For us we’ve always been of the opinion that experiences are more valuable than material possessions, I mean, we did give up our house and most of our “stuff” to go travel around the world for 3 years and counting! But there are times when you are acutely reminded of this, experiences that are just so jaw dropping, mind expanding and incredible that you just can’t help but feel the sort of joy that just buying an expensive piece of jewellery or a new car could never bring. Exploring the jaw droppingly beauty, miles of unspoilt beaches and glorious hiking of the Abel Tasman National Park just days after our car (which was our home) broke down was one of those times, so with that in mind we set out to find the best Abel Tasman day walks!
Being ourselves on a tight budget we were also on the lookout for the Abel Tasman day walks without taking one of the expensive water taxis but where we would still be able to soak in the best of this amazing place. The hike from Totaranui to Separation point was just that, it combined the best of the park on a budget!
Why Visiting Abel Tasman Was a Highlight of Our Trip Around New Zealand Even After a Bad Experience!
Our time in Abel Tasman National Park was in all honesty a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences. The natural beauty and tropical feel of the beaches and jungles surrounding them was such a contrast to the Alpine scenery the South Island of New Zealand is known for and that was a cool change in pace. We’d done A LOT of hiking on our trip and this was such a different vibe and a fun change of pace, especially in the town of Takaka which is a hippy hub!
However, during this time we had a major issue with our car. Whilst driving up towards Takaka on the steep and winding road we heard a bang and suddenly what looked like smoke was pouring from the bonnet of our car!! It was probably one of the scariest experiences of our lives as we genuinely thought the car was on fire and it was going to be like some sort of movie explosion scene where we would end up jumping from a flaming fireball! Frantically grabbing our passports and cameras we realised at this very moment how saving ourselves was more important than our car or the things inside! Turns out however, we had sprinted screaming down the road a little prematurely and it was just coolant steam from our freshly blown up radiator!! Sat by the side of the road in the midday sun for 2 hours we began to contemplate our return to Christchurch sooner than expected and with significantly less cash and without doing one of the best Abel Tasman day walks!
Though the experience was a testing and trying time it also made us realise that material possessions are so much less important than experiences and relationships. Sprinting away from the car, holding each other as we watched smoke pour from the car and the uncertainty on the next few days really put things in perspective. The car, the money it cost and the items inside were all replaceable, but at the end of the day we were still beyond lucky to be in a place like the Abel Tasman National Park!
But during that time we also experienced the kindness of strangers, taking us in and letting us stay with them whilst our car was fixed. Even the insurance company surprised us with their generosity and willingness of their representatives to help us, which is reflective of the Kiwi attitude too. Spending time in the breathtaking scenery here after such a chaotic and challenging few days made us realise even more clearly how much the experience of seeing such an amazing place was so much more important than worrying about the car, money or things that can be replaced. We were lucky to find ourselves in such stunning surroundings whilst having each other to share the experience with, in actual fact this just made our time on the Abel Tasman day walks even more rewarding!
For those who know us you already know how we feel about the idea of experiences being more important than “things”, the idea that our lives are so much richer for the things we do than what we what we own. That’s exactly why we found ourselves in this position in the first place, swapping our house and “normal” lives for one on the road where nothing is predictable!.. See running down the road from an imaginary fireball on a remote mountain road in New Zealand!!
We loved the idea of showing people just that and that’s basically why we started this blog in the first place, to encourage people to get out there and see the world and realise just how possible it actually is! I mean, we’re just a couple of kids from a pretty desolate post industrial town in Northern England (Search Oldham and Rochdale and you’ll know what we mean!) and look at us, hiking along the beaches of the very northern tip of the south island of New Zealand!
You can also pass that on to other people too, gifting an experiences to your nearest and dearest rather than a material gift. For example Tiggly are a company that are trying to change the culture of gifting, encouraging people to move away from gifting material and meaningless “things” and to instead gift an experience to those you care about, giving them something that will stay with them the rest of their lives! The idea of “giving stories, not stuff” is something that really resonates with us and one of the cool things is that there is an Tinggly experience gift right here in The Abel Tasman National Park!! So you could literally gift this incredible place to someone! How amazing is that!
Heading to Abel Tasman National Park on a Backpacker Budget and Doing Figuring Out the Best Abel Tasman Day Walks!
