Our day trip to Abel Tasman National Park

Six years ago when we embarked on our South Island road trip we (stupidly) skipped the Abel Tasman National Park. I would like to say time constraints was the reason but it was probably more the budget at the time! It is something we have (well I know I have been) regretting ever since! So when we had the opportunity to go down to the South Island for the first time in 6 years with my parents last month, I made sure it was on the bucket list!

I had spent too much time hearing from people how idyllic the beaches were, how lovely it is to kayak in the region and basically how great it is! So we decided to book a trip with Abel Tasman Kayaks as we wanted to do something active and thought kayaking the park sounded fun!

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We chose the ‘Remote Coast’ day trip, 4 hours of kayaking from Awaroa, visiting Shag Harbour, stopping for lunch at Onetahuti and then kayaking to Bark Bay. Our day started with putting the wrong address into the GPS! As we arrive into Marahau we found our selves parked outside some ones house, I wasn’t sure what kind of size operation Abel Tasman Kayaks ran but it didn’t feel right! We spoke to a man who was looking for people to jump on his water taxi (sorry not us today!) and he told us it was about 500 metres up the road. Problem solved!

And yes they operate a fairly large operation! It seemed like a nice area, they had toilets, some where you could get coffee and lots of picnic benches and then a really long queue to check in! We thought it looked like chaos! But as they checked more and more people in we noticed It was actually organised chaos! Each small group of people at each bench was a different group all waiting to head out into the park for the day! We got directed to our picnic bench where our group was waiting for us (we were late!) and introduced ourselves to our group leader for the day. She gave us a rundown of safety procedures before we got onto the boat which was driven by large tractors!

Ready to float!
Ready to float!

The large tractors took us out onto the slip way and we got out on the water – how easy was that! But then we had to battle with the wind, it was a very windy and very rough seas, as we closed in on Awaroa Bay though the water calmed but that didn’t stop us from worrying as we had 4 hours kayaking against the wind ahead of us!

And true to form, 2 hours in at our lunch stop, we were knackered! We used to own kayaks so we do consider ourselves fairly experienced but I had numb bum and Isaac had such bad cramp in his legs that he almost couldn’t get out of the sea kayak!

During lunch (we were starving!) we asked our guide if we continue the route on foot, I think it was pretty fair to say she looked slightly surprised! There was another couple in our group that was doing this option so I think we may have just screwed up the logistics of how they would get our kayak from that beach to our end destination. But a few moments on the radio and the problem was resolved, it probably gave her a easier afternoon for her as she had one less couple to look out for on the water! So essentially we ended up doing there ‘Two Gods’ day trip – which I strongly recommend is a better option!

A brief rest from the rough sea and wind in Shag Harbour
A brief rest from the rough sea and wind in Shag Harbour

So really our top tip for the Abel Tasman is if you really want to kayak just do it for the first half of your day. Two hours kayaking should be enough. Yes, it is really enjoyable and you do get to see hidden coves along the way that you wouldn’t see if you were hiking but as we took some time out and did the walk from Onetahuti to Bark Bay at our own pace we could truly reflect on the beauty of this place. You actually don’t bump into that many people on the walk and the walk doesn’t take as long as it says on the signs plus you will come across some beautiful beaches with plenty of down time to have a dip in the sea!

Beautiful hidden beaches along the walk
Beautiful hidden beaches along the walk

Next time (yes there will be a next time!) we come we shall camp for a few days, I was pleasantly surprised at the standard of the camp grounds, they have pretty good toilets, a kitchen shelter, somewhere you can have a camp fire and of course an amazing beachfront location. I also realised that water taxi’s come very often so pre booking a day trip like we did wasn’t really necessary. My parents just jumped on a water taxi and didn’t pre book anything. You can just imagine by camping here a few night, after all the day trippers leave you have this paradise all to yourself!

So now I get what everyone was going on about, but one day wasn’t really enough for us, if you can make it two days!

The Tongariro National Park

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The Tongariro National Park is near Lake Taupo on the North Island it is by far the most scenic region to visit on the North Island.  The “must do” hike of the National Park is the walk that is most commonly described as one of the “Best Day Walks in New Zealand” – The Tongariro Alpine Crossing. However we believe there is so much more to this National Park than meets the eye. We have been camping there twice now and each time we go we discover new walks and great places to explore.

Climbing the Alpine Crossing can be challenging, but there is more to see and do here!

