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What's up DOC - Abel Tasman Track - 13 Jun


The Abel Tasman Coast Track, located in Abel Tasman National Park on South Island's northern shores. The Coast Track is a Great Walk and extends for 51km. All streams are bridged but there are tidal crossings which can only be crossed within a few hours either side of low tide. The track takes an average of three to five days to complete. There are huts and campsites where you can stay for a fee. There is no charge for day walks. Visitors can walk into the park from the road end carparks, catch water taxis to beaches along the track or kayak along the coast.

Need somewhere to stock up?

The nearest towns of Nelson, Motueka and Takaka have i-Sites, accommodation and shops catering for tramping and kayaking needs. Kaiteriteri has a petrol station, small grocery shop, accommodation and café. Marahau has accommodation, a shop and cafés. Takaka is the last place for petrol before Totaranui.


For at least 500 years, Maori lived along the Abel Tasman coast, gathering food from the sea, estuaries and forests, and growing kumara on suitable sites. Most occupation was seasonal but some sites in Awaroa estuary were permanent.

On 18 December 1642, Abel Tasman anchored his two ships near Wainui in Mohua (Golden Bay), the first European to visit Aotearoa New Zealand. He lost four crew in a skirmish with the Maori there, Ngati Tumatakokiri.

The Tumatakokiri were conquered around 1800 and the conquerors in turn were invaded in the 1820s. Te Ati Awa, Ngati Rarua and Ngati Tama all trace their ancestry to this latter invasion.

Frenchman Dumont d'Urville followed in January 1827, exploring the area between Marahau and Torrent Bay. Permanent European settlement began around 1855. The settlers logged forests, built ships, quarried granite and fired the hillsides to create pasture.

For a time there was prosperity but soon the easy timber was gone and the hills were invaded by gorse and bracken. Little now remains of their enterprise and the ravaged landscape is slowly healing.

Abel Tasman National Park was formed after Nelson conservationist Perrine Moncrieff became concerned at the prospect of logging along the beautiful coast. She campaigned to have 15,000 hectares of crown land made into a national park. A petition presented to the Government suggested Abel Tasman's name for the park, which was opened in 1942 on the 300th anniversary of his visit.


D'Urville found South Island kokako in the forests around Torrent Bay; these and several other native bird species have since disappeared and bellbird, fantail, pigeon and tui are now the main forest birds. Around the beaches, estuaries and wetlands, pukeko and weka are common.

A range of wading birds stalk the estuaries for fish and shellfish, while offshore, gannets, shags and terns can be seen diving for food. Little blue penguins feed at sea during the day and return to burrows on the park's islands at night.

Rivers and estuaries

The native fish communities within Abel Tasman waterways are almost pristine, due to the lowland nature of the park (most other national parks being alpine) and its proximity to the sea. A native fish survey has found that the rivers and streams of the park contain a diversity of native freshwater fish, with 14 species recorded, including threatened migratory galaxiid species, such as the short-jawed and giant kokopu, as well as long-finned eels, which are also threatened.

Beyond the shoreline

The park's rocky coastline is a fascinating place to explore, particularly with snorkel and goggles. Between the tides, plants and animals occupy distinct bands like the forest zones between sea level and the bushline. Periwinkles, tubeworms, neptunes necklace and pink algae are all adapted to a particular level of exposure to sun and wind.

Fur seals are found along the coast of the park, particularly on the more remote granite headlands of Separation Point and Tonga Island.

Tonga Island marine reserve runs one nautical mile out from the coast between Awaroa Head and the headland separating Bark Bay and Mosquito Bay. All marine life within its boundaries is protected and no fishing is allowed. A separate publication on the reserve is available.

Conservation management tools

While the park may appear to be completely natural and undeveloped, modern technology is used to provide low-impact facilities and maintain the pristine environment.

Toilets and sewerage disposal

Most of the traditional "long drop" toilets have been replaced with more efficient systems to cater for the 160,000 visitors each year. Containment tanks are custom made to sit underground beneath toilets. These capture all effluent. Sewage is pumped out from septic and containment tank systems annually. It is barged to the nearest road-end and transported to an urban sewage system at Rabbit Island. Here it is used to irrigate a pine plantation, which will ultimately be harvested for timber. In 2004, 54,000 litres of sewage were removed from the park.

