with the nearest airport in Nelson and the closest towns Motueka and Takaka. Being a Great Walk, the Abel Tasman Coast Track can get rather busy during summer months, however you can combine hiking with kayaking along the coast and staying at smaller campsites not accessible to the roads, and turn this lovely low altitude coastal walk into an awesome adventure. The walk extends for 54.4 km and takes 3-5 days to complete. It can be walked from either end at any time of the year. The Abel Tasman Coast Track is an easy, well-maintained track which you could fit into your itinerary as a well deserved break between more adventurous and tougher walks.


     The Abel Tasman Coast Track is usually accessed from the southern gateway Marahau, which is 67 km from Nelson, and from where you can start walking or rent kayaks and kayak along the coast for the first few days. Marahau has accommodation, a shop and cafes. The track finishes at Wainui carpark, which is 21 km from Takaka. You can also access the track at two more places from unsealed road ends at Totaranui (32 km from Takaka) and Awaroa (31 km from Takaka). By road it takes 2 hours 30 minutes to drive between Totaranui or Wainui and Marahau; by boat transport it takes about 1 hour 30 minutes. The Abel Tasman Coast Track can be combined with the Abel Tasman Inland Track to form a 5-6 day circuit. If you intend to walk the whole track, the bays and tidal crossings  divide the walking distance into the following sections:
  • Marahau to Anchorage (12.4 km, 4 hr)
  • Anchorage to Torrent Bay Estuary (12.1 km, 4 hr): All-tide track around Torrent Bay Estuary
  • Torrent Bay Estuary to Bark Bay (8.4 km, 3 hr): All-tide crossing at Bark Bay
  • Bark Bay to Awaroa (11.4 km, 4 hr): Low tide crossing at Onetahuti Bay
  • Awaroa to Totaranui (5.5 km, 1.5 hr: Low tide crossing at Awaroa Estuary
  • Totaranui to Whariwharangi (7.5 km, 5 hr)
  • Whariwharangi to Wainui (5.5 km, 1.5 hr)

By Water Taxi

You can also catch a water taxi to beaches along the track. Water taxis operate year round from Marahau and Kaiteriteri. The scheduled water taxi pick up and drop off locations are at AnchorageTorrent Bay (drop off only), MedlandsBark BayOnetahutiAwaroa and Totaranui. The main taxi services that operate year around are:
  • Aqua Taxi: freephone: 0800 278 282 or www.aquataxi.co.nz
  • Wilsons Abel Tasman: freephone: 0800 223 582 or www.AbelTasman.co.nz
  • Marahau Water Taxis: freephone: 0800 80 80 18 or www.abeltasmancentre.co.nz
  • Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle: freephone: 0800 732 748 or www.abeltasmanseashuttles.co.nz

By Public Transport/Private shuttles

The track is also well serviced by public transport. Bus services operate in summer from Nelson and Motueka to major roadends Marahau and Kaiteriteri and connect with Takaka transport to Totaranui and Wainui. Bookings are recommended. In winter, bus services operate daily to Marahau and Kaiteriteri but not so regularly to Wainui and Totaranui.

  • Trek Express Trampers Transport: they offer 4WD track transport to/from any destination for groups or individuals, vehicle and bag storage, and car relocations. Freephone: 0800 128 735 or www.trekexpress.co.nz  
  • Nelson Lakes Shuttles: they offer year round transport to all track ends. Phone: +64 3 521 1900 or www.nelsonlakesshuttles.co.nz 
  • Abel Tasman Coachlines: all transport requirements for the Abel Tasman and Kahurangi National Parks. Phone: +64 3 548 0285 or www.abeltasmantravel.co.nz
  • Golden Bay Coachlines: Daily scheduled or chartered transport service for Abel Tasman & Kahurangi National Parks. Phone: +64 3 525 8352 or http://goldenbaycoachlines.co.nz/ 

By Kayaks

     If you have previous sea-kayaking experience, we recommend swapping walking poles for the paddles and kayak along the coast for the first 1-2 nights. As there will be very likely a few guided tours departing Marahau daily, try to leave just before lunch instead of early in the morning and it is almost guaranteed that you'll have most of the bays and beaches not accessible to the track only for yourself. Kayaking is obviously more weather dependent than walking and during summer you'll probably experience both, easy kayaking in a calm weather as well as rough seas that may prevent you from going further. However it is permissible to camp at a campsite other than the one you have booked for safety reasons. Just be flexible with your itinerary and plan an extra time - you can still make a camp and then go explore the islands around without your overnight gear.

