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You strike up a conversation with anyone who’s already been to New Zealand or has been travelling around for a while and without fail the name Abel Tasman will come up. It’s one of those places on the South Island that apparently everyone loves and not going there would probably come close to the 8th deadly sin.
Funny thing is, New Zealand is completely plastered by all sorts of National Parks and Scenic Reserves. But for some reason Abel Tasman seems to be different. Although it’s not difficult to get to the park itself, getting around Abel Tasman is a different story. A single day trip is probably doable, but we really wouldn’t recommend it. We decided to stay right on the fringe of the park for 2 nights and despite some chilly nights in a tent, we thoroughly enjoyed it.
We had just stayed 2 nights on the shores of Tahunanui Beach near Nelson and had some really good nights sleep, so we were ready for some action again. We had already planned to head up to Abel Tasman, so it was already clear that we’d be staying at The Barn Backpackers Camp Site in Marahau. But getting to Marahau is actually very simple. It’s literally just over an hour’s drive from Nelson, despite some long-winding roads along the way.
Since we weren’t quite keen on spending our entire day on the camp site and it would have already been a bit too late to do any of the other bigger hikes, we decided to drive past the southern section of Abel Tasman for now and rather take the scenic route up north to Takaka. The topography promised to deliver so nice view across the landscape and we also identified a nice little walkway up to the Wainui Falls. So off we went!
I should point out that the drive from Riwaka (where you’d normally turn off to Marahau) to Wainui Falls can take anywhere between 1.5 to 2 hours depending on how much traffic you encounter along the way and how many lookouts you stop at. So going there, doing the walk and heading back will take anywhere between 4 and 5 hours. It sounds long, but you’re rewarded with stunning scenery and turquoise waters along the way. So it’s actually quite worth it.
So what can you see along the way?
After the initial long section of serpentines you eventually reach the top of the hill. Very soon you are greeted by some incredibly sudden signage which alerts you to the fact that there is a lookout ahead: Hawkes Lookout. You don’t really have much time to decide if you’re coming from the south, but since it’s only a really short walk, we do recommend making a quick stop here.
As you head up the walkway you proceed to pass through the usual brush and forestry that you encounter on most of the walks here in New Zealand. It should be said that almost all of the official walks and tracks have been incredible well prepared, making it extremely easy for you to get around and most importantly, not get lost. There’s a reason why you stumble upon so many pensioners here, even on the longer hikes. They are usually not technically challenging and can easily be completed by anyone who has at least a fragment of affinity to the outdoors.
Anyway, Hawkes Lookout gives a very nice view over the valley and Tasman Bay and it only takes about 15-20 minutes out of your overall travel time.
We then proceeded to complete our crossing of Takaka Hill and headed down a steep, winding road into the valley (which I suspect is called Uruwhenua). Endless single-laned roads past flocks of sheep and herds of cows give you a pretty good idea of how important agriculture seems to be in New Zealand. It’s also really quite fascinating how tiny a “town” can actually get. Set up 2-3 houses and on the side of the road and you’ve bought yourself the chance to name the place.
I’ll admit that the middle section of the drive to Wainui Falls can be quite long. Not because it’s a long drive, but because there’s only so much farming landscape that you can handle. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all very beautiful, but it also makes for some rather dull driving, particularly when compared to the hill crossings.
As we finally entered the northern end of Abel Tasman, we began to get closer to the coastline again. And with that came the resurgence of beautiful beaches and coves, complemented by rock formations that simply scream at you: Take a picture of me!
When we arrived at the parking lot next to the start of the track, we didn’t waste any time and headed straight into the forest. It’s not a particularly overcrowded area. At most there will be 2 dozen cars/campers standing around. Wainui Falls isn’t a major attraction, so it obviously doesn’t get frequented as much as other places.
It’s a a nice little walk with a return time of 40 minutes (maybe 60 min if you stay longer at the falls themselves). But oh my…once you get to the fall, it’s a complete tourist-frenzy. Despite walking all the way up to the falls and only seeing a handful of people along the way, we were greeted by a massive group of people lurking around the best spots to take a picture, having lunch or just hanging around, waiting for everyone to leave for some peace and quiet.
We couldn’t be bothered to wait for everyone to leave, so we stuck around for a 10-15 minutes but then decided it was time to head back again.