Before heading to New Zealand the Abel Tasman National Park was one of the top places on our list to visit, the idea of hiking along the pristine isolated beaches of this incredible coastline was a real draw. But further research suggested that though the hike and National Park themselves are free to visit, the nature of how well protected the area is means that only the far ends of the park are accessible by car and the central areas only by multi day hikes or expensive water taxis. For us on a tight backpacker budget, staying mostly in free camps and living out of the back of our car, paying $35 each to take us to a central point to hike back out seemed like an extortionate amount of money! We were then on the hunt for the best Abel Tasman day walks we could do without paying for a water taxi!
So, what to do? We did consider along the way just paying for the water taxi, there were a few things on our trip we felt were justified large (for our budget!) purchases such as our Milford Sound cruise, but after experiencing car trouble and having spent money on repairs and extra nights in camp sites that were above our budget we set out planning another way!
We began researching the best Abel Tasman day walks and sections of the track and set out to do a long walk in and out in a day from the far end of the park. Our lack of sleeping bags, tents and the fact almost all the DOC huts were closed due to fire risk meant the 3-4 day hike of the entire trail wasn’t an option either (hopefully something we can return to do in the future!) but we wanted to make the most of our time in this incredible place.
What is the best of the Abel Tasman day walks Without Taking An Expensive Water Taxi?
After much research about the best areas of the Abel Tasman National Park we decided that the walk from Totaranui to Separation point encompassed some of the best and most varied views, beaches and sections of the park and was doable there and back in a day. Out of the many ideas we had we thought this was the best of the Abel Tasman day walks.
The walk is around 7.3 km one way 14.6 km return and will take around 6-7 hours. The terrain itself is pretty easy going with only a few moderate but short inclines with most of the walking taking place on the beach, which itself can be a challenge to walk on but not difficult. The hike isn’t hard but it’s still a full day in isolated territory and should be taken seriously. Many of the beaches make great places to swim too if there is time but there is no water or food and only sporadic shelter along the way though there are some DOC huts but there were closed due to fire risk when we visited.
Beginning at Totaranui DOC Campsite
The walk begins at the Totaranui DOC campsite on the incredible beaches where a short diversion to Skinners Lookout is advised before setting off on the trek.
From here the track cuts inland and through some dense forest before opening out onto the incredible Anapai Beach. Even if you only made it this far the pristine beach here with the amazing azure water, white sands and lush tropical backdrop really sums up what the Abel Tasman National Park is all about. It’s complete paradise and the perfect place to go for a swim. Being the first beach on the track you might not find it totally isolated but even during the popular summer season we only shared it with a handful of other people.
The section from Totaranui to Anapai Beach is around 3.3 km and takes 1 hr 10 mins.
Heading Further Along from Anapai Beach to Mutton Cove
From here its a short climb back into the forest that lines these impeccable beaches, the winding track takes you high above the coast where your first glimpses of Mutton Cove will be framed by the beautiful pines that reminded us so much of hiking on the Lycian way in Southern Turkey. Mutton Cove itself is a much larger expanse of beach and is separated by some impressive rocks that make for fun climb, otherwise there is a walkway which is a somewhat challenging section but if you take it carefully it shouldn’t trouble most hikers. This for us was our favourite beach in the park and is one of the main reasons we thought this was one of the best Abel Tasman day walks.
From Anapai Beach to Mutton Cove it is around 3.1 km (from the DOC campsite in the centre of the beach) and should take around 1 hr 20 mins.
The Final Section From Mutton Cove to Separation Point Lighthouse
From here you hit the main uphill section which will take you to Separation Point Lighthouse, the end of our tramp for this adventure. This section climbs quite steeply at times as the ground rises up quickly to the vantage point where the lighthouse proudly sits. After a short tree lined section the trail opens up to expansive views of the crystal clear Tasman Sea and out across Golden Bay. On the sea stacks and rocks below you can also often find dosing fur seals unmoved by the waves crashing around them, it really is worth the extra effort after a long walk to make it to the top of Separation Point for these views!
The section from Mutton Cove DOC to Separation Point Lighthouse is 1.2 km and takes roughly 30 mins one way. There is an alternative inland track that takes longer which we didn’t follow. This may be a little more graduated but it does meet up with the track at its steepest sections so if you’re short on time be sure to take the shorter more direct route.
