Last month’s road trip around New Zealand with my parents really was proof that New Zealand’s got it all. One day we were hiking a glacier and the next we were climbing through an enchanting bush walk and kayaking the crystal clear waters of Abel Tasman National Park. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why Abel Tasman was not featured as a destination on many of the "suggested itineraries" I researched. Don't worry, I'll be preparing my suggested itinerary very soon. ;)
Abel Tasman National Park is located at the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, just a 3-hour ferry ride from Wellington. Before moving to New Zealand, I extensively researched all of the places I wanted to visit while living there. While searching “best beaches” and “clear blue water,” I found Abel Tasman and immediately added it to my list of must-do’s.
Abel Tasman is one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks, premier tracks that pass through diverse and spectacular scenery. You can stay at huts along the walk for as little as $32! But since I didn’t envision my mom being much of a hut dweller, and since we were short on time we opted to stay at the Marahau Lodge for 2 nights.
Marahau is the closest town (if you can even call it that) to the park entrance. It’s a beautiful coastal area with a population of only about 500 people, all of who are incredibly helpful and welcoming. Our hosts Don and Robyn made us feel right at home at the lodge, which was ideally situated next door to the Aqua Taxis and just steps from lush green bush walks. Don gave us two excellent recommendations: #1 Eat at The Fat Tui, and #2 take a trip with Abel Tasman Kayaks.
The Fat Tui
The Fat Tui is essentially a big food truck that sells the most interesting, huge, and delicious burgers I’ve ever tasted in my life.
Sure, it may be 1 of only 3 or 4 places in the village, but who needs options when you’ve got The Fat Tui? We even returned for round 2 on our second night and happily waited a half hour or more to order because the line was so long.
As we waited for our burgers, we watched the Milky Way glistening overhead while Nina Simone crooned through the food truck stereo. It was one of those simply magical New Zealand moments. So if you’re in the area, I highly recommend a big juicy Fat Tui burger before you enter the park. (Fat Tui is now closed for the winter. How lucky were are we to have made it just in time for a taste!)
Abel Tasman Kayaks
After days of rain and a cyclone passing over New Zealand, the sun finally decided to come out in Abel Tasman. We couldn’t have picked a better day to tour with Abel Tasman Kayaks. We awoke in the morning to meet our guide who briefed us on where we would be hiking and where to meet up with him again later in the afternoon for kayaking. The tour consisted of a water taxi ride, a 2-hour walk through the bush, followed by lunch on the beach and then another 2 hours of kayaking back to the water taxis.
We piled into our aqua taxi (which was strapped to the back of a tractor) and trudged across the sand at low tide to dump the boat into the water. Then we shuttled to Torrent Bay where we would begin our hike. By the time we reached the bay, the tide had receded even further and the boat couldn’t make it to shore. We were going to have to get wet! I scrambled to change out of my boots and jeans so I wouldn’t be hiking in wet clothes, and slowly eased myself into the cold water. Luckily we managed to dry off before beginning our hike through the forest.
We climbed high into the mountains. Overhead we could hear the sound of the wind in the trees and Tui chirping. The air felt so clean and fresh. Finally we emerged from the trees to get our first bird’s eye view of the park. It was absolutely breathtaking. You could see the crystal blue waters and mountains of Nelson in the distance. We continued our hike, taking a ridiculous amount of photos along the way.
But our hike was not without a bit of danger. The track was very narrow with incredibly steep drops. One wrong step, and you could be in trouble. Well, I don’t want to name any names, but "someone" sort of fell off the side of the walking track during our hike (and it wasn’t me!) ;) Luckily a wonderful ponga tree managed to stop the fall, and we were able to pull her to safety without any injuries. In that moment I literally yelled, “Oh my God! She’s falling off a cliff!” A bit dramatic maybe, but boy was it a heart stopping moment. We were able to eventually have a laugh about it.
After hiking further into the forest and bouncing across a swing bridge, we finally emerged onto a beautiful beach at Bark Bay. Lunch time! Kayaks were spread across the beach, and we sat in the sand enjoying the most delicious sandwiches provided by Abel Tasman Kayaks. Doesn’t food always taste so good when you’ve worked up an appetite? We hung out on the beach, talking with our guide and the rest of the group. I could have happily stayed right there on the beach for days, but it was time to move on to the next leg of our adventure.
And that’s when we met Mister Bumble, the biggest and friendliest bumble bee you’ll ever meet. Mister Bumble really took a liking to Joe. In fact, quite a few bees were attracted to Joe during our hike.
(Fun fact: Bumble Bees are attracted to the color blue! And what was Joe wearing? A bright blue anorak. )
After lunch, our tour guide suited us up in kayak spray skirts, sealed us into the kayaks and launched us into the water. Why have I never used a spray skirt before? It’s so much dryer than kayaking without one! I’ve never had such a comfortable kayaking experience.
Joe and I made our way around the curves of the park, hugging the coastline and admiring the views. It was so relaxing (especially since I had Joe in my kayak doing most of the work). Then we kayaked into a little estuary and under the swing bridge we’d crossed earlier. Mister Bumble settled onto my blue water bottle on the front of the kayak and stayed there for the remainder of the trip. What a life, huh?
Next we paddled out to Pinnacle Island to see the seals lounging on the rocks. If you’re lucky, you can also see penguins! Finally, we paddled back to shore at Anchorage Bay, where we met a water taxi to return us to Marahau. I felt exhausted, but gratified. What an adventurous day! We topped it all off with round 2 of burgers at The Fat Tui. I think we all slept incredibly well that night.
Before heading onto our next destination the following morning, we stopped for one more mini adventure. On our first day in Marahau, Joe and I had gotten lost in the mountains looking for a grocery story. Along the way we saw a sign posted outside someone’s home that said “archery”. Joe, being an archery enthusiast, pulled over and knocked on the door of a man’s shed. A friendly gray-haired man named Dave answered the door and opened his shed to the most beautiful woodwork I’d ever seen. He must have been in his late 70’s, and his hands were withered from years of carpentry. All around us were sculptures, rocking chairs and the most beautiful hand-made bows we’d ever seen.
So we made an appointment with Dave to return for archery the following day. On our way out of Marahau on our last day in Abel Tasman, we stopped into Dave’s workshop where he fitted my mom, dad, Joe and I for bows, and we went out back for a bit of archery. Never would have I expected archery to be on the list of activities I’d do with my parents in New Zealand. Dave was so pleased. These little moments and friendly encounters with strangers are the best part about road trips (and it’s great to have Joe around to initiate them).
Just as we finished up archery, it began to rain and we new it was time to move on to the next city. I was a bit sad to leave Abel Tasman. I could have spent a week there.
But, it is now on my list of “must return and do it again!”