Ask anyone to tell you about the ideal setting for their dream vacation and they will probably describe a picture perfect vision of rolling hills clad in dense green bush, topped with towering ferns and crisscrossed by crystal clear creeks, all exuberantly tumbling down towards the shores of the deep blue sea where a curvy sweep of pale white sand neatly divides solid ground and whispering waves.
In short they will just have described the Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of New Zealand’s 9 Great Walks.
Now, you would be hard pressed to find a country more hiker friendly than New Zealand: thousands of kilometers of tracks and routes wind around the countryside, and a nationwide network of backcountry huts provides safe shelter and welcome comfort at the end of a long day’s tramp (for in New Zealand you do not hike, trek or bushwalk: you tramp).
The Great Walks showcase the best of this system and make some of the country’s most iconic and beautiful landscapes accessible to trampers of all levels of experience and fitness thanks to benched tracks, modern huts and obliging hut wardens.
Out of the 9 Great Walks, the Abel Tasman Coast Track is widely recognized as the easiest, and as such is an excellent choice for the novice tramper. Reasons for this are:
- By New Zealand standards, the walk is flat as – you will never gain more than 200m elevation.
- The days are short –an average of 12 km / 4 hours walking a day.
The Tasman area benefits from the best weather in the South Island – from late spring through to the end of summer you can count on warm sunny days with only the occasional shower.
- Access is easy and the itinerary is flexible – thanks to bus shuttles and water taxis, you can get dropped off / picked up all along the track, which means you are free to decide whether to tramp its full length or only part of it.
However, no matter how smooth and easy the experience has been made by the good folks at the Department of Conservation (DoC), there are still a number of things to watch out for:
- First off, you must be aware that the Coast Track is peculiar in that it features 3 tidal crossings. This means you will have to time your trip with the tides in order to cross streams and estuaries at their lowest water level. Although an alternative high-tide track is provided at the 1st crossing (Torrent Bay), there are no alternatives at Onetahuti and Awaroa. It is essential to obtain a current tide timetable and carefully plan your trip according to it.
Because the track is mostly wide, smooth and flat, tramping boots are not an absolute necessity and you can get away with walking in sneakers. Remember to bring a pair of sandals for the tidal crossings – you won’t want to wet your tramping shoes, but you will want to protect your feet from prickly shells, particularly in Awaroa Inlet.
- Even if you are sleeping in the huts, you will still need a good backpack with a hip belt to carry some heavier essentials such as a sleeping bag, a stove and enough fuel and food for the duration of the trip. There are neither supplies nor cooking facilities to be found along the track.
- Potable water can be found on tap at every single hut. Although all campsites also feature a tap, the water there is not potable and must be filtered or boiled for 3 minutes. This is especially important as giardia (diarrhea inducing parasite) is known to occur in the park.
New Zealand being New Zealand, do pack a waterproof jacket and a warm jumper anyway, and never leave without insect repellent to fight off the sandflies!
- Because the Coast Track is extremely popular in summer, make sure to book your huts and/or campsites early.
You’ll need 4 or 5 days to complete the Coast Track. A classic itinerary is to start in Marahau, at the southern end of the park, spend each night at a hut (there are 4: Anchorage, Bark Bay, Awaroa and Whariwharangi) and finish either in Totaranui or Wainui. The latter is the true end of the track, and is thus located at the northernmost extremity of the park. Should you finish there, you will have no choice but to take a bus shuttle back as water taxis do not go that far north. This is the main reason why many trampers choose to finish a day early in Totaranui: going back to Marahau by water taxi is faster and a lot more fun!
Should you fancy doing things differently, getting away from the crowds and saving a bit of money in the process, there are about 20 campsites to pick from along the track. Whether you choose to camp outside or stay in huts, go north or south, walk the whole track or only parts of it, always allow yourself plenty of time. Although walking from hut to hut may take as little as 3 to 4 hours, there are many tempting detours along the way: descending to every single signposted bay or exploring the creeks on the inside of the park will take extra time and energy.
These detours are also very helpful if walking in a group of varying abilities: while novice trampers may walk straight on to the next hut, more experienced members of the party can check out all the side tracks, leaving everyone to meet up again happy and satisfied at the end of the day.
And here comes the best part: all huts and campsites are right by the beach. The sea beckons.
Stephanie Cotteret is a freelance travel writer and photographer who is currently enjoying many “tramps” in New Zealand. She is a regular contributor to Australia-Australie.com , France’s leading website for Working Holidaymakers and backpackers. Check out her photography portfolio online , or contact her on toothbrushnomads[at]gmail[dot]com.