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Onetahuti Beach
Looking south along Onetahuti Beach
Country: New Zealand
Location: Abel Tasman National Park at the top of the South Island.
Accommodation: Marahau offers some accommodation (backpackers and lodges) but Motueka has more variety (hotels, motels, B&B). At the north end of the track, the nearest accommodation is at Takaka (2 hours away by bus).
Transport: Water services visit the bays between Kaiteriteri and Totaranui. There is a choice of launches (slow and steady) or speedboats (fast and bumpy) - Abel Tasman Enterprises or Aqua Taxis). There are frequent buses between Marahau and Nelson (via Motueka) and less frequent buses between Totaranui and Takaka (connecting service to Nelson).
Maps: Parkmap Abel Tasman (1:50,000). Or look at my on-line map here in 3 sections: south, central, and north
Trip Dates: 2-4 February 1999.
Also See:
Abel Tasman Coastal Track by Mike Gardner (1999).
Tramping (hiking) in the Abel Tasman National Park by Gary Dye (August 1998).
Abel Tasman Coastal Track by Scott A. Yost (1996).

Sun, sea, sand and bush await on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. This popular 3 or 4 day hike wanders along the top of the South Island of New Zealand between blue seas and the green, tree-clad hills. It is the easiest of the Great Walks (the most in demand and spectacular tracks of those managed by the Department of Conservation) and also the most accessible with buses to the track ends and tons of watercraft buzzing between the beaches.

Some things that you should be aware of when planning your hike are:
There are four tidal routes to negotiate, two of which are mandatory (the other two have longer shoreline alternatives). The optional tidal routes are from The Anchorage to Torrent Bay and across Bark Bay. The major compulsory route is over Awaroa Inlet - this has to be crossed within 2 hours of low tide and quickly becomes dangerous outside of the two hours. An often not mentioned tidal challenge is the one at the north end of Onetahuti Beach where there is a gap between the sand spit and the lagoon behind it. This can be crossed easily within 4 hours of low tide (generally thigh-deep within 3 hours, knee-deep within 2 hours and ankle-deep within an hour of low tide). At other times you will have to swim the few metres to the other bank.
Note that all of the tidal routes will have shallow streams running across them. Also it is not advisable to walk over them in bare feet due to the many sharp shells in the sand.
Tide tables are published in the huts on either side of the inlets.
Giardia is present in the park. Boil, filter or otherwise treat your water.
None of the huts along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track have gas stoves (in contrast to other Great Walk huts). This is probably due to the large number of casual visitors to the park.
The tracks are rock hard in the middle of summer and you may find it better to walk in soft-soled boots. I found that I was quite footsore by the middle of the second day in my stiff-soled leather boots. Great relief was gained by swapping to my fabric boots (generally used for travelling and any road-walking).
Sun screen and insect repellent should be carried and applied. Remember to re-apply them after swimming at any of the very tempting beaches.

There are a large number of hiking options available due to the many accessible points and excellent water taxi service. A typical tourist option is to take a launch from Kaiteriteri to Bark Bay, walk to Torrent Bay (3 hours without a heavy pack) and then get the launch back to Kaiteriteri. Most hikers start at either Totaranui or Marahau and hike to the other road end (3 days). The prettiest part of the coast is actually to the north of Totaranui. Half a day can be filled by following the coast northwards to Separation Point and the historic Whariwharangi Hut (2 hours), returning via the first section of the Inland Track over Gibbs Hill (another 2 hours).

Marahau to The Anchorage

The beginning of the track at Marahau is easily accessible by road from Nelson (90 minutes away) or Motueka (30 minutes). Buses travel from Nelson via Motueka and the ride is pleasant and scenic. I happened to be in Motueka for my brother's engagement party so my father gave me a lift to Marahau.

Many of the houses in Marahau are spread along the seashore about 1.5 kilometres before the end of the road. Where the road turns inland, there are some accommodation options - a campsite and a couple of motels. The road end is easily recognised by the two large carparks (often full), the cafe on your right, art gallery on your left and the Department of Conservation information kiosk/shelter straight ahead. The cafe is a good place to get a drink or snack before starting the track. Their prices are not cheap but not as expensive as you would expect in such an isolated spot.

