Golden beaches, vast forests and chirping birds
The Abel-Tasman National Park encompasses an area of 225 square kilometres (22,500 ha) and is situated on the northern coast of the southern island of New Zealand. This nature reserve spreads out in the area behind the Golden Bay and Tasman Bay at the northern end of a range of hills and is some 70 kilometres (43.5 mi) from the city of Nelson. Since 1993, the bordering ocean has also been a marine protected area (18 square kilometres/1,800 ha) known as "Tonga Island Marine Reserve".
The national park is most well known for its many small, alluring bays and beautiful lagoons. You'll find vast, white sandy beaches, turquoise blue water and rugged granite cliffs here. More than three quarters of the national park is forested. 70+ different species of birds live within the park, including the white-faced egret, the white-fronted tern, the New Zealand bellbird and the little penguin.
On the Abel Tasman Coastal Track
The starting point for most tours through the park are the villages of Marahau and Totaranui. They are situated at the southern and northern end of the popular coastal hiking trail, the 51-kilometre (31.6 mi) Abel Tasman Coastal Track. If you decide to walk the entire trail, you should plan three to five days. Although it may seem a little long, it's definitely worth it - the trail leads around the headlands through untouched forests and alongside natural, golden sandy beaches. You'll even pass the famous "Cleopatra’s Pool", a naturally formed basin with a moss-covered water slide. Another breathtaking experience is the walk over the 47-metre (154.2 ft) suspension bridge across the Falls River.
The Pitt Head Track is also well worth a look. It allows access to an ancient fortress built by the Māoris (indigenous Polynesian people), and even today the terraces of the fortification are still clear to see.
Discover the national park
Kayak excursions from Marahau, Kaiteriteri and Golden Bay are especially popular among visitors. Guided tours are provided by different local businesses. If you only have a day or so to explore the park, you should plan an individual sightseeing tour with the water taxi in combination with a small hiking trip. The hiking trails through the park offer plenty of pick-up points, meaning you can switch comfortably between walking or taking the water taxi.
More than any other national park in New Zealand, the Abel-Tasman National Park was shaped by human settlement. The first Māori people inhabited this area more than 500 years ago. The National Park was named after the Dutch sailor Abel Tasman, who in 1642 was the first European person to arrive. As of 1855, the region was colonized by white migrants, who wanted to create arable land by burning the area down and starting to mine the local granite.
In the early 20th century, it was decided that these unique natural landscapes and precious lands in New Zealand needed to be protected from further exploitation. In 1942, New Zealand's smallest national park was founded. Statistics from 2004 show that the Abel-Tasman National Park was visited 184,000 times that year, making it one of the most visited national parks in New Zealand.
How to get there
Starting in Nelson, take the SH 60, pass Motueka and then enter the Abel-Tasman National Park.