Why Abel Tasman is One of the Most Beautiful Hiking Spots in New Zealand
I have to admit, when I first thought about holidaying in New Zealand, beautiful beaches weren’t what immediately sprung to mind. Hiking? Yes. Mountains? For sure. Hobbits? Quite possibly. But golden sands and turquoise waters? That hadn’t even made it onto my radar. So you can imagine my surprise when I boarded an Abel Tasman-bound water taxi from the town of Kaiteriteri, in the South Island, and clapped eyes upon the squeaky-soft silica of Tonga Quarry Beach.
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We hopped off onto the sand and I did a 360-turn, awe-struck by the stunning, Robinson Crusoe-esque surrounds. Seconds later our boat had vanished, and it was just us, our guide, and the coastal wilderness in front of us… Adventure doesn’t get more beautiful than this.
Our guide, Mark from Abel Tasman Sea Shuttles, was barefoot as he led us from the beach and into the forest. “Abel Tasman is beautiful year-round,” he said. “Even in the winter. Weather and tides play a huge part of life here.” But winter didn’t really matter to us in that moment – it was October, the middle of an exceptionally mild spring, and we were tramping along the coastline in shorts and T-shirts. And, even though the weather was glorious, we barely saw another soul as we made our way through forest, up and down ridges and along the sands.
Despite being New Zealand’s smallest national park, Abel Tasman feels vast when you’re exploring on foot. But that’s the appeal. Hikes here can last anything from 20 minutes to several days (for those undertaking the full, 37-mile Abel Tasman Coast Track), while kayaking along the water’s edge often brings up-close encounters with local marine life – particularly fur seals and dolphins. If you’re lucky you might even spot a little blue, the world’s smallest penguin!
Our hike, from Tonga Beach to Awaroa Lodge via the Sky Track, took just under three hours. I would have happily spent days strolling through the forest though, every now and then catching glimpses of the paradisiacal bays below before stepping onto postcard-worthy beaches. We were confronted with a plethora of birdlife too – including the rather curious weka. This flightless bird is renowned for stealing items of all shapes and sizes, especially shiny things, in a bid to find food. The one we came face to face with on the trek was particularly bold, getting so close that I thought he might attempt a bit of petty thievery right in front of me. Thankfully my camera lived to see another day.
While I was happy to still be able to take photos, I was quick to realise that no snap I took could do the landscapes justice. We gazed across jagged cliffs, into dense forest, over gigantic wetlands. Some of us even swung out into the remote forest on a swing. After dark, we cast our eyes skyward and saw a thick black canopy of stars and not an iota of light pollution in sight. It was rugged, untouched and utterly breathtaking.
And, if that’s not enough, our next day of walking – from Awaroa Lodge to the Meadowbank Homestead – promised even more beauty as the everchanging tides left spectacular swirling demarcations in the sand. We took off our shoes to cross shallow streams of water – which filled the area at high tide – before walking up a hill for a bird’s eye view of the inlet below. Each time we paused for breath, the swirling landscapes changed, like a watercolour painting in progress. It was then I realised that this might be one of the most beautiful places to hike in New Zealand – perhaps on the planet...
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