How to Visit New Zealand's Favorite National Park
Located on the northern end of New Zealand's South Island, Abel Tasman National Park is a favorite for locals and visitors alike.
The park is named after a Dutch explorer who was the first European to visit New Zealand, in 1642. The stretch of sea and land is still largely undeveloped and unspoiled, making it the perfect destination to experience the best of New Zealand.
How to Visit
Whether you like communing with nature or relaxing in luxury, there's a way for everyone to see the park.
Marahau Water Taxis and Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi both offer options for day and overnight trips, including scenic boat tours, drop-offs for hikes, and transit to Awaroa Lodge, the only lodge accommodation in the park, where visitors can have a meal or stay overnight. Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi also offers an overnight trip with dorm-style accommodation.
For those interested in a bit more adventure, hiking and kayaking are the best ways to experience the area. Abel Tasman Kayaks offers everything from guided tours to “freedom” rentals, where kayakers can explore the park on their own.
Related: A Guide to Voyageurs National Park
For those with the confidence and skill to take a boat out unguided, the experience is incredible. At night campsites are full, but during the day there are stretches of time when kayakers have a view unobstructed by anyone else. Hiking trips take three to five days and travelers need to carry their own supplies.
New Zealand Department of Conservation campsites are dotted along the coastal track. Some are equipped with hot water showers, sleeping huts and drinking water; others have waist-high spigots of cold, non-potable water, outhouses and not-quite-flat spots to pitch a tent. Abel Tasman Kayaks books camping sites for kayakers as part of the package, but if you want one of the better campsites, make sure to book ahead.
Outside the Park
Though the park is the main draw in the region, there's more to see outside of it. Collingwood, a quiet town of 236 people on Golden Bay, is the perfect jumping off point for soaking up what the region has to offer.
There are several good hikes in the area. Knuckle Hill Track is about three hours, round trip, and takes hikers up through thick brush, past a few unconcerned mountain goats and to the top of the hill for a stunning view of the Whanganui Inlet. A bit further north is Wharariki Beach, which is accessible by hiking over a hill peppered in sheep and then back down toward dunes and a rocky coastline. Seals often sunbathe on the beach.
Less than a 30-minute drive south of Collingwood, Te Waikoropupū Springs boasts some of the clearest water in the world. The short, flat loop through the springs allows for a scenic stroll.
Where to Eat
The best food in the area is found in Nelson, the region's main city. Have breakfast at Morri Street Café—counterintuitively located on Hardy Street—a hipster spot with great coffee and food options ranging from muesli to buckwheat crepes to a Malaysian-inspired nasi lemak.
Around the corner is Hopgoods, a busy bistro which focuses on seasonal fare. You'll need to make a reservation. Both spots cater to allergies and dietary restrictions.
There are fewer options outside of Nelson. In Motueka, a town a short drive south of Abel Tasman park, have breakfast or lunch at Precinct Dining Co. The staff is friendly, the coffee is great, and there's a large menu.
On Fridays and Saturdays in Collingwood, Courthouse Café serves a pizza-only menu with plenty to choose from, including gluten free and vegetarian options. The Mussel Inn, just south, is another favorite for locals and tourists. The live band and housemade beers draw the crowds.
Preparing for Your Trip
Though neither the hiking nor the kayaking are extremely strenuous, both require a base level of fitness as well as appropriate gear. Once you're in the park you're responsible for yourself (unless you have organized a guided tour), so be sure to bring the right supplies and enough food.
In Nelson, visit Bivouac for camping gear. In Motueka, closer to the park entrance, New World and Countdown are big chain grocery stores with plenty of food options.
Getting There and Around
From Auckland, fly into Nelson, which is approximately an hour southeast of Marahau, where you can enter the park. Air New Zealand operates hour-and-a-half flights multiple times daily.
There are several international rental car companies at Nelson Airport. Many of the hikes require driving on unsealed roads, which is not included in your travel insurance, but can be added for an extra fee.
When to Go
The sun-drenched summer months—December through March in the southern hemisphere—are the perfect time to visit the region, but it's an attraction year-round. In early January, New Zealand has school holidays and many offices are closed, so be prepared for crowds.