Hiking the Abel Tasman Coastal Track

Table of Contents

Day 1 – Marahu to Anchorage
Day 2 – Anchorage Bay to Bark Bay
Day 3 – Bark Bay to Awaroa
Day 4 – Awaroa to Whariwharangi Bay
Day 5 – Whariwharangi Bay to Totaranui via Separation Point

Day 1, Nov 23, 2018 – Marahu to Anchorage (12.4km)

Departed Nelson at 7am with the temperature around 7°C. This weeks’ weather in the South Island is unusual, meaning some bad weather is round the corner and may affect our track. We were prepared for it with appropriate gear. Arrived at Marahu by shuttle bus from Nelson around 8am. Once all the paper work was sorted at DOC office, we handed over our packs to be transported by water taxi. We were off around 8.30 am on our coastal track which started immediately opposite the office. It began as a cool day with strong shine just edging over the lush green mountains.

Day 1- Marahu to Anchorage
Day 1- Marahu to Anchorage

The track is well defined and started as wooden planks over a marsh. Today’s hike would take us about 4 hrs covering 12.4 km. A few kayaks on the water off Tinline Bay. Took a detour towards Tinline Nature Walk. Native bush with small but fast flowing streams. Arrived at secluded and a little stony Apple Tree Bay around 11 am.  The sun shined brightly. Across the water are smaller Fisherman and Adele islands. It was a beautiful day. Walking amongst the native bush, mainly beech forest and kanuka tress, was exhilarating. Silver and black tree ferns provided variety in the bush. The track meandered inland mainly under the canopy of trees. It offered shade. The gradient was gentle, suitable to most average hikers.  Detoured towards Pitt Head. Fantastic view of emerald green and turquoise water of bays, beaches and coves. Water taxis and boats shuffled around transporting people, kayaks and luggage to various spots along a wonderful coast. Something unusual was, there is no wind at all. On the water, not even a ripple! Avid kayakker’s paddled gently on the blue – green waters. As we approached Anchorage, the tall tree canopy gave way to shrubs as we climbed uphill. Here, it offered 360 degrees view of water and mountains. Finally, we arrived at beautiful Anchorage Bay around 2pm.

Day 1- Marahu to Anchorage

An inviting crescent golden sand beach lay before us. The beach was crowded with trampers and mostly day trippers via water taxis. On the water, boats and kayaker were busy. We picked up our pack from the beach. Our hut was cozy and with 24 bunk beds. From here, headed to Cleopatra Pool. The light on the water along the way was amazing. It was unbelievably clear. The refreshing pool had a natural slide (perhaps for slimier and smaller bodies).  The water was cold. The return walk was 1.5 hrs.

Day 1- Marahu to Anchorage

At dinner time, I was quite excited to cook with my newly purchased pots and stove. All the huts on this track only provide shelter, a bed and mostly unpurified water. No showers nor power either. There was a camaraderie amongst the hikers. Most were foreigners. Later in the cloudy evening, I strolled on a empty beach only to the sound of water gently lapping on the shore. Still no breeze.

Day 2, Nov 24, 2018 –  Anchorage Bay to Bark Bay (8.7km)

After a quick breakfast, we left calm Anchorage Bay around 0630. The sun was just peeking through thick clouds. Oyster catchers and cormorants were the only residents on the beach. The reason for the early departure is to walk across Torrent Bay Inlet at low tide. This would save us an hour’s hike on the high tide track (11.7km). Therefore, when planning to hike in the park, knowledge on tide time is critical especially on Day 4, across Awaroa Bay Inlet. There is no high tide track.

Day 2 – Anchorage to Bark Bay
Day 2 – Anchorage to Bark Bay

There is an open expanse of sand and mud at Torrent Bay Inlet. A stream of water flowed out to sea that must be negotiated. Probably from Cleopatra’s Pool and Torrent River. At places, it was just below my knee. We waded through the inlet in about 20 minutes. That led us through a quiet Torrent Village. They were perhaps holiday homes. It was a substantial village. From here-on the track meandered inland passing through several streams. The lush forest kept hiking cool.

Day 2 – Anchorage to Bark Bay

Around 9am, we crossed a wonderfully clear Falls River via a suspension bridge. Sunken logs clearly visible under water with old man’s beard (lichen), hung off trees on the river banks. Towards the later part of the track, it drizzled lightly. It became darker under the trees, shrubs and tree ferns canopy. Having left early this morning meant we arrived early at our hut at Bark Bay, around 1115. It was high tide. Collected out pack from the beach near the camp sites. It was slightly wet from the late afternoon drizzle. Bark Bay hut had 34 bunks.  I took a quick cold shower, courtesy from a hose. Time for some lunch and rest. The day stayed gloomy and the sky grey. The resident DOC staff, Phill, was a humorous guy with lots of information and wise cracks. We managed to get a ‘private room’.