Continuing On or Returning to Totaranui
The return trek from Separation Point to Totaranui DOC is 7.4 km and should take around 3 hours depending on how many times you want to stop. We recommend stopping more for photos etc on the way there (weather dependant of course, if it clears up in the afternoon then do it then) and maybe just stopping once for a quick swim on the way back possibly at Anapai Beach just to be sure you have enough time as its the closest to the starting point.
For those with more time you could continue another 3km onwards to Whariwharangi Bay from Separation Point which should take another 1hr 20 mins. It’s certainly possible and if we were staying at the DOC at Totaranui we might have considered it more seriously. But always bear in mind with this walk if you are returning to where you parked it would add another 6 km/ 2 hr 40 mins to your hike and make it a longer but even more epic version of one of the best Abel Tasman day walks!
Rather than stay at the DOC campsite at Totatanui which we felt was overpriced for what it was, we then continued back up the unsealed track to Takaka and stayed at a free camp in town. Those wishing to set off later or hike a little further, or just not tackle the drive the same day should check availability of the campsite as it is popular but very convenient and right on the beach.
How to Get to Takaka and Totaranui in Abel Tasman National Park For the Best of the Abel Tasman Day Walks!
For us the only downside to this incredible hike is that it is somewhat inaccessible, it’s not all that hard to get to but it is out of the way and requires driving over a mountain (where our radiator gave out!!) and going up and down a fairly long and winding section of unsealed road. It takes a bit of bravery to take your rental car down here and it will certainly need a good wash after but both Takaka and Totaranui are worth the effort and their relative remoteness is why they are so pristine and unspoilt places. So it is entirely possible your car situation could dictate to you whether you can do what is one of the best Abel Tasman day walks, but in that situation it might be worth paying for the water taxi than risking your car.
To get to Takaka from Nelson it’s a 103 km drive which will take around 1.5 hrs.
This road is pretty easy going until you pass the town of Riwaka and the turn off which would take you to the popular resorts of Kaiteriteri and Marahau. From here you begin the steep and winding roads up to the top of Takaka Hill, which is more of a small mountain, be sure to top up the water and oil in your car before tackling it!! After the peak the road down towards Takaka is down hill but still steep and winding so care must be taken.
From Takaka to Totaranui it is only 26 km but it can take up to an hour to get there.
Again, the road begins as a nice easy drive along the coast where you can stop at some lovely little beaches, coves and small towns. However the last 12 km is a winding and unsealed track which is down hill on the way in and up hill on the way back up. Be sure your can is ready for that and check if your rental is allowed on unsealed roads. It’s not a bad track but it does require more cautious and careful driving and can be a little uncomfortable at times!
Why This is the One of the Best Abel Tasman Day Walks for Both Views and Budget
Looking for one of the best Abel Tasman day walks without using water taxis? Well, we found it hard to find too much info online whilst researching this ourselves. Most day hikes of course just recommend taking a taxi in and walking back out and many of them also don’t take into consideration how far different people can hike. Personally we are pretty fit and good hikers who can tackle tough ground pretty quickly, so a 16 km hike with only a few steep sections was very doable for us and we could have easily done more.
So, why do we think this is one of the best Abel Tasman day walks? Well, whilst doing our research we put together a few different suggestions and decided that this hike being at the other end of the park to the more popular areas really allows you to see the best of the Abel Tasman Park without spending too much whilst being relatively easy and not too inaccessible.
This hike allows you to get some serious hiking in, see the pristine unspoilt nature of the park, take in some of the most incredible beaches and coastline in the region as well as soaking in the unique atmosphere of the region. If you only spend one day in Abel Tasman National Park, forget Marahau and kaiteriteri and do this hike! It will totally live up to your expectations of this complete paradise where as the later are overcrowded and over commercialised!
Another great thing about this route with it being a there and back trail is that you can decide along the way when to turn back. It might be that you set off a bit too late or you’re just not as able to walk so far, or alternatively maybe you got off earlier than you thought and made great progress so you can carry on a little. Even just making it to Anapai Beach, the first stop along the way will leave you astounded at the sheer beauty of this region so it is worth heading to this section of the park even if you’re not a great hiker. So the added benefit of it being suitable for all levels is another reason it stands out as one of the best Abel Tasman day walks, if not THE best!
