The Abel Tasman National Park is New Zealand’s smallest national park but there is so much too see and do in this coastal paradise. From scenic walks and kayaking adventures to camping out by the beach, there is plenty to keep you busy during your time at the Abel Tasman.
Here are some money saving tips and tricks for planning a trip to the AT when you’re short on time and money, or just hate to plan and want someone to tell you how to do it!
The Abel Tasman National Park is one of the most widely recommended things to do in New Zealand, and was something we put in our list pretty early on. However, I found trying to plan it extremely difficult and we almost threw in the towel altogether at one point, but I’m very grateful that we didn’t!
The problem we had was time; we didn’t have much of it while we were there, we didn’t have much with which to plan everything, and we were going there at the busiest possible time of year. So I’m going to outline how to plan a budget & time conscious trip to the AT if you’re a last minute planner like myself!
As always this article is for budget backpackers and last minute planners, tours are always an option if you have the money and would prefer to leave the planning to a professional! Some of the tour companies that have come highly recommended are Abel Tasman Tours and Scenic NZ. Just remember that by booking a tour you are giving up a little bit of your freedom which can be tough if you’re the adventurous sort!
If you’re driving to the park, the route is pretty straightforward. The most widely used entrance to the National Park is at Marahau which is around 67km from Nelson on a well signposted, sealed road. The DOC (Department of Conservation) provides a car park in the town for free. Driving directions and parking instruction can be found here on the DOC website.
If like us you don’t have wheels, the easiest way to get to the Abel Tasman National Park is by bus. Intercity have a scheduled bus from Nelson to the entrance of the Abel Tasman National Park each day at 7:30 AM from Bridge Street, which is in the centre of the town. The bus costs $20 (£10) per person each way and you can book them online on the InterCity website. You pass some beautiful sights on the way, so be sure to sit on the right-hand side of the bus for the best views. The buses are cheap and clean, but we found that they’re not super punctual. The drivers are usually very friendly and will give you a little bit of history and describe your surroundings along the drive.
In Nelson, we stayed in Palace Backpackers which is only 600 metres from the bus stop and is pretty cheap at $74NZD (£39) for a private double room for the night. There’s a free breakfast and a big kitchen which you can use to prepare your food for the trek (most hostels will have this, but it’s always good to check!). I’ve written about everywhere we’ve stayed in NZ so click here if you want to read more.
Where To Stay
The DOC provides 4 huts and 19 campsites within the National Park for visitors to stay. These have to be booked in advance before you enter the park and can be booked on the DOC website.
If you’re staying in a hut you’ll be allocated a bunk bed in a shared room and given a sleeping mat. There are no private rooms in the huts but they have drinking water and flush toilets.
The campsites have a drop toilet and a tap, but the water is not drinkable so you will have to boil it for a few minutes before you cook with or drink it. There are picnic tables for you to use for eating, and many of the sites are close to, or on, a beach.
Camping will give you more privacy than staying in a hut but the lack of drinking water was tough for us. You also have to carry all of your camping equipment with you when you trek – if you’re staying at a hut you will only need your sleeping bag which lightens the load.
You need to book early to get a hut or a pitch in one of the popular campsites, or else you might be left with one of the less popular and less convenient campsites like we were. But don’t fear – you can still have a great time, you just have to do a little bit more planning and rethink your route a little.
This site gives you a description, with photos, of all of the huts and campsites available in the park.
Planning your route
There are two popular routes along the coastal path. You can choose which you prefer based on what you want to see, or which types of accommodation are available;
1. From Marahau get a taxi boat straight to Totaranui, the northern most taxi point in the park. Trek down through the park, making your way back to Marahau or another taxi pick up point in the park if you don’t have the time to trek the whole park.
2. Enter the park at the Marahau entrance and trek north towards Totaranui, or as far as you can get in the time you have. Then get a taxi boat back to Marahau.
Both of those routes assume that you have the option to stay in your required locations on the required nights – but these huts and sites book out well in advance! In our case we decided on a full three day / two night trek from to Marahau to find that the only campsite available for our nights was right at the start of the trek. Back to the drawing board for us!
The very first thing to do is to find out what your options are for accommodation. Go to the DOC booking website, enter your dates and see what’s available before you even think about what you want to see. Once you enter your dates you’ll see what’s available for the nights you’re in the park. The results are broken down into huts and campsites. The 4 huts are listed in order of where they are in the park, from south to north, and each of the huts is close to a taxi pickup / drop off point in the park. The campsites are split into sections of the park that are between two taxi points (so Marahau – Anchorage / Anchorage – Bark Bay etc). Again, these are ordered by location in the park from north to south. I hope that makes sense! Knowing the ordering makes it a lot easier to plan your route simply by looking at the availability calendar.
