The Abel Tasman Coast Track is one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks, treks that are designed to showcase the best of this stunning country. The Coast Track highlights the…
The Abel Tasman Coast Track is one of New Zealand’s 10 Great Walks, treks that are designed to showcase the best of this stunning country. The Coast Track highlights the incredible beaches, tropical forests, and turquoise waters of the Abel Tasman National Park on the northwest corner of New Zealand’s South Island. Over 60+ kilometers, the Abel Tasman Coast Track follows the often rugged coastline and is serviced by a series of Department of Conservation huts and campsites along the route. The track is the easiest of all the Great Walks due to its easy grades, well maintained trail, and ease of access.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know to plan your perfect adventure on the Abel Tasman Coast Track!
Abel Tasman Coast Track: In this post
- Abel Tasman Coast Track Must Know
- Abel Tasman Coast Track Logistics
- Accommodation on the Abel Tasman Coast Track
- Stage-by-stage Itinerary for the Abel Tasman Coast Track
- What to Pack
- Baggage transfer
Abel Tasman Coast Track: Must Know
The Abel Tasman Coast Track is the most popular of the Great Walks. It follows the shoreline from the car park just north of the town of Marahau to its end point at Wainui. However, due to the lack of transportation options at Wainui, many walkers opt to finish at Totaranui by completing the Gibbs Hill track at the end of the walk. Completing the entire walk will take you along 60+ kilometers of this beautiful coastline with overnight accommodation options frequent along the walk. Keep reading below for some essential information as you begin to plan your Abel Tasman Coast Track adventure!
How long is the Coast Track?
The short answer: it depends!
In general, trampers should expect to cover around 60 kilometers on the Abel Tasman Coast Track. This will of course vary depending on your chosen itinerary, if you’re able to take low-tide routes, side trips to see points of interest, and countless other factors. However, we’ve provided some general distances for planning purposes below:
- For those completing the Coast Track in its entirety and finishing at the Wainui car park you’ll cover approximately 58 kilometers.
- If opt to complete the Gibbs Hill Track to connect back to Totaranui (which we recommend!) you should plan on covering 62 kilometers.
In addition to the main track, there are countless opportunities to take short detours along the walk to stunning viewpoints, waterfalls, and sandy beaches. These will surely add a bit of distance to your total walk, but we highly recommend exploring while on your walk!
How difficult is the Coast Track?
The Abel Tasman Coast Walk is considered by many to be the easiest of New Zealand’s Great Walks. The trail is very well maintained and you’ll rarely encounter a tough section. Most trampers opt to walk in just running shoes given the ease of the trail and the likelihood of getting your feet wet. However, walkers should still be well prepared as any multi-day trek is a serious undertaking.
Many of the challenges of walking in Abel Tasman National Park are related to heat, bugs, and the highly variable tides. Be sure to bring plenty of water, a good hat, insect repellent, and be aware of tidal crossing. Keeping these tips in mind, most reasonably fit hikers should have no problem completing the Abel Tasman Coast Track.
Abel Tasman Coast Track Reservations
Advance reservations are required for all of the huts and campsites along the Abel Tasman Coast Track. Given the popularity of the walk, it is recommended that you book your accommodation as far in advance as possible. You can book your huts/campsites directly through the Department of Conservation at the link below:
It is important to think through a few key details prior to making your booking, all of which we cover in this post:
- How many days will you take to walk the Coast Track?
- How do you plan to get back to Marahau from the end of your walk?
If possible, it is good to have some flexibility in the number of days you’ll spend on the track and/or the day you plan to start. You may discover that a specific hut or campsite is fully booked for your ideal day, in which case you may need to get creative to plan your walk. Camping alleviates some of this issue as there are 19 campsites along the route compared with only four huts.
When to hike the Coast Track
The Abel Tasman Coast Track can be walked year round. This part of New Zealand is renowned for its abundant sunshine and mild climate, making the Coast Track the perfect adventure for any time of year. A breakdown by season is below:
Summer (December, January, February):
During New Zealand’s summer months the track will be at its most crowded. However, in exchange for these crowds you’ll get reliably sunny weather, plenty of transportation options, and might even be able to brave the chilly waters for longer than a few minutes!
Fall (March, April, May):
Many consider fall to be the best time to walk the Abel Tasman Coast Track. The crowds start to thin out, but you’re still likely to be treated to warm and sunny weather. If you have your pick, this is the time to walk!
Winter (June, July, August):
Come the winter months you’ll be more likely to encounter cooler temperatures and rain along the walk. However, accommodation should be easy to reserve and you can expect to have many sections of trail to yourself!