Other Great Abel Tasman Day Walks From Here:
From Totarauni the 2-3 hour hike over to Awaroa is also an amazing tramp and if you have the time to spend a few days here then the combination of these two hikes will no doubt leave you satisfied that you’ve seen the best Abel Tasman National Park has to offer. This hike going in the opposite direction of the one we did and goes towards the centre of the park rather than away and can also be extended too and is definitely another of the best Abel Tasman day walks on offer.
Where to Stay and Practicalities of Doing One of the Abel Tasman Day Walks
Where to base yourself for this hike:
Ideally staying at the DOC campsite at Totarauni will allow you to get an early start and finish up later in the day. There are also some walks in the opposite direction that are well worth doing (mentioned above) if you get chance and the beach here is the perfect place to relax after a day hiking. However the mobile reception here is weak and bookings are required usually over the peak summer months as it fills up fast. If you want to do both of the Abel Tasman day walks we mentioned then this would be the perfect place to stay for a couple of nights.
The site costs $15 per adult per night and it does have flushing toilets, cold showers, drinking water, a dump station and a boat ramp and beach access.
Alternatively Takaka is an idea base for this hike as the drive in is less than an hour and for doing one of the Abel Tasman day walks it still gives you plenty of time and more amenities. In Takaka there are two free camp spots, one for none self contained and one for self contained only with showers and toilets in town and portaloos at the free camp just outside of town. Free camps aren’t for everyone and the one outside of Takaka is a bit of a wild hippy place but it is fun too! Hangdog camp just outside of the town is a great place to stay at $14 PP a night for camping especially if you are climbers and has good facilities such as hot showers.
Takaka does also have a few other paid for campsites and some nice hotels too as well as lots of shops, cafes, petrol stations etc to stock up before heading down.
Marahau, Motueka and Nelson
Heading here from Marahau is also not a bad idea though if you’re doing any of the Abel Tasman day walks you might want to get an early start. Even though we’ve mad mouthed it a little, it does have its place and is great for a family beach holiday and is worth seeing. However camping here is expensive with it being a holiday place so it might be best to stay over somewhere else.
It’s a 1hr 40min drive though so be sure to get an early start.
Similarly the town of Motueka close to Marahau is a good base from which to stock up on before making the journey. There is a free camp behind the isite but it does fill up quickly and has limited space for non self contained. In Motueka too we found an amazing little all Vegetarian Cafe in the Acadia arcade that did a lot of amazing Asian inspired food for only $6.
Even Nelson is a good place to base yourself but given the drive is around 2hr 20 mins you will have to get an early start but with the long summer days it’s certainly possible to get one of the incredible Abel Tasman day walks done. Again, there is some free camping but only for self contained in the city itself or for non self contained in the Richmond area, both fill up quickly so be there early! There is also hot showers and laundry facilities in one of the main city centre carparks that charge a small fee to use. These are very clean and well looked after and highly recommended!
If you are in this area the Mckee Memorial Scenic Reserve campsite is a good option at only $6 each. It’s only 30 mins outside of Nelson towards Abel Tasman NP, 30 mins from Marahau and 15 mins from Motueka towards Nelson. It has plenty of space, good toilets and cold showers.
Tips For Doing One of the Abel Tasman Day Walks
Download the Maps.Me app and be sure to have the maps for this area downloaded. This is an offline map and can be a lifesaver for route finding both on the road and on foot. Check how far the route is and how long it should take before setting off.
Download the CamperMate app. This is the best app for finding campsites in NZ, you can see the price, reviews and facilities as well as changing search terms for free and budget sites. It also has options to show you places like swimming pools, laundry, showers and even sightseeing and it works offline too.
Make sure your car is able to tackle both the hill to Takaka and the unsealed road down to Toraranui.
Bring along enough water, food and supplies. There isn’t anywhere to fill up along the way and walking in the summer it can get very hot! As always, bring basic first aid and some high energy snacks. Even if you’re only planning on doing one of the Abel Tasman day walks you should bring at least some extra supplies!
Be aware of the tides. On this hike in particular it isn’t so much of an issue but there are areas of the park where the trail can become submerged at certain times of the day. Always check the tides for your route before setting off.
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