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Abel Tasman Coast Trail

Abel Tasman Coast Trail
 
 

SOME of New Zealand’s most beautiful coastline is also its most rugged, accessible only by boat or by walking along the 55 kilometre trail. The Abel Tasman National Park is a fully protected coastal environment where temperate rainforest touches the pristine turquoise water over golden beaches.

Trail entrance at Marahau
Trail entrance at Marahau

Having grown up near the park, I have walked it a number of times, usually starting from the southern end at Marahau, where the elevated trail crosses a large sand flat to follow the edge of a long scrubby ridge towards the pristine beaches that await further ahead. The well graded trail was wide.

About half an hour along the trail I reached Tinline Bay. Following a short steep rise, the trail reached a junction. To the left the inland trail doubled back along the ridge to follow the Pikikiruna Range, meeting the coast trail again at the other end. I followed the coast track heading to the right.

Coquille Bay
Coquille Bay

The trail maintained its elevation weaving through ridges and gullies about twenty metres above Coquille Bay, the first of the pristine beaches. Striking golden sand blended in perfectly with the turquoise water with only small wavelets breaking on the beach. Beyond the beach I could see all the way around Tasman bay to the peaks of Richmond Range on the other side about fifty kilometres away.

The trail ascended to double around Guilbert Point into Astrolabe Roadstead. Here the coast swept for about ten kilometres sheltered by two islands. The smaller Fisherman Island lay about a kilometre off Guilbert Point, and the larger Adele Island with its two triangular peaks stood a little further along the coast.

Stilwell Bay
Stilwell Bay

The trail passed above Appletree Bay, ironically named as it had several large pine trees on its beach and no sign of apple trees anywhere. This was followed by the idyllic Stilwell Bay with its beautiful beach and beautiful islets.

From Stilwell Bay the trail ascended over Yellow Point into the scrubby hills winding its way towards Torrent Bay. The trail rose to about a hundred metres above sea level, almost level with the peaks of Adele Island, before levelling off. At the back of a gully a side trail climbed the ridge to meet the inland trail. A few minutes later I reached another junction, the main trail continued winding its way around the ridges and gullies towards Torrent Bay, the side trail to the right followed the ridge towards Anchorage. I took the way heading towards Anchorage.

Watering Cove
Watering Cove

The trail rose and fell with the hills along the top of the scrubby ridge. The granite soil here was very poor and the scrub seemed to be struggling to survive here. After ten minutes I reached another junction.

The trail heading downhill to the right steeply descended into Watering Cove where the French explorer Durmont D’Urville anchored to replenish his ship’s a water supplies. A small stream flowed into a deep gorge towards the beach, concealed by a small islet that is cut off from the rest of the land during the high tide.

Anchorage Hut
Anchorage Hut

Heading back up the hill, the main trail descended other side of the ridge to a black swamp draining into Anchorage Beach where the trail through the scrub ended. The Anchorage is a large sheltered bay usually with boats anchored at the eastern end. Anchorage Hut and a large campground sat concealed in bush about a hundred metres along the beach to the right. Heading further east past the campsite a trail headed across a low saddle to Te Pukatea Bay and northward to Pitt Head. The long headland to the right ending in Pitt Head provided the shelter for the boats.

Having travelled sixteen kilometres from Marahau, most hikers spend their first night at Anchorage.

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Anchorage
Anchorage

Under overcast skies I left Anchorage hut following the long sweeping beach towards the forested headland at the far end of the bay. Upon eventually reaching the far end, I briefly diverted to some very interesting rock formations that looked like two elephants, and to a small cave with glow worms in it.

I returned to the trail entrance where a short steep climb took me to a low saddle to where a side trail followed the ridge to meet the Torrent Bay trail, and to provide high tide access around the estuary that I could now see through the trees.

Torrent Bay
Torrent Bay

The main trail steeply descended to the Torrent Bay inlet. This is strikingly different from the sweeping golden beach I had just walked along. Here a large mudflat was completely concealed by the forested hills. It was very still and quiet here. No breaking waves, and no sounds of the sea. Just stillness and silence. The tide was out allowing me to easily cross the estuary saving a lot of time following the high tide trail.

I crossed the estuary towards Torrent Bay village on the other side. The village sat on a sand bar at the entrance to the estuary at the mouth of the Torrent River. From the village the trail steeply ascended to the top of the nearby low ridge which had recently cleared of pine trees. Once at the top of the ridge, the trail continued at roughly the same elevation winding around the hills above the beautiful Frenchman Cove. The weather had suddenly closed in and rain was beginning to fall, obscuring the view with mist.

Bridge over the Falls River
Bridge over the Falls River

Eventually the trail crossed a saddle and steeply descended into a deep cut valley to a swingbridge crossing high above Falls River. To the left of the swingbridge the river plunged down cascades around huge boulders. To the right the river ran placidly though a tidal estuary.

Once across the swingbridge the trail meandered its way above the estuary towards its mouth. The thundering sound of the river diminished in the background as I approached the mouth of the inlet. The trail never did reach the mouth, instead it rose to the top of a low saddle and steeply descended the other side through thick rainforest into Meddy’s Beach. From there the trail turned westward entering Bark Bay, the location of the second hut along the trail.

