New Zealand Great Walks - Abel Tasman
Updated: Aug 30, 2019
In October, we decided to finally do a great walk. In New Zealand, great walks are a well maintained set of tramping or hiking tracks through epic scenery. The tracks can be along vast coastlines or in mountain ranges with alpine terrain. The walks range from 32 kilometers (20 miles) to 82 kilometers (51 miles) in length and take between 3-6 days to complete. Originally, there were 9 great walks, but a new track has since been added, rounding it out to a total of 10 great walks. Our goal, while we are here, is to hike or tramp all ten. So far, we are 1.5 of 10. The half is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. While we did part of it, we didn't do the entire loop. So, I can't count it. However, our first real great walk was the Abel Tasman in Nelson, and boy did we pick a beauty. This walk is on the south island and is known for white sand beaches and turquoise waters. It was absolutely beautiful.
Personally, I had never done a trip like this, much less a hike with 40 pounds on my back. We owned zero camping gear, but we did have backpacking packs. Several trips to Kathmandu, lots of research, blogs and youtube videos later, I figured out what to expect and pack for a trip like this.
We decided to stay in the DOC huts, due to the fact that we didn't want to buy or hike with tents. It was a pretty great experience and I don't think we will do it any other way in the future. The DOC huts were well kept, simple to book, easy to find, clean and comfortable. The trick is booking them in advance, especially if New Zealand is having a holiday or out for school holidays. The pricing was decently cheap for New Zealand residents, but higher for tourists. Still worth it, if you ask me.
Okay, back to Abel Tasman. It's a 60k tramp and takes 3-5 days. It is considered an intermediate walk, but I thought it was fairly easy minus a few steep inclines, here and there. This track is unique because you have to plan for tide crossings and water taxis. We started our trip with a kayaking leg, which means we threw our packs into a kayak and started paddling to our first DOC hut, Anchorage Bay. This typically takes about 4 hours in mild conditions. The hiking leg is 12.4 kilometers, but I think the kayaking is a bit further. If you do this walk, I highly recommend kayaking the first leg. It was a great change of pace, scenery and a unique way to explore the Abel Tasman. Along the way, we stopped at deserted beaches with miles of untouched shells, we played with seals and battled what is known as the "mad mile."
After our morning of kayaking, we carried our kayaks to shore, ate our jet boiled lunch and claimed our beds in the DOC hut. We played a lot of cards, hung out with the ducks and Wekas and socialized with the other hikers. After a scrumptious Mexican freeze dried dinner, we hit the sack super early (this was a common theme of the trip). Any by early, I am talking 7:45 pm, before the sun went down.
The next morning started our second leg, Anchorage hut to Bark Bay, a 11.5 kilometer hike. This hike started along the beach and had the immediate option of heading to Cleopatra Pools, a small hike that's about 45 minutes off the main trail, but totally worth it. It's uphill, but not a lung burner.
Cleopatra pools has an amazing nature-made rock water slide. Since we were there in early spring, the weather was just warm enough to think you wanted to take a dip until you felt the water. Holy mackerel, it was cold. A few people braved the water temperatures, but only for a few minutes and then quickly exited the pools. Sean and Tara did the polar plunge while I filmed from my warm rock. We stayed at the pools for about an hour, but I could have stayed much longer if we didn't have a schedule to keep.
After the pools, we got back on the main trail and continued to head towards Bark Bay. The scenery on this leg was beautiful and we couldn't have asked for better weather. About an hour in, we went through a cute little section called Torrent Bay. Torrent Bay has actual lodging and bach homes all along the coastline. I imagine the people living or visiting here get to this quaint, secluded section of coastline by boat only.
We stopped and used the toilets here, even though we really didn't need to, but hey, who is going to pass up a perfectly good toilet on the track? Not me. We also had a bit of cell service here, which we used to text our families and check-in. This part of the track was also the most unique walk - amazing scenic lookouts and a tidal crossing made for a fun day and wet feet. After the kilometers we'd walked, the icy water was welcomed. It felt amazing and refreshing on our tired feet and was a perfect ending to this leg. We just had to make sure we didn't get our boots or socks wet.
Once we walked the tidal crossing, we weren't far from Bark Bay, our final stop of the day. This leg took us about 6 hours, but included the side track to Cleopatra's Pool and some stops for scenic pictures and snacks. When we reached Bark Bay, we realized that this DOC hut was a little different than our first hut. The bunk beds were not separated, they were in fact, one giant bunk bed. Thus, you could be sleeping right next to someone you don't know, kind of creepy, I know. I was going to be okay with it since we got there early and would have been sandwiched by a wall and Sean, but the ranger realized we were a small group and offered us the small bunk house next door with individual bunks. After getting our beds set up, we decided to go out on the beach before dinner. The tide was low, so we were able to walk out quite a distance and watch the locals dig up shellfish. They came back with buckets full of what they called pipi's. They cooked a few for dinner that night and offered some to us. From what I could tell, they are essentially a small clam and super tasty. Again, that night, we were in bed before 8am for an early morning start.
For our final leg, we woke up early and ate yet another jetboil breakfast. This time it was rice pudding (white rice, sugar and cinnamon). This was also my first jetboil breakfast fail. Note to self: don't hastily mix the cinnamon and sugar without measuring before you leave. We incidentally did the cinnamon challenge for breakfast before for our final 13.5k trek. However, everyone was really nice and assured me it wasn't that bad. Pffffhh.
Our last leg was to Awaroa inlet where our water taxi was designated to pick us up at 1:30pm. We couldn't miss this boat, so we walked this leg quite quickly and made it in about 3.5 / 4 hours. Along this section of track, there are several bridges, which are quite cool. The scenery here changed a bit. We stayed along the coastline, but there are many inlets along this section. However, the gem of this section, well in my opinion, the entire walk was Onetahuti Bay - it is beautiful. The water here looks like a tropical postcard. You almost forget you are in New Zealand.
From here, it was not far until we reach Awaroa, however, I think we were all counting the steps to the local cafe that is near the end of the route. We could practically smell the coffee and pastries from a kilometer away. And just like that, right before we headed to the inlet area of the beach, there was a handwritten sign that said, "cafe 20 minutes" - I am guessing many hungry hikers see this as a beacon of light near the end of their journey. They could have charged me $20 for a Coke Zero and I would have gladly paid it. After a nice lunch on the patio, we pressed on and finally made it to our destination, Awaroa inlet. It's basically a large beautiful beach that is commonly used for drop off and pick-up.
While we waited, we kicked off our boots and laid on the beach soaking in the last bits of magic the Abel Tasman had to offer.