Stop in the kiosk to sign the intentions book and look at the information displays. The track starts on the other side of the kiosk as a boardwalk suspended above the mud of the estuary. You are likely to see many birds fishing in the tidal streams running out to the sea. The boardwalk is interrupted by sections of dirt embankment before it reaches the shore on the other side of the inlet.

The track then turns right (east) and climbs slightly a few metres up the hillside. The shore line is followed for the next 2 kilometres. The path is wide and easy but with few views since it is often through tunnels of gorse and scrub. The first accessible beach is about halfway to Tinline Bay where a thin break in the scrub gives access to the sandy beach. This has a nice view up the coast to Adele Island.

There is a large campsite at Tinline Bay - the grassy area has good views back along the coast past Kaiteriteri and Motueka. A good spot for your first break of the day. When I was there, a friendly weka emerged to investigate me and my pack. This flightless swamp hen was common in the main islands of New Zealand but has nearly died out in the North Island. However attempts are being made to re-establish it. If you show anything bright while staying at Tinline Bay then the weka will come running. There is a nice little nature walk at the back of the grass which heads to Tinline Stream, follows it upstream for a bit through nice native bush and then loops back (30 minutes return).

A weka at Tinline Bay
A weka investigates my pack at the Tinline Bay campsite.

Beyond Tinline Bay, the track makes the gentlest of climbs to about 40 metres above sea level and a junction with the Inland Track which heads up into the hills to your left. A gentle descent into Coquille Bay then follows - the beach is down a side track at the lowest point before the track rises again to cross over Guilbert Point. Keep an eye out for the cute little waterfall on a creek a few minutes after the junction. Another kilometre of in and out hiking brings the short side track down to Apple Tree Bay, just in time for lunch. This is a popular beach, especially around noon when many kayakers pull up for lunch. Among its many good points are the cooling shade provided by the pine trees on the sand spit, the nice lagoon behind the sand spit, a wonderful view out to Adele Island and the good swimming (gets deep quickly). However you are unlikely to be alone here.

After lunch take the short sharp climb back onto the Coastal Track and head north. The usual wide and easy track continues above the sea for 1.5 kilometres to the junction with the track down to Stilwell Bay. Before venturing down the track, consider the state of the tide. For a couple of hours either side of high tide the sandy beach and campsite at Stilwell Bay is cut off from landward access. If you have the time though, drop your packs at the junction and wander down for a peek along the shoreline to the north.

The track crosses Lesson Creek and then traverses over to Yellow Point where there is a junction of paths. A steep little trail heads down the hillside to the isolated campsite in Akersten Bay. We are more interested in the narrow path that heads along the cape to a tree-clad viewpoint with a fairly clear view back and a glimpse of the beaches of Akersten Bay and Cyathea Cove. The Coastal Track winds its way north from the junction and away from the coast. There is a steady, gentle climb over the next kilometre up to today's highest point of 100m. About halfway along the climb, a sketchy unofficial path heads into the shrubs to a clearer area with good views out to Adele Island.

Just before the highest point of the track, an access point for the Inland Track branches off to the west. A short-cut to the campsite on Torrent Bay leaves about 200 metres up this track. However the track to The Anchorage heads to the east over the headwaters of a small creek. The top of the next ridge is followed through open scrub for the next kilometre and a bit (this may be very hot in warm weather). When the track swings north again you can see a large swamp in the valley down to your left and the grass clearing of the Anchorage campsite to your right. More prominent is the big private house perching on the hillside above the glade (this is not the hut!).