Day 2 – Anchorage to Bark Bay

It became routine to start dinner early. Lights through solar power lit the dining room intermittently. I had packed some miso with noodles and rice with ready to eat Indian meals. As per day 1, there were lots of meal sharing. Some of us had packed too much food. I strolled out to the bay, at low tide, walked across soft sandy beach. Some hiker had collected mussels off the rocky coast for dinner! Still, there was no wind! The surrounding forest was still as it was well sheltered. Early to bed but no need to catch the low tide the next day. Both low tide and high tide tracks took about the same time to walk. Sleep in huts is never easy as hikers sleep in close proximity. Ear plug might be a solution.

Day 3, Nov 25, 2018 –  Bark Bay to Awaroa (13.5 km)

Sleep was partial in the hut. Breakfast was chapati with condensed milk and coffee, carbohydrates for the morning walk. From the hut, I could barely make out the orange signage indicating the low tide track. All along the track, there are signage and markers (triangular or round), especially along the coastal track. The track is well maintained. We left around 0730. Deposited our packs on the beach for collection by water taxi to our next stop, Awaroa. We took the high tide track, which led inland.  The day was cloudy but no rain or wind. The air was muggy and cool under the coastal forest canopy. A sea of Manuka trees and tree ferns hindered views of the sea.

Day 3 – Bark Bay to Awaroa
Day 3 – Bark Bay to Awaroa

Crossed the Waterfall Creek via another suspension bridge. Water swiftly flowed over boulders towards the sea. Along the track, you would see yellow wasp traps and other traps set up by DOC. We eventually descended towards Tonga Quarry. Little remains of the granite quarry reminded us of past settlers’ life. Across the water, Tonga Island. Now, seals had taken refuge here. After another bush walk, views of idyllic Onetahuti Beach emerged. Rocky outcrops, emerald green water and golden sand beach made it an inviting proposition. Kayaks laid on the beach. A great place for lunch.

Day 3 – Bark Bay to Awaroa

We continued crossing a Maori bridge and an all tide crossing boardwalk. This diversion meant, no more waiting for the tidal crossing on Onetahuti Beach. From the beach, it is uphill walk into the Tonga Saddle. We reached a signage, Awaroa Lodge and Awaroa Hut. We head towards Awaroa Lodge as our packs are deposited at Awaroa Beach, next to the lodge. This is private land, a non-DOC track. If the timing for a low tide crossing is possible, take this track. Perhaps have some tea and lunch at the Lodge while waiting for the tide to drop. We arrived around 1200, collected our packs but made a ‘big’ decision. Although we had bookings at Awaroa Hut, we decided to stay at the lodge for the night. Hot shower and a fancy meal. A little indulgence to sample all of Able Tasman Park. There is a pizza outlet as well. Stunning Awaroa Beach was recently passed on from private to public ownership through crowd funding. Water taxis collected and dropped off passengers, day trippers and lodge customers. A big day tomorrow, to cross the Awaroa Inlet. There is no high tide option!

Day 3 – Bark Bay to Awaroa

Nearby, there is a small grassy airstrip to bring the well-to-do customer to the lodge. Planes have been flying in and out throughout the day. Finally, the ‘unusual’ weather that hit South Island descended on us. At dinner time, it poured heavily, and it continued through the night. We carefully packed all our packs as from here-on, there is no public water taxi service.  At least, a comfortably bed tonight.

Day 4, Nov 26, 2018 – Awaroa to Whariwharangi Bay (16.9 km)

We woke up to the sound of rain. Today is critical that we cross the Awaroa Inlet at low tide. There is no other option. Bags water proofed, rain gear on (including a poncho) and with a spirit of adventure, we headed out towards Awaroa Hut. We left around 0630. Low tide crossing can be made with two hours on either side of the lowest level. Need to make allowances for the main crossing, that would take about 30 minutes. . First, we walked on the grassy airstrip. We could all be easily sported with our bright rain coats. The first crossing is a river crossing. Then onto the beach towards the hut. We stopped at the hut to make breakfast and a sense of ‘comradeship’ developed as we met other fellow hikers on the same route. In a short time friendship is bonded. Everyone was preparing for the low tide crossing. We packed and headed out around 0745. High tide would come in around 0830. Bare footed, we walked across fast flowing streams from ankle to knee depth. Beware of crustaceans and soft mud. Low cloud hung over nearby mountains. There was a breeze.

Day 4 – Awaroa to Whiriwharangi

Once across, we scrambled in the, fortunately, light rain to get our boots on. Tree canopies provided shelter from the rain until Waiharakeke Bay. We were exposed to the elements. The sea was a little rough. I had packed too much, and it began to weigh on me. Eventually, we arrive at Totaranui around 1100. This seems to be a hub of activities. Camping grounds, road transport to Takaka and Nelson is available plus water taxi service.  Tomorrow, we will return to Totaranui to catch a water taxi back to Marahu. There is also a museum about Able Tasman National Park.  It was a little reprieve from the continued rain. In a designated hut, we prepared lunch. However, watch out the mischievous Weka birds that has affinity to anything packaged. Food basically. Please do not feed the Weka as there is plentiful in the surrounding area.

