In November of 2022, my partner and I walked the absolutely stunning Abel Tasman Coast Track over five days. In this two-part blog, I chat about my experience as a newbie tramper finding my (sore) feet while exploring my homeland.
Sitting in a Motueka cafe, watching rain splash-splash into growing puddles was not the plan for day #1 on the Abel Tasman Coast Track, but what can ya do? Trusting the forecast, we caffeinated, bought a plastic bag to keep the undies dry then hit the road to Mārahau, and the start of one of NZ’s ‘great walks’. Let’s go!
Day 1: Mārahau to Anchorage Hut
The Abel Tasman Coast Track can be walked in either direction, or broken into smaller walks by using the water taxi services. For multi-day walks, you can stay in the huts or campsites, both must be booked in advance. Our original plan was to walk Mārahau to Whariwharangi over four days, then loop around Wainui back through Whariwharangi to Tōtaranui on the last day. We didn’t stick with the plan, but say you did, that would be around 60 kms total, with optional side walks for people fitter than me.
Starting from Mārahau, day 1 is a relatively flat walk with maximum elevation of around 150m. As per the forecast, the skies quit leaking leaving a pleasant overcast day. This part of the track is 12.4 km’s with a DOC estimate of 4 hours. Maybe it’s my short legs, but for all sections of the track we clocked 30-90 minutes longer than the estimates, and other trampers agreed that the set times are quite speedy. However, at the time, there was flood damage to the track, which slowed us down. Not to mention the compulsion to stop every time something photoworthy appeared, which was often!
We stopped at Appletree Bay for a lunch of Clif bars, babybels and mandarins. Spoiler: there is no apple tree, but there were kayakers and some overly familiar ducks. This was our first intro to Abel Tasman birdlife, and their blatant food-thieving ways.
After five hours or so, my feet were pinching (feet became somewhat of a theme for this trip) so it was a relief when the terrain morphed from foresty to beachy, and we perceived the hut was near (ok, there was also an actual sign, but either way, I was muchly relieved).
Anchorage Hut is the most modern of the huts on the Coast Trail. The sleeping quarters are four eight-berth bunk rooms that open to the verandah you can see in the pic above. The bunk rooms look like this:
The hut features a food area / common room, two flushing toilets and sink areas to do a basic wash. Next door is a camp ground where there is apparently a phone charging station. There is also allegedly a cold shower down the beach but we couldn’t find either. There is good wi-fi, but no power or lighting, except for security lights in the common area.
As someone that is socially awkward and a desperately bad sleeper, the hut situation had kept me awake in advance. But, as it turns out, this most worrying part was one of the highlights because all the flatmates were awesome and I slept well. At Anchorage we were bunking with three yoga ladies and an Aussie lawyer who was doing something nuts like five great walks in five weeks. A couple of Americans, and selection of Europeans and kiwis rounded out the group, many of whom were still with us at the final hut.
Once offloading the packs (feels like you can fly, eh?) and settling in, we wandered down the absolutely stunning beach, finding a strange collection of rock graffiti.
Evening activities included fending off the ravenous native weka and boiling up litres of water for our freeze-dried dinner and the next day. Every hut has signs warning that water must be boiled or you’ll basically die. This contradicts DOC’s website which states some huts have safe water, but most trampers were burning precious gas boiling water. Nobody wants the sh*ts when you’re sharing a bedroom and walking hours between composting toilets. Speaking of loos, there’s no lack of them on the track, so don’t fret, fragile bladder brigade. Arachnophobes.. sorry.
The yoga ladies and I zipped up before sunset and arose around 6 am, which is very unlike sleepyhead me. I’m blaming the ocean waves and no artificial light; good for the circadian rhythms. The early start was necessary anyway, in order to catch the low tide.
DAY 2: aNCHORAGE TO wairima/BARK BAY
There are three tidal crossings on the track, but they’re simple enough to navigate, just check the tide tables (displayed at the huts, or online). The first of these is the Rākauroa/Torrent Bay estuary when you leave Anchorage Hut. As with all the tidal crossings, there is a high tide alternative route if you miss the low tide. At Anchorage this adds an hour walking time, however it gives you access to ‘Cleopatra’s Pools’, a nice swim spot. We took the shorter route.
The low tide crossing has you wandering around a damp estuary wasteland until you spy some distant orange markers to guide the way. It’s pretty firm, but required some ‘shoes off’ wading. I’ll mention here that most of the sand on the track is either quite abrasive or littered with razor-sharp broken shells. The estuary is the latter, so I changed to sandals for the wet part, simultaneously receiving my first sandfly love-bites of the trip.
After making land at Rākauroa/Torrent Bay, the low-tide walk is 8.4kms, max elevation 100m, and is timed at 3 hours. By this point I was moving pretty slowly due to ouchy blisters, so it took us 4.5 hours. Humiliatingly, we were overtaken by some taking the longer route, and I decided to ask them some shoe-related questions later.
The walk is a steady climb through magnificent forest, with spots of interest like the encouragingly named ‘Halfway Pool’. A fun part of this track is the 47 metre suspension bridge over Falls River. The views are stunning, seals splash around below and the bridge bounces quite a lot with every footstep (whee!).
Even going slowly we made Wairima/Bark Bay before lunch, and nabbed some bunks in the coveted ‘secret room’.
bARK BAY HUT
Bark Bay Hut has two rooms where you sleep sardine style, and one six-bed bunk room, snuck around the corner. I’d heard about this and headed straight for it. In there were our American friends from Anchorage, who turned out to be a dietitian and a nurse! In the evening we chatted about type I diabetes, healthcare systems and the carb content of our freeze dried meals. I’m sure this was riveting for our software-developer flatmate.
This hut has good wi-fi, sinks for washing, and a clothesline. The lagoon is beautiful for swimming, but in November was a bit chilly for me. I donned my togs for some waist-high wading, then bailed like a citygirl loser and sat watching herons fishing.
During an evening of water boiling, tramping cuisine and friendly chatter, we saw the only warden of our trip. Sadly, earlier, two tui flew into the glass doors at high speed and some flatmates took them to the warden. It was distressing and put a sad cloud over the camp. I wasn’t even sure whether to include it here TBH, but you know, journalistic integrity and all. Later the warden did a hut-check and updated that one tui was ok, but the other died and received a ‘natural burial’ (eaten by a weka, nature is metal AF).
While the warden was there, we extracted non-commital answers about the necessity of all that water boiling and queried the state of the upcoming track. Rumour was, a bridge was out. Having been reassured, we settled into some insect-repellent-scented beach and bird watching then hit the sleeping sacks.
I drifted off dreaming of day 3 which I’d anticipated for weeks, even though it involved losing all tramping cred. Click here for Part 2.