The track joins the beach about 200 metres to the west of Anchorage Hut. The campsite is a little bit past the hut (ignore the grassy patches next to it) and there is room for about 50 tents - lots in the main grassy area but there is also plenty of room under the trees. I arrived at just after 3 pm, leaving plenty of time for setting up my tent, lounging on the beach and having a wander around. In hindsight I should have headed off to one of the more isolated campsites (there were more than 40 people at this one - crowded but not that noisy). There are three in easy walking distance at Te Pukatea Bay (30 minutes walking over a ridge), Watering Cove (45 minutes away on the other side of the Anchorage peninsular) and an easy 30 minutes to the small campsite on Torrent Bay.

An interesting way to fill in the afternoon is to head off to Cleopatra's Pool. This is a good swimming hole on the Torrent River about 30 minutes away. To get there, head west along the beach to the Coastal Track where it clambers up to a dip between the hills and a low ridge jutting out into the sea. If the tide is low then you can drop down the other side, cross straight over the inlet to the Torrent Bay campsite and turn SW to the river. Otherwise take the path that climbs up the ridge and then swings around the shoreline down to the river. Ten minutes up the river is the swimming hole where the water has cut a deep pool in the bedrock with a good water-slide on the other side of the curved crease that gives the pool its name.

The Anchorage to Awaroa

This day turned out to be nearly 10 hours of very hot walking with a couple of long breaks - over an hour at Bark Hut and about the same at the Awaroa Lodge and Cafe. The length of the day and the heat encouraged me to make a small mistake by starting out with 3 litres of water. But there are plenty of sources of water along the way (remember to purify it though) including Bark Hut and five campsites. Thus one litre would have been enough and I ended up hauling the extra 2 litres (2 kilograms!) all the way to Awaroa.

The travel today is influenced a lot by the tides. There are three tidal routes (Torrent Bay, Bark Bay and Onetahuti Lagoon) and at least one will need a diversion or a swim. A low tide in the early morning (6:30 am) meant that I could cross Torrent Bay, Bark Bay would need a diversion and the lagoon could be forded if I just strolled along from Bark Bay.

Torrent Bay at low tide
The crossing of Torrent Bay at low tide with a couple of de-booting trampers.

The Coastal Track starts at the west end of the Anchorage Beach with a gentle climb up to a dip between the hills and a headland. The all-tides route departs uphill here. Drop down to the inlet and head out across the sand and mud. The route is marked by large orange disks on poles (look for the orange lollipops). These are a fair distance apart but a line between them avoids most of the mud. The route crosses a couple of ankle deep streams (hardly worth taking your boots off) before reaching the far shore 20 metres to the left of a jetty.

The land here is private and there are plenty of signs to remind you. The track turns right to enter the village of Torrent Bay, left (north) to pass a reserve and finally right again to the beach and a nice spot for a morning break. This is where the launches and water taxis deposit and pick-up passengers but this early in the morning there are only the locals and fellow hikers about.

Head inland from the beach past a last couple of private baches where the track then zigzags up the hillside (about 40 metres height gained). The track swings further inland to cross Kilby Stream and then around another headland to cross an unnamed creek on a swingbridge. As the track heads towards the ocean again and climbs to 100m, there are good views down into Frenchman's Bay. On the Parkmap there is a side track marked that goes up to a viewpoint. At the junction the lack of a signpost shows that it is now disused. Although the path is still obvious, don't bother going up - it is overgrown with gorse, steep and slippery and there is only the tiniest view back along the coast.

The track now drops quickly down to the enormous swingbridge across the Falls River. This is sturdy enough to to safely stop in the middle for views up and down the river. Falls River is followed downstream until the entrance to Sandfly Bay is reached with a path giving access to the river mouth and one of the more secluded beaches on the coast. An easy climb brings a mandatory stop where you drop your packs and head along South Head for the best views in the park. At the end of the track you can see all the way back to The Anchorage along the serrated shoreline and an alcove on the way back gives a stunning vista of Bark Bay against the green hills.

From the junction there is a descent down and to the shoreline with a cute campsite tucked under the headland. The track then sidles above the shore on a steep hillside until flatter ground is gained at the foot of the sand spit that pokes into the bay. This sand spit has another campsite and is where the low tide route across the bay starts. The fine Bark Hut is another couple of hundred metres further and a little bit off the main track. There is no real beach at the hut so wander onto the sand spit for a swim before your lunch. I actually lunched at the hut - plenty of shade and water, no sand ending up in embarrassing places!

