Set on the northwestern coast of the South Island, Abel Tasman is New Zealand’s smallest national park. When we were drafting our itinerary for the country, Abel Tasman fell into the ‘if we have time’ category. It looked like a pretty enough region – scenic coastline, perhaps less crowded than some of the parks along the Southern Alps – but not what you think of when you think “iconic” New Zealand landscape (i.e. soaring mountains and aquamarine lakes). As we read a bit more and talked to the locals, Abel Tasman quickly rose to our ‘must do’ category. Fortunately, we were easily able to fit a short visit into our South Island tour, and it was nothing short of spectacular.
Situated on the southeastern boundary of the park, we made the small village of Marahau our home base for a few days. Although perhaps not the most dramatic scenery compared to the rugged mountains to the south, it was absolutely gorgeous. Golden shores gave way to glassy, green and turquoise waters; lush, subtropical forests laden with immense tree ferns draped the hillsides beyond the sand. A short distance offshore, rocky and thickly-forested islets erupted from the crystal seas. The two largest, Adele and Fisherman Islands are recently-established pest-free sanctuaries for struggling, native bird species, whose populations have plummeted with the ill-fated introduction of non-native, often predatory mammals to New Zealand.
While doing some reading about Abel Tasman National Park, we stumbled across a photograph of a bay – an ostensibly serene, isolated cove called Te Pukatea. ‘That’s our beach,’ I declared. We read that the beach could be accessed by hiking the first day’s portion of the three-day Abel Tasman Coast Track. We were keen to do some more hiking anyway, so we figured we’d give it a whirl. It was about 13 kilometers (just over 8 miles) from Marahau, so turning it into an out-and-back gave us a solid 17 miles for our coastal day hike.
The track was very lovely. Beginning at the Marahau estuary, the well-defined path hugged the rocky coastline surrounding the Tasman Bay. Most of the walk was over flat terrain that passed under the dense canopy of the flourishing forests, with numerous footbridges that spanned miniature waterfalls and streams. At regular intervals, large gaps in the tree growth offered stunning views to the shimmering, teal-green waters below.
Eventually, the trail crested a ridge overlooking The Anchorage, a large inlet dotted with motorboats. We descended the hill to Anchorage Bay, the typical stopping point for the first day of the trek. The beach here was scenic, but fairly crowded. I didn’t really expect to see that many visitors, since it was a 7-ish mile walk to get there. Then, as I glanced at one of the boats, it suddenly dawned on me… ‘Heeeeeeyyyyyyyy, there’s a water taxi!’ Apparently, I’d overlooked that part. I’m not going to lie, my next thoughts may have contained profanities, and those profanities may have been verbalized in the coming moments. It wasn’t so much the walking all the way from Marahau to get there that perturbed me, since we were excited to hike, but the idea that perhaps all these fresh-legged fools being ferried in from their fancy boat hire would swarm the nearby Te Pukatea Bay. I crossed my fingers as we headed for the trail to Te Pukatea.
We continued on as, all the while, I grumbled about water taxis and my unsatisfactory research skills. After navigating one last hill, we reached the bay. To our delight, and my utter surprise, there were only a handful of people; apparently Anchorage Bay was a sufficient stop for all those taxi passengers. In the end, Te Pukatea was gorgeous, and mirrored the image we had in our heads – golden sands, idyllic green waters, and near-seclusion. Just another of Abel Tasman’s many coastal treasures that we wish we had more time to explore.
Total distance: 17 miles
Elevation gain: 1,586 feet