Spring (September, October, November):
As winter turns to spring the weather in Abel Tasman National Park starts to improve. While you can expect to see a few more rain showers, this is generally a great time to walk the Coast Track before the summer crowds arrive.
Tides on the Coast Track
Given the fact that the Coast Track closely follows the shoreline, walkers will need to be aware of tides, especially in the two sections described below:
You’ll encounter the Awaroa Inlet immediately after the Awaroa Hut, on what will likely be your third or fourth day of the walk. The tides here are dramatic, varying by up to 6 meters depending on the time of day and season. For this reason, you are only able to cross the Awaroa Inlet between 1.5 hours before and 2 hours after low tide. This is important to plan for as the low tide time will dictate how far you are able to walk that day. The Department of Conservation publishes low tide times here.
Torrent Bay is just past the Anchorage Hut and most walkers will need to cross here at the start of their second day. Similar to the Awaroa Inlet above, Torrent Bay can only be crossed within two hours of low-tide. Fortunately, there is a high-tide track that circumnavigates the bay and allows walkers to cross at anytime. See the map below for more detail. Our best advice is to plan on taking the high-tide track around Torrent Bay, but you just may get lucky and be able to cross at low-tide.
Bugs & Pests
There are few things that could spoil the splendor of your surroundings while walking the Coast Track in Abel Tasman National Park. The few that you should be prepared for are sandflies and wasps. You’ll encounter sandflies throughout New Zealand and those who have been in the country for more than a few days will likely be all too familiar with them. These tiny, biting insects swarm you covering any exposed skin with itchy bites! It’s not all doom and gloom though as sandflies are mostly only around during the dawn and dusk hours. Be sure to bring some insect repellent for when they do come out though!
The other nuisance to be aware of in the Abel Tasman region is the prevalence of wasps. Their nests are common throughout the park, though you are likely to go your entire trek without encountering any. Still, if you are highly allergic be sure you have any needed allergy medication. For other trampers, it is best to pack some Benadryl or other antihistamine just in case of a sting. The Department of Conservation undertook a control program in 2015 to reduce their prevalence in Abel Tasman National Park.
Abel Tasman Coast Track: Logistics
The Coast Track is remarkably well connected and easy to access. However, there are a few key pieces of information outlined in the following sections that you should keep in mind when planning your trek.
Getting to and from the Abel Tasman Coast Track
Most walker’s will access the Coast Track from the town of Nelson, which sits on the other side of the Tasman Bay from Marahau and Abel Tasman National Park. There is frequent bus service connecting Nelson to Marahau (the traditional starting point for the Coast Track) with most services also stopping in Motueka en route. Some popular service providers include:
- ScenicNZ: Offers a daily bus connection between Nelson and Marahau via Motueka.
- Trek Express: This tramper focused provider offers transport to/from the Coast Track and Nelson.
Depending on your chosen itinerary you’re likely to finish your walk in either Wainui or Totaranui. While Wainui is the official end point of the Coast Track, transportation options are limited. As a result, it is more common for trampers to finish their walk by taking looping back to Totaranui via the Gibbs Hill Track. Your best options for getting back to Marahau from each potential finishing points are below:
Getting from Wainui to Marahau
Trek Express operates the most reliable service between the end of the Coast Track in Wainui and Marahau. Expect on the journey taking approximately 1.5 hours. In addition, Golden Bay Coachlines operates a bus service between Wainui and Nelson, with a stop at the car park in Marahau.
Getting from Totaranui to Marahau
Most trekkers opt to finish their walk in Totaranui where you’ll have many more transport options back to the start of the track available. One of the big appeals of finishing here is that you’ll be taking a water taxi back to the Marahau, a fantastic way to cap off your time in Abel Tasman National Park! Your best bets for water taxis from Totaranui to Marahau are below:
- Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi: A reliable and popular operator, they offer a multitude of transport options.
- Marahau Water Taxis: This service provides efficient transportation back to Marahau and also has options to connect you back to Nelson via bus.
Where to leave your car when walking the Coast Track
If you’ve driven your own car or campervan to Abel Tasman you’ll want to know where to park it. Luckily, the Department of Conservation provides free overnight parking at three locations along the Coast Track: Marahau, Totaranui, and Wainui. The car parks are not covered, but at least give you an easy place to leave your vehicle. Keep in mind that you are not allowed to camp overnight at any of the three car parks!
