The Ultimate Day Hike in Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand
This post was originally published in May 2017 and was updated in November 2019 (after I did another day hike which I need to tell you about!).
The entire Abel Tasman National Park Coastal Track takes anywhere from three to five days to complete, but what if I told you that you could see some of the park’s best beaches, tracts of exotic forest and viewpoints on a day hike. Would you be interested? Would a set of free steak knives sweeten the deal? I know, it sounds like a scam, but the good news is that it is completely possible (and free, except for petrol and maybe a lost hubcap or two). Join me as I enter one of New Zealand’s most scenic regions for the ultimate day hike in Abel Tasman National Park. Oh, and I also recently did an Abel Tasman day hike by taking a boat to Anchorage and then walking back to Marahau — more on that later though!
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Arriving at Totaranui
After a gruelling 11 hour drive (broken up by a few hours of freedom camping near Motueka), we arrived at the Totaranui Beach Camping Ground. The sun was shining, the sea gently lapped on the golden sands and native New Zealand birds wandered the grounds. This is one of the most accessible beaches in Abel Tasman National Park and is worth a visit even if you’re not up for a hike. There’s a large campsite here ($13 per person) and apparently it gets pretty full over summer. We soon headed off on the short walk to Anapai Bay, which my research had told me was one of the best beaches in the region.
Totaranui to Anapai Bay
Walking time: 45 minutes – 1 hour (one way)
The short hike to Anapai Bay takes you through some nice sections of native New Zealand bush. It’s a fairly easy operation — the track winds up and over a headland and is mostly shaded. There are some tree-obstructed views back towards Totaranui but Anapai Bay is mostly hidden until the end.
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Emerging from the depths of the forest to find an almost deserted beach is one of the highlights of any Abel Tasman National Park hike. Anapai Bay is (from what I’ve read) one of the best beaches in the area and it definitely deserves the hype. It almost looked like a tropical beach in Thailand, even though we visited in late April (nearing the end of autumn). We didn’t swim but we did see a family in the water and they didn’t seem to be shivering.
Anapai Bay is actually two distinct beaches. The second is a small, sheltered cove where small seals sometimes play. We saw a group of them, which I initially mistook for dolphins, jumping out of the water on the way back to Totaranui.
Don’t have time (or the transport) to go to Totaranui? Check out these day tours in Abel Tasman National Park.
Anapai Bay to Mutton Cove
Walking time: 1 hour (one way)
The hike from Anapai Bay to Mutton Cove again winds up and over a headland. I got pretty excited on this section as the track stayed close to the cliffs and I was sure an amazing view would open up around every corner. It didn’t end up happening though as the trees concealed the views below. I’m sure conservationists would disagree, but surely they could cut a few of them down. There is eventually a decent view of Mutton Cove from above but the light was all wrong — one of the many first world problems travel bloggers face.
Mutton Cove is a good place to have a rest and eat some lunch. We saw a few people setting up camp for the night too and it would make for a more secluded alternative to Totaranui. From Goat Bay we had planned to keep walking to Separation Point but we ran out of time.
Totaranui to Goat Bay
Walking time: 30 – 45 minutes (one way)
We got to Totaranui quite late on day one so we camped in our car for a night and completed the hike the next morning. The final stretch was the most spectacular. Skinner Point looks over both Totaranui Beach and Goat Bay and provides the elevated views that everyone looks for while hiking in Abel Tasman National Park. It’s an incredible view — if you only have the time (or the fitness) for a very short walk then this is the one for you.
The track then continues down to Goat Bay, a stunning white sand beach surrounded by wild green forest. It’s one of the best beaches that I’ve seen in New Zealand and it capped off our hike perfectly. We walked along almost the full length of the beach and then headed back to Totaranui. We probably should have continued a little further — I’ve heard there are good views as you walk towards Waiharakeke Bay.
Another Abel Tasman Day Hike Option
If you don’t feel like driving all the way around to Totoaranui there is a far easier (but slightly more expensive) option to consider. You can catch a boat from Marahau to one of the beaches along the track and then either walk back to Marahau or catch another boat back. I did this recently (in 2019). I went as far as Bark Bay and walked all the way back to Marahau. It was around a 25 km walk and I was shot by the end of it. The section from Bark Bay to Anchorage was the best and I’d suggest doing this if you don’t mind paying for two boat rides (which will set you back around $80). There are also lots of other day walk / boat options. I’d personally still go for the Totaranui side but if you’re short on time catching a boat from Marahau is a good option.
On the drive back to civilization (Totaranui to Takaka) make sure to stop at Wainui Falls. It’s a long way from the coastal track but is still in the national park and it’s pretty awesome. Be careful though — I saw one guy slip on the wet rocks and I’m sure some cameras have been damaged by spray from the falls.
The ultimate* day hike in Abel Tasman National Park FAQs
- How long does it take? The hike that we did takes around six hours, but you’ll probably want to leave more time for relaxing, swimming and eating. It can easily be done as a day hike but it’s a good idea to spend a night at Totaranui if you have the time. If you want to go further you could continue on from Mutton Cove to Separation Point or from Goat Bay to Waiharakeke Bay (or all the way to Arawoa Bay).
- What’s up with the water taxis? Water taxis don’t go further north than Totaranui, so the only way to reach Anapai Bay (and beyond) is on foot, unless you know someone who owns a boat of course. Water taxis can take you around most of the park though and using one would make sense if doing a different section of the track.
- Why start at Totaranui and not Marahau? Those are the two main access points for hikes along the coastal track. We chose Totaranui because it looked nicer and we were going to Golden Bay anyway. The day hikes from Marahau seem to require water taxi transfers as the sections close to the car park don’t look particularly interesting. I read reports that said that part of the track was one of the dullest while the areas close to Totaranui are some of the best. For us it was an easy decision.
- Why go to Golden Bay? There are heaps of things to do in Golden Bay and Takaka is a good town to base yourself in if you aren’t keen on camping. The nearby Te Waikoropupū Springs contain some of the clearest water in the world and are well worth a visit. There are also some great beaches in Golden Bay if you’re looking for something a little more developed.
Where to stay
Takaka is the closest proper town to Totaranui Beach and it’s the ideal place to stay in Golden Bay. Check out these places to stay in Takaka: Ratanui Lodge | Shady Rest Bed and Breakfast | Lansdowne Farm
Are you planning a day hike in Abel Tasman National Park? Let me know in the comments below!
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