Whether you walk north or south along the Abel Tasman National Park Coast Track makes little difference to your encounter with this quiet coast. Within a few hours, whichever direction you walk, are repeating themes of water, sand, rock and forest, and enchanting sequences of small sheltered beaches and shallow tidal inlets. In many ways the Coast Track is the hardest to write about, yet the easiest to enjoy. It’s difficult to be overly expressive or adjectival because the forest isn’t continuously great (in fact there are considerable areas of gorse and low scrub), the track itself is so easy and repetitive (where’s the challenge?), the geology consists of granite, granite and more granite, and even the beauty of the beaches is plainly self-evident. Merely being on the sand induces a pleasing soporific effect—the body and mind doodle along like the track itself, stopping frequently in blank seas of blue and gold.
The point is almost reached where the coast’s picturesque qualities, easy access, comfortable facilities and the degenerate state of the forest blinds you to the exceptional impact that some particular features have. Sculpted granite headlands, green beech leaves against jet black tree trunks, koru fern forms, and sunrise golds on sand ripples and akeake trunks—all have lifted me to a high state of delight, suggesting that the Coast Track’s greatest impact is not in its overall qualities, but in its details.
Undoubtedly the Abel Tasman Coast Track is the most popular multi-day track in New Zealand because of its ease (in summer you can do it in sandshoes or sandals) and its swimmable sandy beaches, fringed in places by lush vegetation and ferns that evoke a semi-tropical mood. The track can be walked at any time of the year, though don’t let its tropical appearance fool you; in winter it gets cold at night and only the hardiest swim.
Access, too, is much easier than for most other New Zealand walks, with daily bus services from Nelson to Mārahau, Tōtaranui and Wainui, and water taxis that call at many locations along the coast. Four large huts, well situated beside the ocean, are conveniently spaced along the track, while virtually every accessible beach has a campsite nestled amongst forest on foreshore dunes. Most people allow three to five days to walk the 51 kilometres of track between Mārahau in the south and Wainui Bay in the north. Water taxis enable shorter walks for those with less time.