Transportation on the Abel Tasman Coast Track
Many walkers on the Coast Track will opt to only walk a specific section of the Coast Track (more on that below!) and may need transport from other points along the route. If this is the case you find yourself in, your best bet will almost certainly be to take a water taxi back to Marahau. All of the water taxi providers listed above will be happy to accommodate and will pick you up from any of the following access points:
- Apple Tree Bay
- Medlands Bay
- Bark Bay
- Tonga Quarry
It is important to note that no motorized boat traffic is allowed past Totaranui in Abel Tasman National Park. This is to maintain the natural state of the northern section of the park, so you’ll want to be sure you take that into account when planning your walk.
Accommodation on the Abel Tasman Coast Track
The Coast Walk is well served by a network of Department of Conservation huts and campsites. These huts and campsites make it easy for walkers to plan a variety of itineraries and provide excellent accommodation options. In addition to the Department of Conservation options there are also a few private accommodation options along the track that give the weary walker options other than pitching their tent or settling for a noisy bunk room. Keep reading below to see what sleeping quarters await you on the Coast Track.
Department of Conservation Huts & Campsites
The Department of Conservation provides a network of 19 campsites and 4 huts along the Coast Track. The four huts along the walk are evenly spaced to make for an easy five-day itinerary for those who don’t want to sleep in their tent. These huts are located at Anchorage, Bark Bay, Awaroa Bay, and Whariwharangi. Each of the huts also has a campsite adjacent to it, so campers can also enjoy the simplicity of stopping at these locations.
In addition to the four campsites located next to the DoC huts along the Coast Track there are 15 other sites scattered along the Coast Track. Many of these won’t make sense for trampers given their location, but several provide a great alternative for those who prefer a quieter campsite. We describe your best options in the itinerary section below.
Abel Tasman Coast Track Huts
As mentioned above, the DoC provides huts at Anchorage, Bark Bary, Awaroa Bay, and Whariwharangi. All of these huts are quite basic and provide a common room, sleeping quarters with basic mattresses, potable water, and bathrooms. You’ll need to bring cooking supplies and a camp stove as none of the huts feature cooking facilities, a sleeping bag, and a headlamp as many of the huts do not have lighting.
The huts must all be reserved in advance and have varying rates depending on the time of year and whether or not you are a Kiwi or international tourist.
Abel Tasman Coast Track Campsites
There is a network of 19 DoC campsites along the Coast Track. All of the campsites along the route provide toilets and potable water, while some of the larger ones provide a cooking shelter, picnic tables, and seating areas. It is important to note that if camping outside one of the four huts along the route you are not allowed to use the hut facilities. You’ll need to bring all of your own camping equipment, including a stove and cooking supplies, as none of the campsites are equipped with stoves.
You also are not allowed to use a hammock at any of the campsites in Abel Tasman National Park, so be sure you’ve packed your tent, bivvy, or other sleep system.
As with the huts along the route you are required to reserve your all of your campsites along the Coast Track in advance. The fee for these campsites varies depending on the time of year and depending on if you are a local New Zealander or not.
In addition to the Department of Conservation huts and campsites along the route there are also a handful of private accommodation providers along the Coast Track. If you’re looking for something unique (see Aquapackers), a little more luxurious (check out the Awaroa Lodge), or something with a bed and breakfast feel (the Meadowbank Homestead) the following options will surely meet your needs!
The Aquapackers Hostel is a truly unique accommodation in Abel Tasman National Park. This floating hostel is anchored in Anchorage Bay has dorm beds as well as private cabins. Your room rate includes dinner, breakfast, and bedding for your stay. The vibe is typically a younger crowd, although they do try to keep noise to a minimum.
Torrent Bay Lodge
The Torrent Bay Lodge offers luxurious digs just past Anchorage along the Coast Track. Unfortunately for trampers, they require a minimum two-night stay during peak season. Alternatively you can book a package Coast Walk experience that will have you staying at their other lodge along the route.
The Awaroa Lodge is located just up the trail from the main DoC hut and campsite at the Awaroa Inlet. This is the most luxurious option along the Coast Track and makes the perfect place to treat yourself to a night of luxury along the Coast Track.
Meadowbank Homestead at Awaroa
Similar to the Torrent Bay Lodge, the Meadowbank Homestead is geared toward those in search of a bit more luxury. During high season you’ll have to book a package stay that includes a night at the Torrent Bay Lodge.
Stage-by-stage Itinerary for the Abel Tasman Coast Track
We recommend hiking the Coast Track over 3 – 5 days depending on your hiking ability, pace preferences, and weather conditions. The classic itinerary described below takes five days to complete and will be the best option for the majority of hikers.