Waterfall Creek
A nice waterfall on (of course) Waterfall Creek.

After a leisurely lunch, take the path that heads around the inlet. I recommend this route even at low tide since there are a couple of interesting nooks and a nice waterfall. The track takes about 15 minutes to get to the waterfall, hidden away in a arm of the bay.

You are now looking at the hardest "climb" on the Coastal Track - a whole 150 metres up from sea level. This is split into two long rising traverses. The first ascends from Waterfall Creek to meet the low-tide route in 500 metres (50 metres climbed). The other 100 metres are climbed as the track ascends in the opposite direction for a little less than a kilometre. I found that on a hot day with a relatively heavy pack, I raised quite a sweat.

The Parkmap suggests that there is a dip and a rise beyond the first climb. However the track actually descends steadily from here (it may have been rerouted as suggested by a "No Track Here" sign). This two kilometre section is fairly boring with the only reward a good view of Tonga Island near the end. Ending up at a disused granite quarry may suggest the scars of an industrial site but the few remains have merged with the bush and beach. The most obvious relic is the concrete base of the winch. This provides a nice cool seat for a break. On the beach there is a jumble of granite blocks heaped against the bushes.

A good option is to head back (south) along the beach, scrambling along the shoreline for 10 minutes to the Tonga Arches.

Onetahuti Beach is 20 minutes away along the track that continues from the winch base (passing behind the campsite). The beach has another larger campsite and better swimming than Tonga Beach - especially if you have to wait for the tide to fall. The long slog up the 1.5 kilometre beach gives plenty of opportunity to drink in the seascapes and the bush-covered hills. At the far end of the beach is the entrance to the lagoon. This is only a few metres across but is deep except within a couple of hours of low tide. At 3 pm (low tide was around 6:30 pm), the water was mid-thigh deep so I took my boots off for the crossing.

On the other side, the track heads up Richardson Stream for a gentle ascent to Tonga Saddle (80m). The first kilometre is through scrub with some nice views back to the beach. As you get nearer to the saddle the trees gain height and become rather fine. Over the saddle, the track swings around to a junction where there is a choice of routes. If you have to get down to Awaroa Inlet quickly (e.g. to cross it for points north) then go straight ahead. This route contours along the hillside, dropping gently to cross 2 streams and then down to the inlet (a little over three kilometres to Awaroa Hut).

For a bit of indulgence at the Awaroa Lodge and Cafe, turn right (north) and drop quickly down to flatter ground (100m descended over 500 metres). Here an old track departs to your left bypassing the cafe for Awaroa Hut. The cafe is another 500 metres away on the right-hand fork through some nice lowland bush. It has a great, shaded courtyard with lots of seats, serves good (expensive) food including evening meals, has a couple of beers on tap and you can even stay there.

Evening sun reflecting off rippling sands in Awaroa Inlet
Evening sun reflecting off rippling sands in Awaroa Inlet.

You could climb back up to the junction on leaving the cafe. But there is a low level track from the cafe to Awaroa Hut marked by bright metal sunflowers (as is the track down from the junction). The track passes the staff accommodation for the lodgings and then crosses fields to a creek and an arm of the Awaroa Inlet. This was dry when I crossed it but may need some wading at high tide. On the other side of the arm, head for the inlet and some houses at the mouth of the arm. The other track from the junction joins this one just before the houses. Circle around the houses on the sandy spit and then walk west along the beach for 400 metres. The track then cuts across Sawpit Point to emerge in front of the hut with the campsite off to your left. The total distance is around 2 kilometres making an evening visit back to the cafe a possibility.

