I woke up in a dark hostel dorm well before sunrise. It was just before 6 am on a winter’s morning in Nelson, New Zealand. I snuck out of the room to change into my hiking clothes, careful not to wake any of my roommates. I grabbed my daypack and my hiking boots, and I headed out the front door to wait for the shuttle to pick me up. Today I was headed to Abel Tasman National Park to do some hiking—the first real hike I did in New Zealand.
New Zealand is known as a hiker’s paradise, so it’s really a shame that it took me over 3 months to do some actual hiking. I had ventured out on a few walks and short hikes, but none of it added up to more than a mile or two. My body was craving something a little more substantial—steep inclines, dirt tracks, and tired muscles.
That’s not to say that the Abel Tasman Coast Track is the most difficult hiking out there. As one of the nine tracks in New Zealand designated as a “Great Walk”, the Abel Tasman track is on the easy side. There are some pretty steep inclines, and steady climbs that seem to never quite end, but overall the track is graded as intermediate.
Hiking the Abel Tasman Coast Track
One of the reasons I haven’t been able to do much hiking thus far in New Zealand is because I don’t have a car. While that doesn’t completely limit anyone from accessing tracks, it is much simpler (and cheaper) to get to hiking trails with your own vehicle. Luckily there are plenty of tour operators to facilitate anyone who wants to visit Abel Tasman National Park for tramping, kayaking, or beach-going.
I booked my day hike with Abel Tasman Travel. The package included shuttle pick-up & drop off from my hostel in Nelson, transportation to and from Kaiteriteri (the meeting point for most tour operators), and the water taxi ride to the starting point for the track. This made it so easy for me to get to Abel Tasman for my hike.
I boarded the shuttle just after 7 am while the sky was still dark and the streets were still empty. I met a woman and her daughter after noticing their American accents, and we spent some time talking on the 2-hour drive. We arrived at Kaiteriteri, where the golden beach was met with gray skies. It wasn’t long before we all boarded the water taxi to start the journey.
I initially planned to hike a different section of the coast track, but because of the weather and the time of year, there weren’t many people booked in to hike that day. The water taxi wasn’t going out as far as I wanted to go, so I decided to hike from Bark Bay to Anchorage instead.
The walk from Bark Bay to Anchorage is about 11.5 km, and most guides will tell you to allow about 4 hours to complete it. I hopped off the water taxi onto the beach and headed straight for the track in hopes of beating out the other hikers. I like to hike alone, as I don’t find the same solace in hiking when I’m surrounded by groups of people; I prefer when it’s just me and nature.
The trail up to the main track is steep. Within a few minutes, I was looking down on the beach I had just stood on, watching the others still wandering around in the sand. I spent the first half-hour speed walking along the track to create space between me and everyone else. And then I was alone.
The cool winter air and hazy sky was more than welcome. Quick spurts uphill were rewarded with views out over the water. The sound of native birds in the trees and running water in the distance, combined with the rhythm of my steps, quickly put me into a peaceful trance. While some hills left my legs a bit wobbly, I enjoyed pushing through after such a long break from hiking.
About half-way through the hike, I descended a steep hill into Torrent Bay Village. Another sandy beach, a place to rest and fill myself with croissants and bananas. There is a campsite at Torrent Bay as well as holiday homes. The trail runs right past a few homes before taking you back to the main track.
There is a low-tide crossing just past Torrent Bay that will shorten the walk quite a bit. While it was low-tide when I passed, I decided to take the all-tide track anyways. I wasn’t looking for an easier walk.
I took a short detour to Cleopatra’s Pools, mostly because it sounded pretty cool. It was. Water flows over mossy rocks, and it feels like you’ve stepped into a fairytale.
I continued on track, determined to make good time. I’m not particularly competitive, but I do find myself trying to speed through hikes to add an extra challenge. I made it to the final turn-off, and I walked down the steepest hill yet to Anchorage Bay. By then my feet were pretty worn out, so making my way downhill was more painful than any of the inclines.
I stepped onto sand once again, with the end point of my day hike in sight. While it didn’t look far, walking in hiking boots on a sandy beach made for a workout in those final few minutes. I made it to the Anchorage Hut, the pick-up point for the water taxi.
I completed the 11.5 km (7 mile) hike in about 3 hours, including the 20-minute detour. When I arrived at the hut, I was the only one around. I sat at one of the picnic tables and finished off the bag of croissants I brought with me, as well as the carrots sticks and apples. It was just me and the birds for a while—I enjoyed the peace and quiet while I recuperated from the hike. I even had time to crack open my book.
A good 45 minutes later, other hikers from my group began to show up at the hut, and soon enough, the water taxi arrived too. The guides took us on a nice ride out on the water, where we were lucky enough to see a seal colony. We watched them for a while before heading back to Kaiteriteri.
From there I boarded the shuttle once again, and spent the 2-hour drive listening to music as the sun disappeared. I made it back to my hostel after 6 pm, exhausted and ready for sleep.
Track: Abel Tasman Coast Track
Location: Abel Tasman National Park, Golden Bay, South Island
Distance: Full track is 60 km, Bark Bay to Anchorage is 11.5 km
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