Stage 1: Marahau to Anchorage
Distance & Elevation: 11.7 km // +737 m, -728 m
Where to stay: Anchorage Hut & Campsite // Te Pukatea Campsite
The Abel Tasman Coast Track begins from the car park outside of Marahau and crosses a tidal estuary via a well-built wooden walkway. From here the track climbs gently and begins to open up to stunning views of the sea beyond. There are frequent side tracks down to the water if you fancy a dip at this early stage.
At approximately 7 km into the walk the track will turn inland and climb along the hillside. Near the top of the hill you’ll be presented with diverging trails. The trail on the right will lead you down to the Anchorage Hut and Campsite while the trail on the left continues on the Coast Track for those who are walking a bit further on their first day.
The Anchorage Hut can accommodate up to 34 people and has a large campsite adjacent. For those who are camping and would like a bit quieter accommodation we recommend continuing on a bit further past Anchorage to the Te Pukatea campsite.
Stage 2: Anchorage to Bark Bay
Distance & Elevation: 11.2 km // +657 m, -660 m
Where to stay: Bark Bay Hut & Campsite
From Anchorage Bay you’ll quickly reach Torrent Bay where you’ll have two options. The first option is to take the high-tide route which circumnavigates the bay and is passable at all times. A short detour off the high-tide route is Cleopatra’s Pool, a perfect swimming hole on a hot day!
The second option is to take the low-tide alternate (shown on the map below), which crosses directly across Torrent Bay. This route is only passable within 2 hours before and after low-tide, so it is best to plan on taking the high-tide route.
Once past Torrent Bay the track turns inland and gently climbs the coastal hillside. You’ll soon reach the Falls River and cross a long swing bridge over the river. Swing bridges are a staple of New Zealand tramping, so be sure to take in the view! From the swing bridge the trail returns to the coast and winds its way to the Bark Bay Hut & Campsite. The campsite at Bark Bay is located to the right, just off the main trail.
Stage 3: Bark Bay to Awaroa Bay
Distance & Elevation: 12.2 km // +634 m, -635 m
Where to stay: Awaroa Hut & Campsite // Awaroa Lodge
From Bark Bay you’ll begin your walk to Awaroa Bay by either crossing the tidal estuary at low-tide, or taking the high-tide track around the bay. The high-tide track only adds 10 minutes to your walk, so no need to plan in advance. From here the Coast Track once again turns inland as you make your way to the former Tonga Quarry. Continuing along the coast you’ll reach Onetahuti Beach, which the Coast Track walks along for nearly 1 km!
From the end of the beach you’ll climb through the bush before descending to Awaroa Bay. Here you’ll find the Department of Conservation run Awaroa Bay Hut & Campsite as well as the adjacent Awaroa Lodge. The Lodge is a great place to spend the night if you’re in search of a bit more luxury that what the DoC huts have on offer!
Remember that you cannot cross the Awaroa Inlet outside of 1.5 hours before and 2 hours after low-tide. If you plan to walk further on this day you need to consult the tide schedules to be sure it will be possible.
Stage 4: Awaroa Bay to Whariwharangi
Distance & Elevation: 17.3 km // +805 m, -801 m
Where to stay: Whariwharangi Hut & Campsite // Anapai Beach Campsite
After crossing the Awaroa Inlet to begin Stage 4 of the Abel Tasman Coast Track the route cuts across a forested headland before heading back to the coast. The trail continues on hugging the shoreline along Goat Bay before a short, but steep climb brings you to a viewpoint with spectacular views of Totaranui Beach. Heading down from the lookout you’ll eventually reach Totaranui with its huge campsite and busy dock. Many walkers opt to finish at this point and grab a water taxi back to Marahau. If you want to spend the night at Totaranui keep in mind that there is no hut here, so you’ll need to camp.
For those continuing on you’ll follow the road through the Totaranui complex before turning right, walking past a parking area, and then picking up the main trail again as it heads into the bush. You’ll climb up and over another headland before arriving at the Anapai Beach Campsite. This is a great option for those looking to camp near Totaranui, but prefer a quieter site. Located on a lovely beach, this is a great place to spend the night!
From Anapai Beach the track climbs steadily before descending down to Mutton Cove. From here the main Coast Track heads inland, although we highly recommend taking the alternative route to Separation Point, with its beautiful views of the sea beyond. The main Coast Track and Separation Point track meet again at a high point and then descend to the Whariwharangi Hut & Campsite. This is the last hut along the Coast Track and a lovely place to spend you last evening.