I arrived at the campsite about 5:30 pm making it a long day in the sun but the easy pace, long rests and stop at the cafe meant that I was not too tired. I was footsore though - see my note in the introduction about stiff-soled boots. The campsite is a large grass clearing with a couple more grassy ledges at higher levels. I pitched my tent on the back ledge. The campsite was surprisingly empty with just me and three other tents (6 people in all). It is a small world: I had met an English couple staying there during the previous weekend when walking into the Orongorongo Valley (Rimutaka Forest Park near Wellington) along the McKerrow Track.

Awaroa to Totaranui

The next morning I arose early (6:30) for the low tide and headed off by 7:30. This was an especially easy day with just a couple of hours to Totaranui (I arrived at 10 am).

Totaranui Beach. The few buildings are well hidden as is the boat ramp at the far end.

Head straight out from the front of Awaroa Hut past a double-headed orange lollipop and guided by another on the far shore. The crossing of the inlet takes about 30 minutes with a couple of ankle deep streams to ford. On the other side, walk into the bay to the right of the signpost to join a track going up Pound Creek. This narrow valley has some nice primeval bush with some excellent stands of beech trees as the low saddle is reached (40m). The track dips down into a different sort of bush over the saddle with punga (native giant ferns) overshadowing the path.

A junction is reached a kilometre from the inlet where a track branches to the left for the Awaroa Road (1 hour away on a fairly rough path). The Coastal Track continues "downhill" for 500 metres to Waiharakeke Bay which has a campsite south of where the track hits the sand.

This pleasant beach is left at its north end for a slight climb and sidle along a headland to the next golden beach at Goat Bay. The drop onto the sand has an interesting scramble down some big rocks. Any morning break is best spent either here or at the previous beach to maximise your chances of solitude. There is a rocky platform at the south end of Goat Bay whose many tide-pools are worth poking around.

The track departs again at the north end of the beach for a similar climb and sidle around Skinner Point. On the headland there is a viewpoint to one side with a wooden bench. The adjacent photo was taken from there. The track rounds the headland and parallels the beach for about 500 metres. All of a sudden civilisation is reached as you enter the enormous campsite that lurks behind an avenue of trees from the beach. At the far end of the camping areas is a visitors centre with the camp shop (open for a few hours each day), information displays, a trampers day room for inclement weather, a telephone and (more importantly on this hot day) a couple of drinks machines. A tap also gives free Giardia filtered water - but with no other nasties filtered out.

Totaranui is the usual stopping point on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track due to good transport links. But some of the prettiest scenery is further north. It is worthwhile to pitch a tent here, spend the afternoon wandering north to Separation Point and back and catch the bus or water taxi the next day. Alternately continue to Whariaharangi Bay where an old homestead has been converted into a hut with a campsite next to it.

I chose to head straight back home from Totaranui and so phoned the water taxi and booked on their 11:00 pick-up. I can heartily recommend this as an exciting way to get back to Marahau. The water taxis are jet boats that hold about 14 people and really roar along the coast. Expect a bumpy ride except in the most calm conditions. They take 1.5 hours to get from Totaranui to Marahau, including stops at various beaches along the way. The driver gives a few facts about the area as he goes and usually stops at Adele Island to watch the seals. He does a couple of sharp turns on the way, especially if he wants to have a quick word with a kayaking mate. At Marahau, the fun doesn't stop! There is no jetty at the Marahau visitor's centre so the boat heads past it to the main settlement where there is a boat ramp. The jet boat is driven onto a boat trailer, the driver swaps to the tractor towing the trailer and you get a fun trailer ride back to the road end with people dropped off at various points along the way.

From To Posted
Marahau Yellow Point 180 220 Pleasant coastal walking with some great beaches
Yellow Point The Anchorage 60 90 Today's highest point of about 100m
The Anchorage Bark Bay 240 230 More inland with lots of good bush and coastal views.
Bark Bay Awaroa 180 230 Steady climb after Bark Bay to ~140m
Awaroa Totaranui 180 210 Nice bush travel over a low 40m saddle and then along the shore to Totaranui

1 Time in books or hut notices (minutes).
2 My time includes lunch, stops and my very slow pace (minutes).

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