Abel Tasman Coastal Track

December 19-21, 2002

Part of the New Zealand section of muellerworld

Getting Started:

I had waited until the last possible minute to get permits for the Abel Tasman Costal Track, so I was relieved when there were three spaces available in the huts we wanted on the nights we wanted them. The permits were booked by telephone and my credit card was charged $126 (NZD) for three people for three hut permits for three nights.

The plan was to start at the southern end of the popular Costal Track at Marahau, then hike the entire track through to the Wainui Car park. It seems that many people only hike to Totaranaui and stop there. Friends of mine told me that the best and most beautiful part of the Track was the northern section from Totaranui up through Whariwharangi Hut area to Wainui, so we wanted to do the whole thing.

The guide books say that it takes 3 to 5 days to hike the track, so we decided to hike for four days and stay for three nights along the beaches and through the bush. Starting at Marahau, we would sleep at the Anchorage Hut on the first night, then the Awaroa Hut on night two, and finally the Whariwharangi Hut before a short hike out to the Wainui Car Park on the fourth day.

The tramp has been best described as a relaxed tramp, because of the excellent weather, and the beaches,
lagoons and bays that make up most of the scenery.

If you feel inexperienced as a tramper but desperately want to try one tramp, the Coast Track is perfect.
It is not a typical, rugged New Zealand track, and it is easier and better serviced than any other track 
in the country.  It is well-cut, well-graded and well-marked path that is almost impossible to lose.  
It can be hiked in tennis shoes, there are no alpine sections to cross and there are always people just
up the track in case a problem arises.

-- page 185, Lonley Planet's Tramping in New Zealand (5th Edition, November, 2002)

As it ended up, we completed the Track in the middle of the third day, staying only two nights along the way (Anchorage & Awaroa Huts).


Day 1 - Marahau to the Anchorage Hut:

We ate lunch at the smallish cafe that is right at the start of the track. They have a nice selection of sandwiches, cookies and drinks. The Ham Salad was tolerable, and not overpriced at $NZ3.50

Sue and Gail leaving Marahau, at the Southern start of the Abel Tasman Costal Track Parking cars in the DOC parking lot overnight is allowed, but one of the women at the cafe said that there are occasionally break-ins if something interesting is left in plain sight inside the car. Gail and Sue took the car down the road to McDonald's Farm to leave it overnight (for $4.00 (NZD) per night, they'll let you park your car there, where it is safer).

When they returned, we put on some sunscreen and hit the trail after discovering that Sue had forgotten her hiking boots. She decided to hike it in her Chaco Sandals and see how it went.

Initially, the Abel Tasman Costal Track crosses a tidal area on raised walking planks before it starts the winding section through the bush just above scenic beaches and steep cliffs. The weather was bright and sunny with a light breeze that made for perfect hiking conditons in and out of the bush.

About half-way to the Anchorage Hut (2 hours into the hike), we stopped for a quick snack, some water and to allow Sue to attend to her feet that were still getting used to the idea of walking long distances in sandals. Fortunately, she only had one small rub spot, so a Band-Aid quickly solved the problem.

Kayakers along the Abel Tasman Costal Track We finally reached the cut-off to the Anchorage Hut, and started the long descent to the beach.

Upon arrival at the hut, we picked the room to the left of the kitchen. An overly helpful Canadian man told us that there was a party of eleven from Christchurch that were celebrating Christmas in the other room and that they seemed loud and had many young kids with them. We sorted out our packs and spread our sleeping bags out on the bunk mattresses before talking a long and relaxing walk on the beach in front of the hut. The tide was going out and many beautiful shells had been left on the beach for us to admire. At the far north end of the beach, there were some cool small caves and an arch in a big rock that you could walk through.

Dinner consisted of Spaghetti with some too-sweet New Zealand pasta sauce and a few zucchini slices. Since there are no cooking facilities provided on the Abel Tasman Costal Track, we cooked on my MSR butane stove with a dual pan cook kit that I have had for years.

There was one German guy that was asking people where the pots and pans were. He didn't bring any, nor did he bring a stove (some New Zealand huts, like those on the Milford Track, have gas stoves in the hut, so you don't need to carry a stove or fuel). I told him he could use my cook kit after we finished, but after a while, I didn't see him around any more.

Slightly after 9:00pm, the 99% full moon rose spectacularily over the tip of Pitt Head, just east of the Anchorage Beach (no camera, no tripod, no photo, sorry). The sun had just set, and the moon glowed with an eerie orange in the light blue sky.

Most of the trampers were in bed by 10:00pm (and, much to everyone's relief, the Christchurch contingent was not loud at all).