Bark Bay Hut
Bark Bay Hut

By now the tide was coming in, so I stayed at the hut at the midpoint of the trail between Marahau and Totaranui. Apart from the hut and a boatshed on the sandbar across the estuary, there were no signs of civilisation. A campsite covered much of the forested sandbar. The tide rose until the turquoise water almost touched the tree ferns and rainforest. A small waterfall projected out of the back of the estuary.

This was a beautiful paradise isolated far away from civilisation. The tide floods and ebbs twice daily into the estuary. It is peaceful with only the sounds of small waves breaking on the beach, the deep hissing of the waterfall, and the eerie sounds of strange birds hidden in the surrounding forest. The salt air of the sea mixes in with the sweetness of the honeydew from the beech trees.

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Bark Bay Estuary
Bark Bay Estuary

I left Bark Bay Hut early the next morning crossing the estuary to the start of the main trail on the other side. Like other estuaries there was a high tide track but it wasn’t needed this morning. A bright red dot marked the position where the trail left the estuary to ascend through tree ferns towards another saddle at the side of Stony Hill. Upon reaching the saddle, the trail gradually descended over Mosquito Bay along a long swamp. Upon reaching the end of the swamp the trail steeply descended into Tonga Bay.

Tonga Bay
Tonga Bay

Tonga Bay had a small campsite overlooking the small pristine beach. The triangular Tonga Island stood about a kilometre offshore. The Awaroa Heads jutted out on the other side of the island. To the right stood Arch Point, a rocky outcrop with natural arches carved into it. To the left was Tonga Quarry, where blocks of granite were extracted for building.

The trail negotiated its way over the steep terrain above Tonga Quarry towards Onetahuti, a long sweeping beach ending at Awaroa Heads. I followed the beach crossing a small tidal estuary at the far end. The trail gradually ascended along an old dirt road towards Tonga Saddle. Once at the top of Tonga Saddle I had a view across the Awaroa Inlet, the largest estuary in the park.

Awaroa Hut
Awaroa Hut

The trail gradually descended through scrub into Venture Creek. Following the creek downstream through forest it eventually came out onto the inlet. I followed the side of the inlet beside houses until eventually reaching the Awaroa Hut. By now the tide was coming in and the sun was starting to make an appearance. The estuary can only be crossed a couple of hours either side of low tide. I will be staying here overnight.

I spent the rest of the day watching the estuary continue to flood. Strong currents brought the water in covering a couple of square kilometres before it eventually drained away before evening set.

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Trail to Waiharakeke
Trail to Waiharakeke

I crossed Awaroa Inlet early in the morning, whilst the tide was out. It was a much longer crossing than the others in the park. Upon reaching the other side, the trail followed a stream through spectacular temperate rainforest towards a low saddle. Upon reaching the top of the saddle, the trail gradually descended along another stream to Waiharakeke Bay.

The sky had quickly become overcast with the threat of rain. The trail followed the beach at Waiharakeke until going over a point to Goat Bay. Again the trail followed the beach and over another point to where the long sweeping Totaranui Beach extended two kilometres towards the Anapai Headlands.

Totaranui
Totaranui

I followed the long beach. There was a small village in the valley behind the beach. Drizzle was beginning to fall from the thick cloud that covered the sky. A solitary man was doing Tai Chi routine on the beach near the main campsite marking the end of the trail for most hikers, but I was determined to complete the rest of the trail.

I eventually reached the end of the beach from where a trail followed a small estuary to a steep short climb over the Anapai Headlands. The trail then gradually descended to Anapai Bay. Here the sand was very coarse – almost gravel. I was now in the remote northern bays. The remoteness was accentuated by the heavy rain that was now falling. The north westerly had well and truly set in.

Formation at Anapai Bay
Formation at Anapai Bay

The bay ended in some very interesting rock formations, one of which looked like a man keeping watch over the bay. The trail crossed the headland into Anatakapau Bay, a double beach with a much smaller rocky beach in between. The pink granite headlands here were very interesting. Finally after the last headland I arrived at Mutton Cove from where Separation Point was near.

The trail ascended to a high saddle from where Separation Point could be accessed. The point marked the end of Tasman Bay, and the start of Golden Bay. The conditions were quite stormy now with strong wind buffeting the towering cliffs around Separation Point.

Whariwharangi Hut
Whariwharangi Hut

From the top of the saddle the trail gradually descended into Whariwharangi Bay. This is where Abel Tasman landed upon his discovery of New Zealand in 1642. Here he was greeted by a tribe of cannibals, so he named it Massacre Bay. The tribe has long gone now, and for a number of years Whariwharangi was a farm before it was abandoned due to poor soil quality.

The trail followed the beach to the old homestead which is now the final hut along the coast trail. From here there was a long climb over the Taupo Point saddle. Upon reaching the top of the saddle I reached the other end of the inland trail having followed the top of the Pikikiruna Range from Tinline. From the top of the saddle there was a long descent into the vast Wainui Bay to the end of the trail from where I could return to civilisation.

The beautiful beaches of the Abel Tasman National Park make up some of New Zealand’s most idyllic scenery. Set in the rugged granite landscape between Tasman Bay and Golden Bay exposed to the unpredictable New Zealand climate, this is definitely a place worth exploring.

Related trek:
Abel Tasman Coast Track

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06 January 2007

 

Abel Tasman Nat Park

New Zealand

 

40°53'S
172°58'E

0-120m ASL

 

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