Named for Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, who first visited the region in 1642, this national park is New Zealand’s smallest – but it’s perfectly formed for relaxation and adventure.
Visitors love the way the Abel Tasman National Park mixes physical exertion with beach life. Bursts of hiking or kayaking are punctuated by sun bathing, swimming and sedate snorkelling around the characteristic granite outcrops.
Those who crave home comforts can stay in luxurious lodges, but sleeping under the stars is regarded as the ultimate way to experience the spirit of the Abel Tasman.
The strip of coast that falls within the boundaries of the park is highly distinctive. Granite and marble formations fringe the headlands, which are cloaked in regenerating native forest. Inviting sandy beaches fill the spaces between trees and tide line. Crystal clear streams tumble down mossy valleys to join the ocean.
At Te Pukatea Bay, a perfect crescent of golden sand, a walking track leads up Pitt Head to an ancient Maori pa (fort) site. Terracing and food pits are still visible, and it’s easy to see why the location was chosen as a defensive site – the views are huge.
Native wildlife is an essential part of the scenery. Tui and bellbird song fills the forest; shags (cormorants), gannets and little blue penguins dive for their dinner; fur seals lounge on the rocks around the edge of Tonga Island.
The coastal track and other walks
Classed as one of New Zealand’s ‘Great Walks’, the Abel Tasman’s Coastal Track takes between 3 and 5 days to complete. It climbs around headlands and through native forest to a series of beautiful beaches. The track is walkable at any time of the year. Expect to see lots of other walkers and day visitors in summer. For a different view of the park, there are inland tracks that lead up to the dramatic karst landscape of Takaka Hill.
A number of kayaking companies run guided tours from Marahau and Kaiteriteri. If you’d rather be independent, you can rent kayaks and stay at campsites, huts or lodges within the park – just as you would if you were hiking.
For those with only a day to see the park, water taxi companies can provide a personalised mix of sightseeing by boat and track walking. Pre-booking is advised. Enquire at Motueka, Marahau or Kaiteriteri.