Stage 5: Whariwharangi to Totaranui (via Gibbs Hill Track)
Distance & Elevation: 9.8 km // +677 m, -679 m
Where to stay: Totaranui or onward travel accommodation
The final stage of the Abel Tasman Coast Track presents walkers with two options. The first is to finish the walk on the traditional route by descending to the carpark at Wainui, just over 5 km from the Whariwharangi Hut. The problem with this option is that there is not frequent transportation from the end of the walk in Wainui, with only a few bus operators serving the car park and official end of the Coast Track. The second option, and what we recommend, is to take the Gibbs Hill Track back to Totaranui. This makes for a 10km walk from Whariwharangi, but you’ll have many more transportation options back to Marahau and Nelson from Totaranui. Plus, you’ll get to see a bit more of the mountainous interior of Abel Tasman National Park.
Regardless of your choice, you’ll begin by leaving the hut or campsite at Whariwharangi and climbing steadily up to the junction with the Gibbs Hill Track. For those heading to Wainui, it’s a short 3 km descent to the car park and finish of the Coast Track. For those continuing on to Totaranui, you’ll join the Gibbs Hill track as it ascends towards a high point at, you guessed it, Gibbs Hill. From here the track begins its descent to Totaranui and you’ll soon come to a junction where you’ll take a left. From this point it is approximately 4.5 km back to Totaranui.
Regardless of which option you choose you can celebrate in the fact that you’ve just completed the Abel Tasman Coast Walk! Get your transportation out of Abel Tasman sorted out and be sure to enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with completed one of New Zealand’s Great Walks!
Alternative Itineraries for the Coast Track
The five day itinerary described above can be broken into almost countless alternative itineraries for walking the Coast Track. If you’ve only got time for a few days, we suggest the following itineraries:
3-day Abel Tasman Coast Track
For those with only three days to spare in Abel Tasman we recommend starting with a big first day to from Marahau to Bark Bay. From Bark Bay you’ll head to Awaroa, where you’re likely to need to spend the night in order to time the tidal crossing correctly. On your final day, head along the coast to Totaranui to catch a water taxi back to the start.
- Stage 1: Marahau to Bark Bay: 23 km
- Stage 2: Bark Bay to Awaroa Bay: 12 km
- Stage 3: Awaroa to Totaranui: 6.5 km
1-day Abel Tasman Coast Track
Even with a single day in Abel Tasman you’ll be able to enjoy some of the best parts of the walk. Our recommendation is to take a water taxi to Totaranui and then complete the northern portion of the walk by first hiking to Whariwharangi and then taking the Gibbs Hill Track back to Totaranui. This is the least crowded section of the trail and also has some of the most incredible views, including those from Separation Point.
Abel Tasman Coast Track: What to Pack
Packing for the Coast Track is a balancing act between ensuring you have everything you need while not over packing. In general, you should be able to get by with a 30L – 60L backpack and the following essentials:
- Backpack (35L – 60L)
- Tent (for those camping)
- Sleeping pad (for those camping)
- Sleeping bag
- Hydration bladder or water bottle
- Cook system + utensils (don’t forget stove fuel!)
- Head Torch/Flashlight
- First-aid kit
- Toiletries – don’t forget sunscreen!
- Bug spray
- Toilet paper
- Reservation confirmations
- Hiking boots/running shoes
- One or two sets of hiking clothes (socks, underwear, shorts, hiking shirt)
- Long sleeve shirt and pants (for the sand flies)
- Rain jacket
- Fleece jacket or other mid-weight jacket
Also, you won’t be able to buy any food along the trail. Thus, you’ll need to be sure you’ve packed all you’ll need for the entire walk. In general, we recommend backpacking staples such as ramen, freeze-dried backpacker meals, trail mix, and instant oatmeal. Be sure and think through each day of your walk when meal planning as you want to ensure you’ve brought enough food!
Baggage Transfer on the Coast Track
Taken all of our packing advice above, but still have too much gear? No problem! All of the main water taxi operators will be more than happy to shuttle your packs from beach to beach along the Coast Track. However, remember that there are no water taxis allowed past Totaranui, so you’ll have to carry your own pack past there!
We recommend the following companies for baggage transfer on the Coast Track:
If you’ve read our Complete Guide to the Abel Tasman Coast Track above, you’re well on your way to having an incredible experience on the hike. However, you still have lots of preparation before you’re truly ready! Be sure to read our entire series on the Coast Track to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for your trip!