360° Photosphere of the Hanging Bridge
Split Apple Rock
As we drove all the way back to the southern end of Abel Tasman we came to realise that it somehow felt much longer than the way there. We weren’t really sure whether it was because we had already seen all of it or because we accidentally took a wrong turn which ended up with us driving down an uncomfortably rough gravel road for about 20 minutes.
Life lesson learned: In a face-off between a built-in GPS and Google Maps, always trust Google Maps. Despite data privacy and all that, Google really does know exactly what you’re looking for and more importantly, what you should avoid.
Anyway, before heading for our camp site, we decided to make one last stop at Split Apple Rock. It was already quite late in the afternoon and the tide was turning again, so we had a relatively good chance of getting a good look at the this curiously iconic rock in the ocean.
Why curious? Well, it really is nothing but a rock that looks like a split apple and if you have a chat with the locals, they’ll tell you can they never quite understood why New Zealand’s tourism department – out of all the things they could have chosen – decided to massively market this odd rock to the world. Oddly enough, it seems like the campaign worked quite well.
Anyway, we then headed for Marahau, as it was about time we set up our tent at the camping grounds. Mind you, we hadn’t had to set up the tent so far, so we though it might be a good idea to plan some extra time. You know…for all those inevitable discussions on how to set it up correctly 😉
Where Are We Landing, Boys?
The next morning we got up quite early. We still had to walk over to the Aqua Taxi offices and wanted to grab a nice cup of coffee before we head out for our full-day hike. We were scheduled to leave at around 9am and when we arrived at the parking lot, about 3-4 dozen people were already waiting. There are many different variations of hikes that you can do along the coastline of Abel Tasman, so not everyone was heading in the same direction.
Our tickets were check and we were instructed to following one of the many skippers onto our respective boats. Most people, when boarding these boats, only have one thing in mind. How do I avoid getting sea sick along the way? So they try to sit far at the front or far at the back…mostly because barely anyone really knows what’s more problematic.
But what everyone forgets is that with rough waters also comes the spray from the ocean. Sitting on the wrong side of the boat as you jet up the coast will ultimately decide on whether you’re going to get soaking wet or not. I won’t go into details here, but it’s really quite hilarious to see the looks on people faces and the huge grin on the skippers face as he exclaims: “Oh yeah, I forgot to warn you about that.“
After about 20 minutes of blasting through the waters, we landed on Bark Bay beach. One of the many secluded and pristine beaches. You can camp here, but the facilities are very limited and thus you won’t find many people here other than a few people doing multi-day hikes and those traveling with their kayaks (which looks quite fun as well!).
Landing on the beach after speeding through rough waters actually feels a lot like you might imagine a Navy Seals special unit being dropped on a beach for their secret mission. If you’ve watched a lot of movies or played a lot of video games, you can probably relate to what I’m trying to say. I honestly have no clue whether this is what it’s really like, but it gives off that vibe anyway.
After washing our feet from all the sand and putting on our hiking boots (or flip flops for some people – pick your poison), we began our 4 hour hike through the forest and along the coastline up until Anchorage beach. 4 hours is what it says on signs and I guess that’s to accommodate for the average hiker. But to be blunt: If you’re a reasonably fit person and active hiker, you’ll be much quicker than this.
We noticed this about halfway through the hike. We were making progress very quickly, much faster than we had anticipated. And we did not feel like we were rushing things. At a very relaxed walking pace you might need the 4 hours, but you’re going a normal pace, then you definitely won’t.
We ended up taking a 20-minute break on the Torrent Bay beach and later on also did a 20-minute detour to Cleopatra’s Pool and we still arrived on Anchorage beach in just under 4 hours. No complaints here, it’s a beautiful and fun hike. But if your return Aqua Taxi is only scheduled to pick you up you almost 2 hours later, it’s something to account for. Luckily the skippers are quite flexible and always try to swap things around and make it work in case they have “a lot of extraction going on” (the whole vocabulary just sounds very much like military units being moved around).
360° Photosphere of Torrent Bay Beach
360° Photosphere of Cleopatra’s Pool
We got lucky and grabbed an earlier ride back to the site, giving us just a little more time to relax before heading into your second night on the camp site. If you’re an avid fan of water sports, I’d highly recommend doing some sea-kayaking here and perhaps going on a multi-day trip up and down the coast. It’s looks like a lot of fun. But even a day hike like ours gives you quite the diverse experience with a lot of action, so we were very happy with the choice we made.
The next day we were planning to get to the west coast. We’ll tell you more about that in another blog post.