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Our day trip to Abel Tasman National Park

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When we first visitied NZ in 2009 we embarked on our South Island road trip and we (stupidly) skipped the Abel Tasman National Park. I would like to say time constraints was the reason but it was probably more the budget at the time! It is something we have (well I know I have been) regretting ever since! So when we had the opportunity to go down to the South Island for the first time in 6 years with my parents, I made sure it was on the bucket list!

I had spent too much time hearing from people how idyllic the beaches were, how lovely it is to kayak in the region and basically how great it is! So we decided to book a trip with Abel Tasman Kayaks as we wanted to do something active and thought kayaking the park sounded fun!


We chose the ‘Remote Coast’ day trip, 4 hours of kayaking from Awaroa, visiting Shag Harbour, stopping for lunch at Onetahuti and then kayaking to Bark Bay. Our day started with putting the wrong address into the GPS! As we arrive into Marahau we found our selves parked outside some ones house, I wasn’t sure what kind of size operation Abel Tasman Kayaks ran but it didn’t feel right! We spoke to a man who was looking for people to jump on his water taxi (sorry not us today!) and he told us it was about 500 metres up the road. Problem solved!

And yes they operate a fairly large operation! It seemed like a nice area, they had toilets, some where you could get coffee and lots of picnic benches and then a really long queue to check in! We thought it looked like chaos! But as they checked more and more people in we noticed It was actually organised chaos! Each small group of people at each bench was a different group all waiting to head out into the park for the day! We got directed to our picnic bench where our group was waiting for us (we were late!) and introduced ourselves to our group leader for the day. She gave us a rundown of safety procedures before we got onto the boat which was driven by large tractors!

Ready to float!

Ready to float!

The large tractors took us out onto the slip way and we got out on the water – how easy was that! But then we had to battle with the wind, it was a very windy and very rough seas, as we closed in on Awaroa Bay though the water calmed but that didn’t stop us from worrying as we had 4 hours kayaking against the wind ahead of us!

And true to form, 2 hours in at our lunch stop, we were knackered! We used to own kayaks so we do consider ourselves fairly experienced but I had numb bum and Isaac had such bad cramp in his legs that he almost couldn’t get out of the sea kayak!

During lunch (we were starving!) we asked our guide if we continue the route on foot, I think it was pretty fair to say she looked slightly surprised! There was another couple in our group that was doing this option so I think we may have just screwed up the logistics of how they would get our kayak from that beach to our end destination. But a few moments on the radio and the problem was resolved, it probably gave her a easier afternoon for her as she had one less couple to look out for on the water! So essentially we ended up doing there ‘Two Gods’ day trip – which I strongly recommend is a better option!

A brief rest from the rough sea and wind in Shag Harbour

A brief rest from the rough sea and wind in Shag Harbour

So really our top tip for the Abel Tasman is if you really want to kayak just do it for the first half of your day. Two hours kayaking should be enough. Yes, it is really enjoyable and you do get to see hidden coves along the way that you wouldn’t see if you were hiking but as we took some time out and did the walk from Onetahuti to Bark Bay at our own pace we could truly reflect on the beauty of this place. You actually don’t bump into that many people on the walk and the walk doesn’t take as long as it says on the signs plus you will come across some beautiful beaches with plenty of down time to have a dip in the sea!

Beautiful hidden beaches along the walk

Beautiful hidden beaches along the walk

Next time (yes there will be a next time!) we come we shall camp for a few days, I was pleasantly surprised at the standard of the camp grounds, they have pretty good toilets, a kitchen shelter, somewhere you can have a camp fire and of course an amazing beachfront location. I also realised that water taxi’s come very often so pre booking a day trip like we did wasn’t really necessary. My parents just jumped on a water taxi and didn’t pre book anything. You can just imagine by camping here a few night, after all the day trippers leave you have this paradise all to yourself!

So now I get what everyone was going on about, but one day wasn’t really enough for us, if you can make it two days!

If you want to see how a trip to the Abel Tasman can be incorporated into your travel plans check out our 10 Day South Island Itinerary for a bit of inspiration!

Top Tip: And if you need to find somewhere to stay when you visit then we highly recommend booking your accommodation in advance, it’s important not to under estimate how busy the Abel Tasman gets between September and March each year. We suggest checking out BookaBach (private homes often not found on AirBnB) or this link to find out instant availability of the motels/hotels/guest houses in the area.