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing isn’t just a day walk it is also one of eight “The Great Walks of New Zealand” consisting of 43 km’s of walking stretched over four days! Or alternatively if you’re not cut out for that there is a much shorter path (19 km’s) that can be done in a day. It has now become so popular that it is not a walk where you go to get off the beaten track, it is safe to say it is a tourist trap!  If you do the walk in the height of the summer you will most likely be doing it with thousands of people who are embarking on the same path as you.

The last figure I read was that over 4000 people hike the crossing each week in the high season! So getting that perfect picture without people photo bombing your photos could prove a little tough!

This article is not about saying to others don’t do the Alpine Crossing, it is without a doubt an epic journey and if you have the stamina to complete it you get a great sense of achievement and you will most definitely feel proud of yourself! Many travellers we have talked to have not visited the park simply because they don’t think they can finish the “job!” I would hate for anyone to remove this National Park off their “New Zealand Bucket List” for that reason so please do visit the park even if you don’t think you can handle 8 hours of walking as you are missing out big time!

Instead of discussing our experience of Tongariro Alpine Crossing we have decided to focus on pointing out other areas of the park that may just have less people on the same track as you! If you can’t manage the 7-8 hour hike here is our guide to exploring the park a different way!

The Whakapapa village & Mt Rupheau:

The Tongariro National Park consists of three active volcano’s Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount TongariroAll beautiful iconic in their own right. Whakapapa Village is the main hub and a key starting point for many of the walks. The information centre here is run by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and is a great place to start if you have no guide book and no clue where to go first! The village has accommodation ranging from a luxury stay at a Château to small family run camp sites. If you have a guide book or have followed some other travel bloggers advice you really don’t need to stop here, unless you are embarking on other nearby walks, more about this later.

We suggest driving straight past the village up the hill towards Mt Ruapehu to what is locally known as the “Top of the Bruce” (It’s called Bruce Road). The drive climbs up towards the volcano and leads into the Whakapapa Ski area. In the summer this ski village is deserted! You will only find a few people who have made the effort to see the park past the Alpine Crossing and from here the views are incredible.

Bruce Road
Bruce Road

On a really clear day you can see Mt Taranaki and beyond you real do feel like you’re at “The top of the world!” There is a stair lift open all year round which will take you to “New Zealand’s Highest Café” a novelty I know but from the cafe there are some great 2-3 hour walks steadily climbing the mountain with hardly a tourist in sight! For more information on these walk’s simply pop into the shop and café at the car park where you can pick up a free map. On the way back down the road to the village if it is late and you are in a self-contained vehicle there is a lovely little spot on the side of the road with this view!

To check out more about freedom camping read our article here.

Now that is freedom camping at its best!
Now that is freedom camping at its best!

Camping at The National Park:

By camping at the DOC campsites in the National Park (often free or $6 per person) and avoiding the village campsite you get to discover more parts of the park and more less trodden tracks! The first time we visited the park we camped at Mangahuia Campsite it was a small campsite by a stream with very few pitch’s. From here you could simply leave your car of camper and explore the park on the Whakapapaiti Valley Track an easy 1.6km loop walk.

Apologies for the small picture, our forest trek!
Apologies for the small picture, our forest trek!

The second time we visited we did actually embark on the Alpine Crossing (check out our feature image!) and needed some where free (we were on a budget!) to rest our tiresome legs afterwards! We decided to camp at Kairmanawa Forest Park a short drive from the National Park on the east side.

Do make sure when you camp at these free campsites you bring enough food supplies as well as water to last a few days, there was also a stream here (for a wash or two!) and a long drop toilet but not much else! From the campground there was 1-2 hour short loop walks in the bush to explore. Not a lot of people get time to explore this forest park’s so it felt great to get off the beaten track a little.

Other Walks within the Park:

From the village there are a few really great 4-5 hour loop walks that can be achieved at a steady and easy pace.

The walk to Taranaki Falls is the one walk that really sticks out in my mind. The walk is a 2-3 hour (6 km) loop walk from the village. The waterfall tumbles 20 metres down a large lava flow into a boulder ringed pool, it was a great sight and a fantastic walk to complete in an afternoon! For more walks like this check out the DOC website, the link is here!

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The excellent thing about this park and indeed the whole of NZ is that many walks begin from the roadside, you will be driving along and all of a sudden you will see a sign for an hour or two loop walk into the bush nearby, please don’t drive on pull over and check it out, take you camera and get exploring!

The Park is too stunning to put into words!
The Park is too stunning to put into words!

We would love to hear what your views on the Tongariro National Park? Is it on your NZ Bucket List? Please place your comments below!