Once you have your accommodation booked, it’s time to book your boat! There are 6 boat taxi pick up & drop off points in the park (Marahau, Anchorage, Bark Bay, Onetahuti, Awaroa and Totaranui) and one at Torrent Bay that’s drop off only. Unless you plan to trek up and down the park, you’ll need to base your route around the boat pick up points and timetable. Here’s a really informative link that gives you the boat pick up points, timetables, prices and the location of the huts and campsites and drinking water spots in the park. This is what we used to plan our trip.
If you want to stay in a different place each night then I would personally recommend staying in huts only. Otherwise you have to carry your camping equipment and put up / take down your tent each night. And I don’t know about you but this is my least favourite thing about camping – the tent seems to double in size after I put it up and I can never squeeze it back into that tiny bag again! I’ve outlined the equipment you’ll need for huts vs campsite below.
We had no option but to stay in the same campsite both nights, and although we were disappointed, there were still benefits to this. We only had a total of 40 minutes of trekking with all of our things, and we were able to walk to the Marahau or Anchorage ports to get boats to the north of the park. If I had a choice I would have done the following;
– Get the boat to Awaroa and trek down to Bark Bay (4 hrs 30 mins, 14km)
– Stay in a hut at Bark Bay overnight
– An early morning trek from Bark Bay to Anchorage ( 3 hrs at low tide, 4 at high tide)
– Spend the day Kayaking at Anchorage Bay
– Stay in a hut at Anchorage overnight
– Go to see Cleopatras pool in the early morning
– Trek from Anchorage to Marahau (4hrs 12.4km) stopping at the many beautiful, isolated beaches along the way to swim and sunbathe.
– In Marahau, celebrate with beer and delicious pizza from Park cafe at the entrance to the national park. (We actually did do this, the food is great here!)
All in all we had a really chilled out few days, did some awesome hikes, saw incredible beaches and we were able to buy a few more bits to make our tent more comfortable because we didn’t have to carry everything with us each day.
What to bring
We used my 65L North Face backpack and Tims Herschel bag to carry everything. Sleeping bags, mats, towels and the tent take up space but are light so while my bag was full it was really light. Here is what we packed;
Clothing: For 3 days I brought two sets of workout clothes, a jumpsuit for going to the beach, one bikini, and a jumper & pair of cotton trousers in case the evenings got cold. Pack light with your clothes and toiletries as you’ll need a lot of space for equipment and food. Also bring flip flops to wear during low tide crossings there are a lot more comfortable than wearing trainers or going barefoot.
Camping Equipment: If you are camping you will need a tent, a sleeping mat and sleeping bags. If you are staying in a hut you can skip the tent and mat, and just bring the sleeping bag. Water purification tablets or a kettle and cooker are also required if you’re camping as you will need to purify the water before you can drink or cook with it. And you’ll need a lot of water as it gets really hot.
Cooking Equipment: Gas stove, pan, plates, utensils. Washing up liquid and sponge.
Food: We brought sandwiches we made ourselves for the first day and then dehydrated food packets for the rest of the trip (things would last in the sun). We also brought snacks like granola bars and jellies for an energy kick on the difficult hikes. One think I wish we’d brought was apples, we were craving fruit after days of eating white carbs and sugar.
We also brought tea / coffee and UHT milk (because we’re English and Irish and can’t survive without tea.)
Suncream: bring a very high factor as the sun is beating down on you while you trek.
Book / Kindle: to keep you occupied in the evenings and on the beach, internet and phone signal is hard to come by.
Baby wipes: sunny days, sweaty hikes and no shower facilities mean these are a must-have!
Camera / phone / go pro / selfie stick: Bring everything you’ve got, this place is incredibly photogenic and really does need to be seen to be believed. I brought my Olympus Pen E-PL 7 camera, with an extra zoom lens and my Benro mini tripod / selfie stick.
Portable charger: To keep your electronics alive for days away from mains power.
Trainers and workout gear: we both just wore our regular gym clothes and Nike’s for the treks, sturdy boots and professional gear weren’t necessary in December.
That’s everything! I hope this helps you plan you trip to the Abel Tasman National park. Please comment below if you have any feedback or other tips for readers who would like to do the trek!
Thanks for reading!