decision to tramp the Coast Track is easy; it has world class beaches, stunning
forests, and sea-side scenery. What is not easy, however, is deciding how long
to spend on the track and deciding which direction you head on the track. If
you’re an international traveler like me, or have limited vacation days, the
sad reality is that you might not have the time to backpack the whole track.
The first time I was in Abel Tasman, I took three days to hike part of the
Track from North to South, and this is my day-by-day guide of that backpack,
which covers about three-quarters of the total track, along with a side trip
into the interior portion of the park. A couple of years later, I went back and
hiked the top quarter portion of the track; and enjoyed it as well, but in
terms of a great multi-day trip, the one I am about to describe is hard to beat
Before I get started describing the route, let’s talk about a little red tape. The Coast Track does require two types of reservations: transportation reservations; and a Great Walk Permit. As the majority of the Coast Track is on the Coast, transportation to most destinations (including the route here) is by boat. Before you get your Great Walk Permit, you will need to book your transportation, and the best place to get information about such services is on the New Zealand Department of Conservation website. Once you have booked your transportation, you will need to get a Great Walk Permit, which covers either your campsite or hut fee. Again, you can do this through the New Zealand Department of Conservation website. And, although it isn’t red-tape related, you should again be aware that on this track, there are several tidal crossings with huge tidal swings. You will need to be at these places at the right times, otherwise, you will be stranded – so plan ahead, and be ready to have a great time!
The Route: The trail is well marked and maintained by the New Zealand Department of Conservation. The boat will drop you off at the Awaroa landing, and from that point, the trail will be readily apparent and marked. From the Awaroa landing, it is 4.9 miles (7.9 km) to Tonga Quarry, and you will have to cross the Onetahuti Estuary, which is a tidal crossing. The trail starts out on Awaroa Beach, and passes by the Awaroa Lodge, before heading into the forest, and up to the Awaroa saddle. From the saddle, the trail descends through the forest, and ends at the mouth of the Onetahuti Estuary.
At low tide, the water will be no deeper than a few inches to a foot at most; but at high tide, the water will be over twelve feet deep and over twenty feet wide and rapidly flowing! This huge tidal swing is not exceptional on the Coast Track (as a matter of fact, other areas of the track have as large or larger tidal swings), and as such, you must plan your crossing at the time of day it is at or near low tide. Once you have crossed the mouth of the Estuary, follow the trail along the entirety of Onetahuti Bay, which is flat and level. On the South side of Onetahuti Bay, there is a sign leading into the forest which clearly delineates the route of the Coast Track. From that point, the trail heads through the forest uphill for a short portion, before coming down to the shoreline again. Tonga Bay Quarry campground is a forested grove that is directly next to the beach; and it has ten campsites which all have excellent views of the Tasman Sea. If you want, you can keep on going to Bark Bay as you’ve only backpacked five miles; but for my money, this is a great spot to stop on your first day.
Tips: First, as you will be taking a water taxi to the Awaroa Landing, be sure to waterproof your gear. Second, be sure to wear a pair of water shoes (sandals, tevas, chacos) for the water taxi ride. While all of the taxi services leave from a dock; the Awaroa Landing does not have a dock, so you will have to exit the boat and wade to shore in knee to hip deep water. Whichever water shoes you do take will also come in handy for the many tidal crossings you will have to navigate along the track. When I backpacked the Coast Track, I had a pair of boots for backpacking, and a pair of shoes for tidal crossings which I wore on the water taxi. Third, take your time. As you are only going five miles, and assuming you have timed the tidal crossing at Onetahuti right, there is no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy everything along the trail at a leisurely pace.
On this first day, there are three things I would recommend doing: 1) Have a beer/meal at the Awaroa Lodge. After all, you will be backpacking for the next two days – why not eat well to start the trip? 2) Explore the Awaroa estuary, which is right along the trail before the Awaroa Saddle. 3) Explore the Onetahuti estuary/bay region. This area is a great spot to see wildlife, as seen in my photos above, and a great spot in general. Above all else, have a great time walking along and enjoy the start of your great walk.