Abel Tasman National Park is one of New Zealand's must-see destinations and one of the Great Walks. I highly recommend coming here, even if you are from a coastal location! I've been to the beach a lot in the past year (LA, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, etc.) and Abel Tasman was still a highlight, despite the sandflies (I'm at 26 very itchy bites and counting!).
I couldn't find a clear write up of what my options are in Abel Tasman even though the official brochure is great, so I'm going to lay out everything I did, everything I wish I did, and how I would do it over again. I'm only going to discuss overnight options although I have seen some information online on one-day Abel Tasman adventures.
Your Options to Overnighting in Abel Tasman
Of course you can always do a mix of options, but the most popular options I saw were (1) The Proper Way via water taxis and accommodation, (2) The Driving Way via Totaranui, (3) The Kayaking Way through one of the many kayaking companies, and (4) The Old-school Backpacking Way
The Proper Way
There are numerous water taxi companies in Abel Tasman, but the one we chose was Aqua Taxi. They offer a 2 day adventure for $132 that includes accommodation aboard a floating vessel in Anchorage. You can also stay at one of the many lodges like Awaroa Lodge. We saw a lot of the older guests doing this water taxi + lodge option.
The Driving Way
You can drive to Totaranui Campground which is on the northern part of Abel Tasman. It is very popular and we were told there are over 1,000 guests at any time over the summer. We originally were supposed to end up here but opted to stop at Awaroa instead in order to avoid the crowds. The only issue is that if you are staying at Totaranui, the popular Bark Bay to Anchorage day-hike is a bit further way.
The Kayaking Way
I am not a huge kayaker, but I enjoyed my one-day freedom kayak hire with Kahu Kayaks. It was a nice way to see Abel Tasman from a different angle. Had I known the waters would be relatively easy to kayak, I would've looked into their overnight option to kayak there and walk back (thus avoiding the ridiculously expensive water taxi fee). There is a guided option too. We saw a few kayakers at our campsites with MASSIVE tents and fancy cooking gear. They were grilling steaks while we were eating freeze-dried food.
The Old-School Backpacking Way
This is the way we explored Abel Tasman, but again if I could do this again, I would've combined hiking, kayaking, and the water taxis. Exploring the different bays was great, but the hiking between them gets repetitive after a while. The woman at the information kiosk said the section between Awaroa and Totaranui is "more of the same" - a big reason why we cut the Totaranui section out. I thought the Marahau to Anchorage section was the least exciting, so I would like to kayak to Anchorage, hike to Awaroa, and take the water taxi back from there.
What else do I need to plan before I arrive?
As I mentioned, there are some fancy lodges and villas to stay at, but I think part of the beauty of Abel Tasman is having a beach more-or-less to yourself. There is a nice site that tells you all about the different campsites available. We opted to forgo the facilities and head to the most beautiful campsites: Te Pukatea Bay and Onetahuti Beach. These 2 campsites were AMAZING and I would highly recommend staying here. They are very popular so be sure to book them far, far in advanced (we booked 6 months out). Te Pukatea is the smaller of the two and you'll feel like you're on another planet. Even with the other campers around, we mostly had the beach to ourselves. There is also a Pitt Head lookout hike that gives you a good view down below of your tent. Book your accommodation early!!
Before and after Abel Tasman, we decided to stay at The Barn in Marahau. Marahau is a sleepy town and there isn't much to do here, but The Barn is very close to the Abel Tasman entrance. We actually first booked this place because we thought we could leave our car overnight. Turns out they charge $5 for overnight parking, and if you take a water taxi company they will let you park in their secure lot for free. Even without using the parking, it was a nice stay. There are more food options if you want to stay in Motueka, and even more to do in Nelson (although it's a 1 hour drive from Nelson).
Part of the fun of Abel Tasman is that you don't really need to plan much other than putting a roof over your head. Stop by one of the bays you pass on your hike, or don't. Eat at the pizza joint outside Awaroa Lodge, or don't. The options are endless: kayaking, hiking, jet skiing, canyoning, SUPing. What you want to do depends on how you're feeling that day. Some of the more unique opportunities like canyoning might need a reservation beforehand, but most of it can be done the day before or day of.
There are many different water taxi companies and it's easiest to just give them a call when you know what time you want a pick up. Note that there isn't very good or reliable cell service inside Abel Tasman, so you'll want to do it before you enter the park.
What do I need to pack?
General backpacking equipment like a tent, sleeping bag, etc. (See the full list here) . There are treated water refill stations at Anchorage and Bark Bay so we felt comfortable with a 2L and 4L Dromlite to carry water for cooking, etc. overnight. For the actual hiking, 1L is sufficient but we wanted to use the extra water for brushing our teeth, cooking, and drinking at night. Pack all of the right gear and more in your luggage. Bring that down jacket even though it's summer. Make sure your rain gear really works. Hiking equipment is ridiculously expensive here. Think $50-$100 more than in the United States.
I found it best to buy the sandfly/bug spray here. Get both the Deet and the natural lemon eucalyptus kind. Spray it all on. Buy a candle. Don't wear flip flops even though it's summer. Your feet will thank you when you're not itching them in your sleep.
Any other tips?
The weather here is variable and unpredictable. We've been here for about 30 days now and it has rained for maybe 13-15 of those days. *in the middle of summer*. I highly recommend putting 1 or 2 buffer days in case you get stuck with heavy rain/flooding like we did. There were flights and ferries between islands cancelled while we were here. You don't want one bump in a super packed schedule to throw everything off.
While I enjoyed the hostels, Airbnbing it in New Zealand is the way to go. They are price competitive, comfortable (sometimes even luxurious), offer laundry without a fee, and the hostesses all have been very outgoing, friendly, and willing to give local advice if needed.
If you're looking for Airbnb recommendations or anything else, hit the comment box below!