The paddling times in calm sea conditions without stops are:
  • Marahau to Anchorage 3 hr
  • Anchorage to Bark Bay 2 hr 30 min
  • Bark Bay to Onetahuti 1 hr 30 min
For independent kayak rentals you can choose from the following kayak operators:
  • Marahau Sea Kayaks: Ph: +64 3 527 8176, www.msk.co.nz
  • Kaiteriteri Kayaks: Ph: +64 3 527 8383, www.seakayak.co.nz
  • Abel Tasman Freedom Kayaks: Ph: +64 3 527 8022, www.freedomrentals.co.nz
  • Abel Tasman Kayaks: Ph: +64 3 527 8022, www.abeltasmankayaks.co.nz


     The Abel Tasman Coast Track offers 4 huts and 18 camping sites along the track. You have to book and pay the fees before you start the track. One of the main disadvantages of the Abel Tasman Coast Track being a Great Walk is that it can become rather expensive: After booking your transport to and from the track, accommodation near the start of the track, double kayak for 2 days and 3 nights in huts or campsites for 2 people, the total cost can reach up to $600.

     After you work out which length of the track and in which direction you want to walk, if and how far you want to kayak along the coast, which huts/campsites do you want to stay in and on what days, you can check the availability of huts and campsites and book them online. You can also print the booking form and mail it to Nelson Marlborough Bookings, PO Box 375, Nelson 7010, or email it to nmbookings@doc.govt.nz.


     The Abel Tasman Coast Track enjoys mild climate throughout a year with daily temperature reaching 20 degrees in a summer and 13 degrees in a winter. In a dramatic comparison to Fiordland, there are only 9 rainy days a month in average. During autumn and winter months you have cooler temperatures and shorter daylight hours, but the weather is usually calmer and the track less busier, while during summer the coast can experience strong westerly winds which makes especially kayaking more dependent on prevailing sea conditions. On the Abel Tasman Coast Track there are 2 estuary crossings that are only passable at low tide:
  • Onetahuti estuary can only be crossed within 3 hours either side of low tide. 
  • Awaroa estuary can only be crossed within 1 hour 30 minutes before and 2 hours after low tide.

     The estuaries at Torrent and Bark Bay have all-tide tracks around them, which will take an extra 1.5 hr (Torrent Bay) or 15 min (Bark Bay). Always check the low tide timetables for the day of your crossing (2013 timetable, 2014 timetable) to see if you would be able to fit both crossings into 1 day (in case low tide occurs around midday and midnight) or you would have to spend the night at Anchorage (in case low tide occurs morning and evening).

Track Notes

DAY 1: Marahau to Mosquito Bay Campsite by kayak (5 hr)

    Kayaking along the coast of the Abel Tasman Track was the main reason why we decided for this rather busy walk during the summer season. It is a sea-kayaking trip at its very best: you can stay at isolated campsite and enjoy empty beaches along the coast with no road or track access, you can kayak within calm lagoons as well as venture further into an open sea where the coastline is more exposed to impacts of high waves and winds, you can explore uninhabited islands within spectacular Marine Reserve and watch seals and incredible bird life in its natural environment.

     After flying to Nelson the previous day and staying at YHA hostel , we booked an early morning shuttle to Marahau where we rented a double kayak from Marahau Sea Kayaks. Since most of the guided trips leave early in the morning, we waited till about 11.30 am, loaded all our gear and headed off on our own.

We chose to stay at Mosquito Bay, an isolated campsite with no land access and which is much further than most people go on their first day, however the weather looked excellent, there were no winds and the sea was incredibly calm. We had about 9 hours of daylight left and decided to explore a few small islands and empty beaches on the way.