Day 2 - Anchorage Hut to Awaroa Hut

The tidal crossing area of Torrent Bay To avoid an extra hour of hiking, we woke up at 5:15am to take advantage of the low tide that had occured 45 minutes earlier. The DOC advises that if you want to cross the tidal flats, you should do so within two hours on either side of the low tide.

We were away at about 6:00am and easily crossed the tidal flats in about 20 minutes. There were three small and shallow streams that were just wide enough and deep enough to require us to remove our hiking shoes. In retrospect, I should have started the day in my Teva Sandals, and changed into my shoes and socks on the north side of the crossing.

Immeadiately on the other side of the flats, we passed through some private property and then ate breakfast on a small bench while the sun rose. We also used the free phone to call and arrange a water-taxi pick up for Gail at Bark Bay (Gail had decided that she would head back to Marahau and return to Nelson that day).

Between Torrent Bay and Bark Bay, the track undulates through the bush for a couple of hours before spitting you out onto a lovely stretch of sand. The nicest thing about this section of the track is that we hiked for 2 hours and 45 minutes without seeing or hearing anyone else! We enjoyed the Tuis and our conversation was unencumbered by the normal sounds of such a popular track (up to 30,000 visitors tramp and stay at least one night along the track each summer).

Upon reaching Bark Bay, we ate a light snack and sat in the shade on a picnic table for 20 minutes or so before plopping down on the beach to wait for the Water Taxi.

I met a guy from Belgium that had a huge pack and was hiking up the beach to find where the trail crossed the bay (we were uncertain if it was possible to cross the water at this time of day. The alternative is to walk around the bay on a slightly longer part of the trail). I walked with him to the north end of the spit to see if the tide would allow him (and us) to cross. He said he was hiking from Marahau to Totaranui in one day! He had made good progress, but the tide was against him here. I waded into the stream to gauge the depth for him, and within about three steps, the cold water was high on my thigh and I wasn't anywhere near the deepest part yet. Defeated, he headed back to the southern end of the bay to take the high-tide trail around the area.

Shortly past 10:00am the Water Taxis started to appear. At first, they were all heading north, but we got Gail on one that was southbound to Marahau. Before too long, we were waving good-bye and started to make our way towards the beautiful Onetahuti Beach, located in the Tonga Island Marine Reserve (named after the seal colony that is resident on Tonga Island, just off shore). The trail leaves Bark Bay steeply, and again, cuts cross-country for another 6.1 kilometres and two or so hours.

We first stopped for water and a snack at the abandoned Tonga Quarry, then we stopped for lunch at the south end of Onetahuti Beach. Lunch turned into 2 hours lying in the sun waiting for the afternoon low-tide to allow us passage past the short beach crossing at the north end of the beach. The high-tide was at 4:42pm, and by 2:00pm, we were able to move along without any problems (the DOC says that you can cross within 3 hours on either side of the low-tide).

Once again, we found ourselves tramping through bush for a couple of hours as we made our way towards the Awaroa Hut. There is a private Loddge in the general area, and the trail is well-marked to avoid any confusion about where you should be heading. We arrived at the Hut after 10 hours on the trail (with at least 2.5 hours of not hiking). A small cafe is a 20 minute walk from the Hut, but we just walked past it and did not investigate (although some people at the hut had stopped and ate there).

The Awaroa Hut is situated about 20 feet up a small rise from the inlet, and at high-tide the ocean extends almost right up to the front porch. We arrived near low tide, and just walked straight across the vast beach that is present when the tide is not.

Scenic vista along the Abel Tasman Costal Track Awaroa Hut Just after sunrise on the north side of Awaroa Inlet

After washing up in the sink, we discovered that there is a shower at the facility (a cold shower), located in a hidden little area near the small beach.

After hanging up some clothes to dry, we were the first to start cooking at about 5:30pm. Cheese quesadillas with green chilis (imported from the USA, because you cannot get them in NZ) and salsa with Tim-Tams for desert.

There was a pretty large group of Dutch there that didn't know each other but they stayed pretty close to each other. I talked for a while with a Swiss primary school teacher that was in New Zealand to get her advanced English qualifacation to help her in her job. Her English was almost perfect, but she said she had some difficulty reading and writing it.

At about 9:30pm, the now-full moon rose in an even more amazing manner than the night before. The orange was deeper and a bit more haunting, and the light clouds to the east glowed around the moon.

