The 5 best ways to explore the Abel Tasman National Park
New Zealand is all about nature and the things you see while exploring on one of the many DOC trails and hikes. And that is especially true for the Abel Tasman National Park. The Abel Tasman is located on the top of the South Island and the region is blessed with the most sunshine hours in New Zealand. There are many great ways to explore the Abel Tasman but I think five really stick out and will, separately or combined, guarantee you the best experience.
The Abel Tasman is shaped by the sea and no visit to the park would be complete without a little time on the water. Kayaking is a great way to do that because you get to really experience the element that has shaped the area and you get to see parts of the park that you wouldn’t normally get to.
There are so many different companies offering so many different kayak trips around the park, that I could almost fill a post just about that. But to break it down, there are two main differences between all the tours: self-guided tours and guided tours. If you are trying to stick to a tight budget, self-guided tours are the way to go. However, kayaks are only rented to groups of at least 2 people and you have to stick to the lowest regions of the park, where the water is safer than further up in the park. Guides will instruct you on water safety and will provide you with maps, so you don’t get lost. These tours cost around 50 NZD and will start from Kaiteriteri or Motueka.
If your budget isn’t as tight, you can go on a guided tour through the park which will get you much further into the park and further out to sea. I did the Remote Coast tour with Abel Tasman Kayaks that started in Marahau and took us all the way up to Awaroa beach by water taxi. From there, we kayaked via Shag Harbour and stopped for lunch at Onetahuti bay (tea/coffee, sandwiches, fruit and the best chocolate cake I’ve had in a long time). We had the bay all to ourselves and went for a swim in the most gorgeous blue water. In the afternoon, we paddled out to the Tonga Marine Wildlife Reserve, “sailed” with the help of our paddles and ended up at Bark Bay, where a water taxi was waiting for us to take us back to Marahau. The tour wasn’t cheap but the experience was definitely worth the money. Abel Tasman Kayaks even picked me up from Nelson and were altogether really helpful. So if you’re clueless about which company to go with, I can definitely recommend them.
I did a day trip but if you have more time, then it’s definitely worth having a look at the multi-day-tours. The 3-5 day trips combine kayaking with walking (and sometimes sailing) and will give you the best insight into the Abel Tasman. When I’m going back, I’ll definitely do a multi-day tour, hoping to see some penguins and maybe take a seal pup home with me.
If you prefer a more chilled out way to explore the Park on water, then sailing is a great option. But even sailing doesn’t have to be all chilled out. If the wind is good, it can get pretty rough and you might get a chance to help. Sailing can also get you very close to the animals and, starting in Kaiteriteri, you have the chance to see a large section of the park.
Abel Tasman Sailing Adventures offers different deals, from an all day sailing trip, to sailing and walking, and even sailing, kayaking and walking. They also offer lunch and tea and coffee on the boat, so you’re set to let the coast drift by while you enjoy the breeze, the view and the sea. Sailing does come with a hefty price though, 185 NZD, so it’s certainly nothing for backpackers on a shoestring budget. If I had to plan my trip again, I’d do rather to a multi-day kayak trip, than the sailing because I liked kayaking more than hanging out on a boat all day. But that’s just me.
If you don’t have a lot of time but you still want to see a great chunk of the Park, then the water taxis are a great way to get around. They connect all the main beaches with the “hubs” of the area. There are different companies that cover the same stretch of the park, Abel Tasman Water Taxi and Marahau Water Taxi to name just two. All companies offer different trip options to best suit your plans, whether you just want to lie at the beach for a day or whether you want to do a bit of walking, everything is possible. If you’re not sure what you want to do, just head to one of their offices or just go to the iSite in Nelson, the people there will be happy to help you find the best experience.
As much as it’s worth experiencing the Abel Tasman on water, hiking parts, or all, of the park is a great way to see the nature and wildlife, too. There are hundreds of hikes strewn all over the Abel Tasman, varying in length as well as difficulty, to fit pretty much any ability level. You can have a look at the DOC website to see some of the hikes you can do in the park.
5. Abel Tasman Coastal Trek
The Abel Tasman Coastal Trek is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks and is very popular with tourists and Kiwis alike. The hike can be very busy during the summer months and especially during December and January, when Kiwi kids have their long summer holidays. If you still want to walk the Coastal Trek during that time, just plan ahead so you’re sure to get a space in one of the campsites or in the huts. Even outside of the main season, you need to book spaces at the campsites and on the buses that take you to the start of the Trek.
Depending on how fast you walk, the Coastal Trek takes between 3 and 5 days and you can walk it from either end. The trek is fairly easy, so you don’t need to be the fittest and most experienced hiker in the world. But if it’s your first hike, then chat to a couple who’ve done it, to find out how much food you need to plan with for the hike. Also, try not to carry the entire contents of your backpack with you, especially if it’s over 8 kilos. Because a backpack can get really heavy after a couple of hours.
+ Sky Diving
And as a little extra, since New Zealand is the adventure country of the world, why not try sky diving across the Abel Tasman? It’s going to be cheaper than the ones in Taupo or Queenstown but the view is just as spectacular.
Curious? Have a look here to see the Abel Tasman from above.
For any of these activities, it’s really important that you take sunscreen, something to cover your head, insect repellent, as well as lots of drinking water.
New Zealand can have four seasons in one day and it’s important to protect yourself in any of those four seasons (and I’m speaking from experience, I have been sunburned on a cloudy day). Combined with extended time on the water, it’s even more likely you’ll get sunburned, so stock up on that SPF 50, a hat and maybe even a shirt. I wore this Lululemon jacket on all my trips in the Abel Tasman at the start of the year. It was a bit of an impulse buy in Wellington because I had completely forgotten to bring a rain jacket with me on this trip. My brain must have clearly thought that since I was heading to summer, it cannot possibly be raining. Well, anyway, this purchase actually turned out to be really handy, since the jacket is really light-weight, it gives you an additional layer of sun protection and it protects you from the wind while out kayaking. About insect repellent, I’m only going to say two words: sand flies. If you’ve encountered them, you’ll know what I’m talking about, if not, then lucky you and keep spraying that insect repellent. Also, there is no clean drinking water in the park, apart from a couple of the campsites, so you need to plan ahead.
And now it’s your turn. Are you heading to New Zealand soon? Have you done any of these activities? Tell me about your experiences and plans in the comments!