Article Explore the Abel Tasman National Park & Golden Bay
The Abel Tasman National Park is located on the north coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The drive from Nelson to Motueka is about 70km. This is where most visitors start their journeys into the national park. The park is named after Abel Tasman, the Dutch explorer and seafarer, who was the first known European to sight New Zealand in 1642. Abel Tasman anchored in Golden Bay and had his first encounter with the Maori who settled in this area. To this very day, the 51 km long Abel Tasman Coastal Track is one of the most popular great walks of New Zealand and attracts people from all around the world for single and multiple day hikes.
After a beautiful coastal drive from Picton, we arrived at The Barn Backpackers in Marahau. The place was cozy and clean and even though there were just a few campers, a bunch of backpackers stayed at the dorm and private rooms, which created a lively atmosphere in the kitchen and dining area.
Right after we arrived at the campground, we talked to the staff at the reception and decided to take a one-way water taxi up to Bark Bay and walk back to the camp. The track offers both a low-tide and high-tide variation which differs from 20 min. at low tide and around 1.5 hours at high tide. We decided upon the low-tide shortcut, which made a total of 20 km, but ended up doing the high-tide walk and a total of 24 km. The earliest water taxi was at 9:30 am the next morning. A 5 minute trip by shuttle took us from the campground to the water taxi office. From there on we got into the boat and the skipper towed the boat with a tractor to and into the sea. The boat trip itself was great. The skipper did a little detour around the Split Apple Rock to pick up two more visitors and took some time to show us the different coasts and a fur seal colony on our way up to Bark Bay.
We started our walk from Bark Bay and almost every corner was more beautiful than the last. The weather was sunny all day long with fresh and cool breezes from the sea. We heard about the traffic of visitors during summer time, but since we are still off-season in September, there were only a couple of other visitors that crossed our path. We didn’t plan ahead as to whether we would arrive at high or low tide and initially hoped for low tide to take the shortcut. We found out on the water taxi that we would arrive at Torrent Bay during high tide and would have to take the high tide path. The skipper told us that the high tide path is actually his favorite bit of the track and, having done it, we can totally agree. The small detour to Cleopatra's Pool is definitely worth the time and a great place to have a break and a snack. You will find many more lookouts, benches and welcoming beaches on the further track to rest and enjoy the view.
Unfortunately, we did not have too much time to relax and enjoy the places since we wanted to be back at the campground before sunset. We arrived at Bark Bay at 10:45 am with the earliest water taxi and the whole 24 km walk takes around 6-7 hours, depending on your pace. Since it was still winter time in New Zealand and the days were not as long as during summer time, there was almost no time to hang out at the beaches if we were to return before sunset.
We would recommend taking a water taxi to Torrent Bay during high tide and walk back from there. The total of 24 kilometer was a bit more than we expected and the last thing you want to do is to hurry or rush this beautiful walk.
The next morning we decided to explore the northern part above the Abel Tasman National Park. We headed straight to Puponga and Farewell Split in a 2 hour drive from Marahau. Farewell Split is, at 26 km, the longest sandspit of New Zealand and reaches eastwards into the ocean. You can park your car in Puponga and either walk along the beach towards and across the Farewell Split or take a seat at Cafe Farewell Split and enjoy the view.
Don’t miss out on visiting Wharariki Beach, which was our personal highlight in this area. After a short 20 minute walk from the carpark, we reached a stunning, huge and remote beach with almost no one other than us and a happy seal enjoying the sunshine. The rough cliff formations differ a lot from the Abel Tasman coast that we’d seen just a few hours earlier. A curious but friendly couple of peacocks were wandering around the carpark and examined our campervan. Right next to Wharariki Beach and after 5-10 min drive, you’ll reach Cape Farewell, the northernmost point of the South Island. We didn’t expect much, but were surprised by the intimidating cliffs and the view on the rough ocean. We stayed the night at the Golden Bay Holiday Park, which we chose due to its close distance to the Mussel Inn Restaurant. The Mussel Inn is especially famous for its own brewed beer that you can find everywhere in the area and even in the North Island. We had a great evening at the Mussel Inn and were lucky enough to experience the monthly poetry night with local music, arts and poetry. Even though we chose the Golden Bay Holiday Park for its close distance to the Mussel Inn, the breakfast directly at the beach was remarkable. The facilities of the campground were a bit older and simpler than in previous campsites, but the direct beach access and the friendly staff made up for it.
After breakfast, we headed back to Nelson and made a little detour to Ligar Bay, where Abel Tasman anchored in 1642 as a first European explorer. Abel Tasman encountered the resident Maori in this bay, which escalated in a bloody conflict with four Dutch sailors being killed. Abel Tasman left and named the bay “Murderers Bay”, a name it retains to this day. As we travelled on, we stopped at the Te Waikoropupu Springs, which are known for the amazing clarity of their waters. On a sunny day, it is like looking directly glass through to the bottom of the lake. It is definitely worth a visit. Close to Nelson, we decided to take the scenic route over Mapua Drive, which is better known as a part of the Great Taste Trail Bicycle Path. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time and had to drive through the area with our campervan, which was not as spectacular as we thought. A bicycle ride might be the better choice in this area. We were a bit hurried because we were invited for dinner at a farm belonging to the parents of a friend of ours from Auckland. Her parents invited us over since we were in the area and we were treated to their beautiful farmland with Sheep and Alpacas, just a few minutes from Nelson.