Where: Nelson (Marahau, closest town to start the Abel Tasman Great Walk)
Distance & Time: Day 1 Totaranui to Awaroa Hut 2 hours, 7km (tidal crossing). Day 2 Awaroa Hut to Bark Bay Hut. 4.5 hours, 12km (tidal crossing)
Take: Enough food for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Something to boil water with (plenty of water available on track, with drinking water available at the Huts). Warm clothes, shoes suitable for walking through water.
Amenities on route: Huts, toilets, campsites, water taxis
Cost of the walk: Abel Tasman Water taxi 1px, bus from Nelson to Marahau, water taxi to Totaranui and return bus to Nelson $47. Awaroa Hut 1 night, 1px $32, Bark Bay Hut 1 night, 1px $32
If you’d told me before starting this walk that I’d eventually reach the point that upon coming across another beautiful secluded beach I’d take a quick glance and keep walking I would have said you’re crazy. But there’s just so many stunning beaches on this walk that after a while you become quite picky about what ones you actually want to spend time at.
I’d be wanting to do the Abel Tasman Great Coastal Walk for years, but had always been put off by a) actually organising it, b) having cool people to do it with and c) not wanting to do it in the height of summer with hundreds, if not thousands of others. Everything managed to align for Paul’s penultimate weekend in New Zealand, so it was on!
First off, your costs are going to substantially increase to do this walk if you have to fly to Nelson and have a night’s accommodation there before you head over to Marahau the next day (which is what we did). We kept costs reasonably low by booking cheap flights and staying in a backpackers, but it easily added another $250 to our overall cost.
It was incredibly easy to get to Marahau from Nelson as there are loads of companies that offer transfer services – it’s simply a matter of googling and figuring out which one suits your needs. Our one picked us up from central Nelson, transferred us via water taxi from Marahau to Totaranui (we walked the track north to south rather than the normal south to north) and bussed us back to Nelson airport after our walk to catch our flight back to Wellington.
It absolutely poured with rain the night before we left Nelson. The next day was overcast with drizzle….not the best way to start a four day walk! However, by the time we arrived in Marahou around 8.30am the rain had started to clear. There was a surprising amount of people for the water taxi, but none had tramping backpacks. We soon realised that most of them were just doing day walks – getting dropped at one Hut, walking to a point and then being picked up by water taxi to head back. I couldn’t help but feel smug that we were going to be getting the full Abel Tasman experience over four days – not just four hours!
We didn’t arrive in Totaranui until 11am as there were quite a few drop offs on the way. However, we weren’t complaining as our walk to Awaroa Hut that day was only 7km and we had to wait until 3pm to take the low tide route, or walk a few extra kilometres on the high tide track….yeah, you can guess which one we went with!
Totaranui is a big campsite, and one of the access points of the walk that has vehicle access. There’s also a DOC office there where you can pick up maps and information sheet. It also lists the low and high tide times – take note of these as you’ll need to know them.
The start of the walk is pretty unceremonious – you just start walking until the familiar green and yellow DOC sign greets you to give you times and distances to the next point. To be honest, over the course of this walk we didn’t really pay attention to the timings as they’re completely thrown out of whack by the time you spend exploring the beaches, swimming, picniking, and taking photos! When we walked it, the low tide mark was around 3.30pm, so we took our time exploring, sunbathing, swimming, and having tea stops along route so by the time we arrived at the tide spots, we could cross fairly easily.
Amy’s Advice – Bring insect repellent and use it consistently and constantly. Your body will thank you!
Walking from Totaranui, you will come across a fairly steep hill that seems to go on. Don’t worry, it doesn’t, but it is a bit of a rude awakening to a track that I assumed would be fairly flat. However, it may have just been my lack of fitness that made it seem so steep and everlasting!
I was ready for a stop about 30 minutes in (plus it was lunchtime). Fortunately, you’re never far from a beach doing this walk, so we said the next one we came across we’d eat. Lo and behold, five minutes later we were at the beach!
The track is really well formed, at points it’s wide enough for two people to walk side by side. We both did it wearing trail sneakers rather than hiking boots and it was fine. I’d taken a pair of oh-so stylish velcro sandals for in the Huts (they’re easiest to slip on and off with socks!) and my god did they came in handy for all the water crossings we did, ensuring that not only did my sneakers stay dry, but my feet were protected from all the stones, shells, and crabs!