Shortly after we were all in our bunks, I was bothered by some rustling sounds coming from our food bags that were on the floor about a metre from where our heads were. We were carrying our supplies in ordinary plastic grocery store bags and the crinkling sound was too irregular to be the breeze that was coming in through the window. By this time, everyone was alseep, and the hut was amazingly quiet, so I didn't want to get up and make any noise, or disturb one of the Dutch women who was sleeping next to me. So I rolled over and just watched the bag in the pale moonlight. Nothing.

After a few more minutes, it started up again, and I reached over and woke Sue, hoping that she'd agree with me about the sounds and maybe she'd get up and save the food.

"There's something in our food bags", I whispered.

She rolled over and watched them with me.


Nothing for a while.


She went back to sleep.

Then the noise started again.

This time, I grabbed my head lamp and got up to hang my backpack and the food bags on the hooks on the wall.

As I reached for the food bags, I had visions of everything from rats to possums to stoats, but when I grabbed the bags, all that happened was that two small mice scurried away along the baseboard towards the kitchen. I hung the bags on the clothes hooks and went back to sleep.


Day 3 - Awaroa Hut to Wainui Car Park

In the morning, we were among the last to get up. By 5:45am, most of the Dutch had already left (and noisily, if I must say so). One young couple remained in the upper bunk near the kitchen, and the Welsh/Scottish couple with the young son was just rising on the bunk above us. I grabbed my pack and sleeping bag and some random clothes and went to the kitchen to pack up as to not bother anyone still sleeping.

While I packed, the lovely woman from Wales said that I was snoring almost as much as her husband was during the night. Offended, I went into the bunk room and asked Sue if I had snored.

"Nope, but I am a heavy sleeper, so you might have".

I was encouraged by her words, and figured that the other lady was crazy (although I must admit that two years ago, I did snore like crazy on the Milford Track).

Anyway, Sue had coffee and I unwrapped some muesli bars and we left at 6:20am. This time, I started the day in my Teva sandals, and just walked right through the several stream crossings that we had to make in the tidal zone.

I changed shoes, and we continued north towards Totaranaui.

The track was very plesant this morning, and the bush was very dense. Every once in a while, it would break out onto a remote and beautiful beach, only to jump back into the forest a few hundred metres later.

Totaranui was a big disappointment. It was lovely and all, but it is road-accessable and there were cars and boats and caravans everywhere. We hurried to the visitor's centre and found out where the Coast Track was, then headed for the boat launch area to cross the tidal flats. The signage was not very clear, but we found the Puketea Trail, heading inland towards the Coast Trail.

Whariwharangi Homestead Once we found the Coast Trail (to Whariwharagangi Hut), we started the most beautiful section of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. The trail winds its way through bush that was beautiful and thick enough not to allow much sunlight in. Initially, it climbs and climbs, only to dump you out on to magnicifient tiny beaches where we'd walk for 50 metres, then hop back into the bush for a steep climb up and over a small hill, then back down to a tiny beach. We didn't see many other trampers along this section of the track, but there were occasionaly a few people on the remote beaches.

Before we knew it, we were at the Whariwharangi Hut. It was 11:00am.

The sign on the hut says "Whariwharangi Homestead", and it looks less like a DOC hut, and more like the old farmhouse that it is. The original house was built in 1897, Naroni, the hut warden, told us. After a brief rest on the grass, we decided that we would press on past the hut to the end of the track at the Wainui Car Park. It was only 90 more minutes, and Naroni radioed the bus company to see if we could get a seat. Once he recieved confirmation that there were seats available, we started walking.

Just like the signs suggested, we were in the car park in a hour and a half. I have always found it annoying that in New Zealand, trails are signed in walking times, and not in distance. On the Milford Track I thought the times were way too conservative, but I found that on the Abel Tasman, our pace (with stops) were usually pretty close to what the DOC suggested.

Sue nearing the end of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, near the Wainui Car Park The end of the Track is pretty uneventful. We used a stile to climb over a fence and ended up in a car park with a few others that were waiting for the 1:45pm bus back to civilization.

Two Swiss women were wondering if there were at the right place. We figured we were all in the right place, but the only indication was there was a posted bus schedule in a smallish pavilion in the dusty corner of the parking lot.

The bus arrived pretty close to on-schedule, and we were off to Takaka, where we had to pay the $25 (nzd) each for the 3-hour ride to Nelson.

In Takaka, we paid our fare, and I ran over to a Dairy and bought Diet Cokes and Ice Cream cones...

After a 20-minute layover and bus change in Motueka, we were headed towards Nelson, where we arrived a bit late.



Day 1 - Thursday, 19 December:

Day 2 - Friday, 20 December:

Saturday, 21 December:

posted: 23 December, 2002 matt@muellerworld.com