     There was high tide when we arrived to Mosquito Bay at about 5 pm which really helped with our landing on the small beach deep within the bay. There were quite a few kayakers camping already, however it was such a lovely campsite hidden from the outside world, that we didn't mind it at all and spent the evening swimming and watching the sunset.

DAY 2: Mosquito Bay Campsite to Onetahuti Bay by kayak (1 hr), Onetahuti to Totaranui by water taxi (30 min), Totaranui to Whariwharangi campsite (7.5 km, 5 hr)

     The next morning we woke up into a completely different weather. The strong winds had already picked up around midnight  and the sea conditions had dramatically changed. There was still about 1 hour of kayaking left to get to Onetahuti Bay, from where we needed to continue by foot to Awaroa Beach. We needed to reach Awaroa Estuary crossing during low tide which was going to start at 10 am and only last for about 2 hours. Because the next day we were supposed to fly to the North Island and couldn't afford to lose one day, we decided to set off to the sea. At about 8 am it was still low tide which meant we had to drag our kayaks across the sand for about 100 m. We were obviously going to be the only ones on the water that morning since the others decided to postpone their departure till the winds calm down. The sea was quite rough even within the bay and definitely well outside of our comfort zone, but there was no turning back now. We were aware that once we reach the most exposed coastline separating us from the Onetahuti Bay and get out in an open sea, the swell may be potentially quite dangerous, however nowhere near life-threatening. After tackling some monstrous-looking side waves and passing the most exposed part of the coastline we finally turned towards the coast at Onetahuti Bay. Since the weather kept deteriorating and this 1 hr morning kayaking trip to the bay just behind the corner turned out to be quite a strenuous exercise, it took us almost twice as long. We finally landed at Onetahuti Bay at about 10am and left the kayaks there for pick up later that day as pre-arranged before. Unfortunately it was too late now to get to Awaroa Estuary in time to cross during low tide. Luckily there was one guy from another kayak company who advised us to catch a water shuttle to Totaranui Beach and thus avoid the Awaroa crossing. Since this would also significantly shorten our day (we were planning to walk all the way to Whariwharangi Beach for our second and last night) we decided to take this short boat ride with Marahau Water Taxi to Totaranui Bay.

     From there we finally started our 8 km Abel Tasman Coastal walk to Whariwharangi campsite. This part of the track is very scenic with the views of the dramatic coastline behind each corner, and it actually didn't feel busy at all. We only met a few day-walkers who were camping at Totaranui caravan park.

     We crossed a low saddle and then descended to the beach at Anapai Bay. The track then enters the forest and leads to another beach at Mutton Cove from where we climbed to a lookout above Separation Point, the northern most point of the Abel Tasman Coast Track with amazing views all the way to the North Island, Golden Bay and Marlborough Sounds.

     From there it was about 2 hr walk mostly downhill to the beach at Whariwharangi Bay with a pleasant campsite in the back of the beach.

DAY 3: Whariwharangi to Wainui (5.5 km, 1.5 hr)

     The next morning we left the campsite and headed inland towards the Wainui Bay carpark about 6 km away to catch the 10:30 am shuttle back to Nelson, from where we had booked the afternoon flight to Taupo on the North Island. We followed a stream and ascended to a saddle above Wainui Inlet. The track then winds down for about an hour to the carpark at the estuary shore.


Useful Links

For more information about the Abel Tasman Coast Track:
Nelson Regional Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 3 546 9339
Email:   nelsonvc@doc.govt.nz

For huts and campsites bookings help contact:
Nelson Marlborough Bookings Helpdesk
Phone:   +64 3 546 8210
Email:   nmbookings@doc.govt.nz


  1. This trip looks wonderful.Can you tell me a little more about your logistics? How did you get your backpacks to Onetahuti so you could start walking there, and who picked up your kayaks? Thanks for your help!

  2. Hi MF. It was an amazing trip indeed! We actually had our backpacks with us the whole time during kayaking. They could fit easily into the kayaks. We also needed them as we stayed overnight in Mosquito campsite (the kayaking part was a 2 day trip). We rented kayaks from Marahau Sea kayaks and you can arrange with them where you want to leave your kayaks - they will pick them up from whatever beach you decide to finish at. Enjoy your trip! Cheers, Jana


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