Abel Tasman National Park is one of approximately five zillion places in New Zealand and Australia named after the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman. You might think I’m kidding, but I’m really not (and don’t even get me started on James Cook).
But please, don’t be fooled: its name might be generic, but the rest of it is not. Actually, Abel Tasman is a unique and extraordinary place, filled with flora and fauna that is distinctly Kiwi.
Located at the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, Abel Tasman is the smallest of the country’s many national parks. Like far too many places in this part of the world, it was sadly exploited by the first European settlers, who destroyed much of its natural beauty with logging and other pillaging of its resources. These days, the park is flourishing once more, and hopefully will continue to do so under protection — so long as we visitors do our part to respect the natural wildlife there.
The park is closed to vehicles and accessible solely by foot or on water. Its main gateway is nearby Marahau, a tiny town where you’ll find a few accommodation options and plenty of information about exploring the park. I stayed at the Barn, which had an awesome outdoor fireplace that was great for chilly April nights.
Marahau only has very limited shopping facilities, so it’s best to stock up on food and other supplies in Nelson or Motueka before arriving.
I traveled to the park via Stray, a tour bus company that claims to take you “off the beaten track.” I don’t know about that, but it took me nearly everywhere I wanted to go, anyway. You can get off the bus virtually anywhere you’d like and hop back on whenever you want. That makes it a solid option if you’re not sure how long you’ll want to stay in a given location.
Many people shy away from the big hop-on hop-off bus companies, finding them too touristy or restricting. In my experience, Stray was whatever you wanted it to be: they’ll book all your hostels and activities, or give you a ride and nothing else. That being said, it’s certainly not quite as flexible as using your own vehicle. Many backpackers in New Zealand purchase cheap cars from outgoing travellers, and sell them again before departing. I sort of hate the idea of owning or maintaining a car, so the bus was much better for me.
It’s also got a few other perks. For instance, take this sailing trip. There are heaps of options for sailing excursions in Abel Tasman, but if you’ve got enough people, chartering your own boat actually works out to be the cheapest. A bus full of other backpackers really helps with that part.
So charter a boat we did! We spent the day on a catamaran, cruising crystal turquoise waters and spotting penguins, dolphins, and kayakers. We rode past small secluded islands, vibrant forests, and colorful rock formations. Later on, we pulled up to the beach to explore some caves and dig our toes in the sand.
It was far to cold to actually get in the water, but the day was clear, bright, and dry. On the way back, several of us napped in the sun, lulled to sleep by the serene atmosphere and gently swishing waves.
Of course, this is a national park, so if you’re after something more active, don’t despair.
You can grab a kayak and paddle your way around the waters; hire a bicycle and try some mountain biking; or even go horseback riding through the park. You can also choose from a number of different walks, such as the Abel Tasman Coastal Track (one of the most famous in the country), or the Abel Tasman Inland Track (which provides some great views from atop the rocky cliffs).
But I mean, to be honest, you’ll probably get a good view no matter what you do. I wouldn’t worry too much about that.
Stray bus: Stray is one of numerous companies offering bus tours through New Zealand. For more of my thoughts on these buses, check out my post here. (Note: Stray has nothing to do with this post, and I paid for my pass in full.)