Solar Power

Solar power generators are used to drive the pumps that move effluent away from sensitive sites such as Bark Bay spit to a dispersal field away from the public. Radios, using solar-generated power in their rechargeable batteries, are used for communication at rangers' huts. Small solar-powered computers detect faults and monitor the sewage systems. A solar-powered water filtration system provides drinking water for the main huts.
Electronic tools

Electronic data loggers are used to record work tasks, download visitor monitoring data and undertake inspections on visitor assets. Management has been further enhanced by introducing electronic computer counters hidden in the track to monitor visitor numbers.

Outboard motors

Four-stroke outboard motors are now widely used on DOC boats and most water taxis. These have the added benefit of being economic on fuel and are considerably less noisy.

Protecting sensitive coastal sites

Foreshore restoration has occurred at many sites, such as Mosquito beach, where the remaining coastal spit vegetation has been fenced off and beach steps installed to provide better access. Kayak racks have also been constructed at some sites to help minimise the impact on the foreshore.

What's the track like?

Track category - Great Walk. Easy.

Marahau to Anchorage

Time: 4 hr
Distance: 11.5 km

French names left by d'Urville and his crew Adele, Simonet and Torrent add character to this part of the journey. At Marahau information kiosk a causeway crosses the estuary. On the far side the track passes through open country to Tinline Bay.

The track rounds Guilbert Point to Apple Tree Bay then passes through beech forest with large kanuka trees. After Yellow Point it turns inland, winding in and out of several little gullies before emerging in open country overlooking Torrent Bay and the coast and islands to the north.

Descend to Anchorage Bay where there is a hut and campsite.

Anchorage to Bark Bay

Time: 3 hr
Distance: 9.5 km

From Anchorage Bay, cross a low ridge to Torrent Bay estuary. The estuary can be crossed within two hours either side of low tide, or an all-tide track leads around it to Torrent Bay. Please keep to the public track through the private houses here.

At the northern end of Torrent Bay beach the track climbs through pine trees. The track sidles around two valleys and above a beautiful inlet to Falls River, the biggest in the park, which is crossed by a 47 metre suspension bridge. Beyond the river, the track climbs before dropping back to the sea. Follow the track to the hut and campsite beside Bark Bay estuary.

Bark Bay to Awaroa

Time: 4 hr
Distance: 11.5 km

Cross Bark Bay estuary or follow the all-tide track around its edge and climb steeply to a saddle. Here you lose all sense of the sea below as you journey through stands of manuka.

Return to the shore at Tonga Quarry, where blocks of granite remain from an old quarrying operation. Tonga Island sits offshore surrounded by marine reserve. A short distance on is Onetahuti Bay; at its northern end, high tide may cause a delay. The tidal stream can be crossed within 3 hours either side of low tide. The track then climbs over Tonga Saddle and descends to Awaroa Inlet. Follow the shore for 15 minutes to Awaroa Hut and campsite.

Awaroa to Totaranui

Time: 1 hr 30 min
Distance: 5.5 km

Awaroa Estuary can only be crossed close to low tide. The estuary should definitely only be crossed up to one and a half hours before low tide and up to two hours after it. (Following very heavy rain the estuary may be impassable.) From its northern side the track crosses a low saddle and drops to Waiharakeke Bay, where a timber mill once operated.

The track re-enters the forest then emerges at Goat Bay, from where it climbs to a lookout above Skinner Point before descending to Totaranui. Follow the road through the main camping ground to the camp office, water taxi pickup point and Coast Track walkers campsite.

Totaranui to Whariwharangi

Time: 3 hr
Distance: 7.5 km

The track heads around Totaranui estuary, climbs over a low saddle and winds down through lush forest to Anapai Bay. From here to Mutton Cove, travel alternates between sandy beaches and rocky headlands of regenerating kanuka.

Leave the coast at Mutton Cove and climb to another saddle. From here the track descends to Whariwharangi Bay. The hut-a restored farm homestead-and campsite are just behind the beach. Add 1 hour to go via Separation Point. (See side trips).

Whariwharangi to Wainui

Time: 1 hr 30 min
Distance: 5.5 km

From Whariwharangi Hut follow a small stream then climb out of the bay to a saddle overlooking Wainui Inlet. It is possible to cross Wainui Inlet within two hours either side of low tide. The track winds down to the shore around gorse-covered ridges recovering from a 1978 fire, then follows the estuary edge for 500 metres to the carpark.

Transport is available from the carpark.