After a bit more walking along the beach, instead of heading back into the bush where the signage directed us, we kept heading along the beach further. The map told us that the tidal area should be just around the corner so we thought maybe we could just continue along the beach…..after a bit of exploring and scrambling over rocks we realised it wasn’t meant to be and maybe the track makers had it right when they decided to go via the bush instead. Because we still had quite a bit of time before low tide we decided to bunk up on this part of the beach for awhile and have a wee nap – I mean, why not?!
We left around 2.30 to get to the tidal crossing and when we got there we could see a couple of other guys making their way across to Awaroa Hut in the distance. As we were to soon learn on this walk, the DOC huts have the BEST locations. Seriously, people would pay megabucks to live there, and here we were paying $32 – bargain!
Most of the walk is in a marine reserve so you can’t actually take kaimoana (seafood) but holy moly, it is there as you can see in the photo below – there are so many cockles that they’re just piled on top of each other! The deepest the crossing got was up to our knees which is totally doable, even for kids. There were a few stops on the way to look at crabs, fish and shellfish and we’re adults, so kids would have an absolute blast!
Arriving at Awaroa Hut we found a few other people there, but nowhere as many as they’d be in the height of summer. After cooking up some pasta as a quick afternoon snack, we spent the next couple of hours relaxing on the grass reading, napping, eating, and watching the tide continue to go out. There was a curious weka at the Hut, who was keen to get to know everyone that had come into his home!
Awaroa Hut is really well laid out – a nice central spot with tables and fireplace, two bunk rooms, separate toilets, washing area, washing lines, and even showers (cold, but still!). Grass and picnic tables outside – it’s a glorious place to stay.
There were five other people in the Hut with us that night, along with four who were staying at the campsite besides the Hut but came in to warm up by the fireplace (I don’t blame them!) We spent the evening talking, playing cards, and reading before heading to bed around 8.30pm. Honestly, I’ve never gone to bed as early as I do when I’m hiking.
The next morning when we woke we had the Hut to ourselves – the others had left at 6am for the low tide crossing as they were heading North to Totaranui. One bonus of doing the walk north to south is that we didn’t have to do the early morning tidal crossings, we had the afternoon low tides instead!
We took our time having breakfast and tidying the hut before leaving around 9ish. We decided to follow the water for a bit as we could see on the map that we’d meet up with the track again eventually…(or so I hoped, Paul seemed much more confident than I did!)
If the tide had been a bit lower we would have been able to explore a bit more – I particulary wanted to head across to Awaroa Lodge, where if we’d come a week later we would have been able to go and have a wine and pizza on the waterfront – bliss! And not something you get on an average bush walk, that’s for sure.
Even though our first day on the track I’d been wearing a rain jacket, long sleeved merino, pants and a wool hat, today was definitely tshirt weather – so make sure you pack for all weather when you do this walk. But the number one thing you must remember to bring? Insect repellent. Those pesky sandflies are EVERYWHERE, especially at the beaches.
This day was awesome – lots of bridges, beaches, and we saw seals! One of them was sunbathing on the beach, and the second was swimming in the river. I was up on the bridge while Paul was taking photos when all of a sudden I spotted this seal swimming below me! It was super cool to watch, and shows up how close to nature you can get on this walk.
On this day you will have to take your pants off to do a water crossing at Onetahuti Beach. Everyone was doing it as there was no other way round and honestly, it was actually quite refreshing!
There was a campsite with water, toilets and picnic tables five minutes walk away so we just hung out there while we waited to dry off, and had some lunch – easy!
Again, we had to wait until 3.30ish until we could do the low tide crossing to Bark Bay Hut, so on the next stretch of beach we came across, instead of following the track back up into the bush, we kept walking along the beach to see what we could find. What we ended up finding was a beautiful secluded beach where we could swim, nap, and chill out for a couple of hours (all while lathered up in sunscreen and insect repellent!)
There is one thing that is guaranteed to make you super envious on this walk – and that’s all the people that have baches/holiday homes along the beaches here. Because the National Park is relatively recent, there were already some private homes owned in the area. Man, if my ancestors had had the foresight to buy here I would be in heaven right now – honestly, this place is glorious.
Coming down into Bark Bay, we’d timed it perfectly once again and the tide was on its way out.
Bark Bay was a lot busier than Awaroa Hut was – this was primarily due to the fact that it’s the middle Hut – so the walkers coming from north and south cross over here.
This was probably my least favourite Hut, purely due to the fact that there was just too many people. The whole point of going bush, well for me at least, is to get away from people!
We are half way through our Abel Tasman Adventure – part two, Bark Bay Hut to Marahau, will be up soon!
Photo credit: Most of these photos were taken by Paul on his go pro, and the ones that weren’t were taken on our cellphones. They all turned out pretty awesome!
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