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If you are heading to the South Island in New Zealand, and especially if you are arriving by ferry from the North Island, the Abel Tasman National Park is a great place for nature lovers to visit. Offering spectacular scenery, it’s perfect for those who want to spend time on a beach and who enjoy cultural pursuits. Plus, the Abel Tasman National Park is one of the sunniest places in New Zealand, with over 2000 hours of sunshine a year. It is located between Golden Bay and Tasman Bay, at the north end of the South Island, and was named after Abel Tasman, who in 1642, became the first European explorer to sight New Zealand, anchored nearby in Golden Bay. Nelson is the major city in the region, and city gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park.
Natural Beauty and More
Although it is the smallest of New Zealand’s national parks in size, Abel Tasman National Park is a major tourist region. The park consists of forested, hilly country and contains some of the islands off the coast. Imagine beautiful sandy beaches which fill the spaces between trees and the shore line. Imagine crystal clear streams tumbling down mossy valleys to join the ocean. What to do here? It is a coastal paradise that you can walk through or explore by cruise boat, sailing catamaran, water taxi, or sea kayak. Suitable for swimming, sun bathing and snorkeling, the beach offers a great combination with active pursuits. If you prefer the comforts of home, you can stay in private lodges at Awaroa and Torrent Bay, although you might consider sleeping under the stars, which is the ultimate way to experience the park.
Let’s start off with highlights for the active visitor. Classed as one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks”, the Abel Tasman Coastal Track takes between 3 and 5 days to complete. It climbs around headlands and through native forest to a series of beautiful beaches. It is “walkable” at any time of the year. You can expect to see lots of other walkers and day visitors in summer. The Track itself is 53 kilometres/33 miles long and traverses lush native bush, limestone cliffs, and travels by golden sandy beaches. For a different view of the park, there are side tracks that lead up to the surrounding hills and valleys. There are no roads, making this a true nature expedition. There are four “Great Walk” hikers’ huts along the Coastal Track and four standard huts on the inland tracks. These huts have mattresses, water, and washrooms, and some have cooking facilities. Campsites with water, toilets, and fireplaces are also available within the park. For these, bookings are required in peak season. All food has to be carried into the park as there are no shops at which to purchase groceries or supplies, however, there is a cafe at Awaroa Lodge in Awaroa Bay. The Nelson/Tasman region is a cycling mecca and home to two great rides (Tasman’s Great Taste Trail and the Dun Mountain Trail), as well as world class mountain biking and downhill tracks. Tasman’s Great Taste Trail is a purpose built cycle path leading from Nelson to Kaiteriteri, on the edge of the Abel Tasman. This takes riders along the coastline past wineries, breweries, galleries, and cafes.
Wildlife in the Abel Tasman National Park is like much of New Zealand, consisting mostly of bird life such as the blue penguin, which can be found in the more isolated areas of the park, now that their population has begun to dwindle. You can still see and hear lots of birds. Keep an eye out for wood pigeons, tuis (you will definitely hear these even if you don’t see them), wekas (flightless birds), oyster catchers (by the sea), and cormorants. Stoats, a relative of the ferret, were introduced into New Zealand to control rabbits in the 1880s. However, those stoats, then and today, prefer the native animal populations such as the blue penguins over rabbits or their other “normal” prey.
Want to enjoy less energetic pursuits? If staying in Nelson, not only is there a good selection of accommodation, but also a whole host of interesting activities to consider. There are more than 300 working artists and galleries, fabulous restaurants, boutique breweries and wineries, and lots of festivals and events to attend. Jazz, opera, wine and craft beer events run from January to March, and in winter and spring months, a series of art, music, and sporting events take place. Throughout the year, there are concerts, performances, festivals, and exhibitions of all kinds. This region is steeped in Maori history, and was a pivotal place for European occupation in New Zealand. The region is the undisputed creative arts centre of New Zealand.
It is also home to 28 boutique wineries dotted across the picturesque hills and plains, with their cellar doors and restaurants available to sample award-winning wines. New Zealand’s hop crop thrives in ideal growing conditions under the Nelson/Tasman sun, and the region is home to more craft breweries per head of the population than anywhere else in the country.
Where to Stay and What to See
Besides Nelson, there are other smaller centres which provide accommodation and other attractions. Collingwood is the northern gateway to the Kahurangi National Park and to the bird sanctuary of Farewell Spit. In every direction, the scenery is amazing. The main gateway into the Abel Tasman National Park, Marahau, has a lovely beach and a choice of places to stay. Sunny Motueka grows fruit, hops, and green tea for the rest of New Zealand. There is a lively café culture and two wonderful national parks close by.
Go to Murchison for whitewater thrills – rafting, kayaking, canoeing, and jet boating. There are fast running rivers in every direction. Richmond is a good centre to explore the beautiful Nelson region. From here you can discover wineries, beaches, national parks, and much more. Venture over the legendary Takaka Hill to find the township of Takaka – the main centre for Golden Bay. Here you can enjoy friendly cafés and browse the art shops.
You might want to fit in a side trip to Tonga Island, which is just off the coast of Abel Tasman National Park. With its clear and warm waters, it is popular with visitors for picnicking, swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, diving, and snorkeling. It also features a New Zealand fur seal colony. It is possible to see little blue penguins along the coast, and perhaps have an encounter with a pod of dolphins. Because many of the local estuaries are also protected, you may see some of New Zealand’s rarer shorebirds.
So, for all the reasons mentioned above, a stay in the Abel Tasman National Park region will make you glad you didn’t leave it out of your New Zealand vacation itinerary. For more details on the Abel Tasman National Park, go to www.goway.com.