Abel Tasman Track Day Walk: Bark Bay to Marahau
The Abel Tasman Track (AKA the Abel Tasman Coastal Track) is one of nine “Great Walks” in New Zealand. If you want to hike the whole thing it’ll take you a few days. Most people don’t have the time or desire to do that, so an Abel Tasman Track day walk is a great alternative. There are several options to choose from — a common one is to catch a water taxi from Marahau to one of the beaches along the track and either walk back or get picked up somewhere along the way. That’s exactly what I did on my recent trip to the region – it didn’t go completely smoothly so keep reading to learn from my mistakes!
Marahau to Bark Bay
My Abel Tasman Track day walk started off with the drive from Nelson to Marahau, which takes around an hour. There’s an extremely narrow two-lane bridge as you get close to Marahau, so beware of that. Marahau is a tiny town and there’s a nice waterfront area near the water taxi offices. If you have time you could stop off in Kaiteriteri, which is home to one of New Zealand’s most loved beaches.
The water taxi to Bark Bay (or wherever else you’re going) will generally take the scenic route, meaning you get to see a good chunk of Abel Tasman National Park from the water. First, you’ll visit Split Apple Rock, which sits off a beautiful beach (which you can drive almost straight to) and then an island with heaps of seals. It’s also cool to see some of the beaches along the way from the boat – some of my best Abel Tasman beach photos were from this boat. I went with Abel Tasman Aquataxi (I paid my own way) so I can’t guarantee the other companies do these detours, but I’m pretty sure they do.
Bark Bay to Torrent Bay
After around an hour on the boat it was nice to set foot on a beach, and Bark Bay didn’t disappoint. From there it’s a very short walk across to Medlands Beach, where you can get a nice view from the viewpoint above. After Medlands Beach the track takes you mostly through the bush to Torrent Bay.
Torrent Bay to Anchorage Bay
There are some nice views as you get closer to Torrent Bay, and soon after that you’ll have a big decision to make. To get from Torrent Bay to Anchorage Bay you have a couple of options. If it’s low tide (or two hours either side of it) you can walk across Torrent Bay Estuary, which doesn’t seem like it’d take very long. I could have done that, but I was keen to check out Cleopatra’s Pool, which is accessed via the track around the estuary. I’m not sure if it was entirely worth it, as it added another 90 minutes or so to my walk, but I guess it was cool to see. It was essentially just a bit of river though, so if you’ve seen other river areas like this in New Zealand you can probably skip it.
After that the track continues up to the hill above Anchorage Bay. I was high above the beach when I came to a track heading down to it. I knew I’d have to walk all the way back uphill afterwards, but I did it anyway, which I’m not sure was the best decision. It was good to see Anchorage Bay at beach-level but walking back up from there really took it out of me (it’s along a different track but it still takes you up to a similar height that you walked down from before). Of course, if you cut across the estuary you won’t have as much uphill hiking to negotiate.
Anchorage Bay to Marahau
I was exhausted after walking up from Anchorage Bay and I still had about half the distance to go! I pushed on past some nice viewpoints and then through a long section of track with scarce views. The section from Anchorage to Marahau is known as being one of the least appealing parts of the Abel Tasman Track and I’d have to agree. There were a few good views along the way, but it was mostly just a slog through the forest.
I’m pretty sure Anchorage is the last place before Marahau where you can catch a water taxi so once you’ve committed to it there isn’t really any other option. By the time I saw Marahau in the distance I was shattered, but I managed to push on and eventually limped to the car park (I hadn’t been walking much in the months leading up to this and my feet didn’t handle it well). That wasn’t the end though – from the main car park it’s still another kilometre or so to the office where you most likely left your car. Luckily someone noticed how pathetic I looked and offered me a ride.
Would I recommend this Abel Tasman Track Day Walk?
Yes, but if I did it again, I’d do things differently. I’d skip Cleopatras Pool and walk across Torrent Bay Estuary. This would shave a lot time (and more importantly, effort) off the walk and that last section wouldn’t seem so horrible. I was also a bit cheap and only wanted to pay for a water taxi one way. If I loosened the purse strings a bit, I probably would have caught a water taxi to Onetahuti Bay or Arawoa and then walked back to Anchorage and then caught another water taxi back to Marahau.
The Marahau Side VS the Totaranui Side
If you want to do a day walk on the Abel Tasman Track there is an option which doesn’t involve water taxis. You can drive to Totaranui Beach at the other end of the park and then walk to some of the beaches either side of it. There’s also a big camping ground there and the beach is one of my favourites in the area. The drive puts a lot of people off though – from Nelson it takes around two and a half hours and goes over Takaka Hill, one of the most winding roads in New Zealand. From there it’s around 20 km down a dusty gravel road. The upside is that you can also visit Wainui Falls, and if you have a bit more time you can explore the rest of Golden Bay, including Te Waikoropupū Springs, Wharariki Beach and Anatori.
So, it mostly depends on how long you have and what your budget is. If you don’t mind shelling out for water taxis, don’t have long in the area or don’t fancy the drive to Totaranui, the Marahau side is your best bet. If you’re on a budget and planning on visiting Golden Bay anyway then go for the Totaranui side. In terms of beauty I think they are similar, although I’d just give it to the Totaranui side. Goat Bay is one of the best beaches I’ve seen in New Zealand and Anapai Bay is great too. Also, the viewpoint above Totaranui is a stunning spot.
Check out those posts I linked to above – they may help you choose. Of course, you could do both, and if you do it right you could see most of Abel Tasman National Park without having to camp along the track. Or you could just do the whole thing – it’s always fun to get out and do a bit of camping in a beautiful spot like this. You could also do some kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park — there really are a lot of options!
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