We took the high tide track pass historic Ngarata Homestead and re-entered the forest. There is an alternate route via the Gibbs Track. Soon we were descending again towards the coast at Anapai Beach.  The rain ceased around 1300. It was a relief. It was a long track on the beach and hike inland again to dense forest. There were great views of Anapai Beach.  We then crossed several hills and passed a grassy field towards an orange triangular track marker to Mutton Cove. This is a camping site. The sea was still rough. From this point, we head inland and direct route to Whiriwharangi Hut.

Day 4 – Awaroa to Whiriwharangi

The climb was uphill. There is a great viewpoint looking down at the bays and rugged coastline. From her-on is downhill, which pleased me. We arrived at this 1896 Whiriwharangi Bay Hut around 1645. The hut has 20 bunk beds. There was a sense of ‘having arrived’ at the hut. There was laughter and warmth from the fireplace. Now we can truly appreciate the walk, the landscape and the eco-system with time on our hands. We removed all the wet gear and footwear to dry out. Time to unwind with a nice hot cup of condensed milk coffee. Later, a proper but cold shower. From here, hikers may depart to Wanui (and onward road transport) or like us back to Totaranui. It has been a long day. Our final meal prepared on my no-so new pots and stove.

Day 4 – Awaroa to Whiriwharangi


Day 5, 27 Nov, 2018 – Whariwharangi Bay to Totaranui via Separation Point (10.5 km)

Today is our last day of hiking. Returning to Totaranui to catch a water taxi back to Marahau and onward by shuttle to Nelson. It did rain last night but looks promisingly good this morning. I strolled the compound around 0600. A single Tui bird fed on nectar of a flax plant.

We left around 0830 and wandered around isolated Whariwharangi Bay. A gradual climb brought us to a junction. One path leads directly to Totaranui (later with another option, that is,via Gibbs Hill).  This is a better option if wanting to walk via Gibbs Hill and not the other way (ie Totaranui to Whiriwharangi via Gibbs Hill). The accent is difficult especially in wet weather. The second path is a detour via Separation Point. Today, we decided to head to Separation Point.

Day 5 – Whiriwharangi to Totaranui

[caption id="attachment_9864" align="alignleft" width="300"] Day 5 – Whiriwharangi to Totaranui

We came across many kill traps set up by DOC to get rid of introduced pest like rodents. Flowering Lupine can be found in small clusters. It was a gradual walk and from the hills, we had a fantastic view of Mutton Cove. On a narrow path we edged towards Separation Point around 1000. The water was absolutely clear. At the bottom of the rocky beach, fur laid sunning on the rocks while some swam happily in the water. On a steep path, I descended to the edge of this rocky outcrop. Lots of flax, prickly plants and gorse bushes along the path. Besides seal, gannets also make this isolated place home, when in season. Beyond this point is the Tasman Sea.

We retraced our walk steep uphill climb and back inland. Soon we were back on the sandy coast, Mutton Cove. We had to negotiate some rocky outcrops to proceed. A giant male seal choose to rest on the rocks. Carefully, with one eye on the seal and the other on the shifting rock, we managed to continue out track along the coast. Soon we found the familiar Anapai Beach.

Day 5 – Whiriwharangi to Totaranui

Finally, we arrived at Totaranui around 1330. We rested at the museum and waited for our water taxi pick-up. Plenty of sand-flies. We boarded at 1500. It was a fantastic and smooth ride. We stopped over at Tonga and Adele Islands. A small colony of fur seal had taken refuge here. The whole boat was loaded onto a tractor-trailer and hauled back to Marahu. Arrived at around 1630. After a long day, we returned to the comforts of a modern apartment in Neslon.

The Able Tasman National Park is managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC). There is plentiful of information and booking opportunities on-line. Huts must be booked in advance to avoid disappointments during peak seasons. This track is open all year round (no snow in the coastal region, yet!) Water taxis are at your convenience which enable you to get into the park at various destinations and time spent. Insect repellent is advised to keep sand flies in check. Travel light with all-weather gear, food and cooking utensils (including stove). Beware of the tidal timings as it may be crucial for onward travel (especially when no high tide alternative track is not available). Daily information is updated in all the huts by the rangers. Talk to them as they are local with wealth of information. Enjoy the spectacular tidal change, lagoons, fast flowing streams, isolated cove, native forest, emerald-green and turquoise water and beautiful golden sand beaches. Throw in the birds and wild life, Able Tasman Coastal Track is simply amazing.













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