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The most accessible section of the Abel Tasman Coast Track. Can either be done as a one-way with a water taxi return or as a there-and-back in a day. Some fine lookouts, a choice of golden sandy beaches for a lunch stop and plenty of swimming options. The busiest section of the park.
This is the most crowded section of the track and most accessible.
The start of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track is signposted from Marahau. There is a massive new parking area with toilets.
From Anchorage there are numerous water-taxi operators who can bring you back to Marahau.
Marahau to Apple Tree Bay 1 hour 30 minutes one-way
The sleepy, champagne hippy settlement of Marahau is at the road’s end. From here on you need to walk. Nestled between the forested hills of the Pikikiruna Range and the sumptuous sandflats of the bay, the mix of farmers, lifestylers, tourism businesses and holidaymakers create a humming atmosphere. Up the valley are some retired hippys, who gravitated here over a generation ago, drawn by the undeniable power of the place. It’s isolation is both a blessing and a curse. Entry is via the twisty road from Kaiteriteri, or the the turny road from Riwaka.
Cross the bridges and causeways over the upper reaches of the tidal margins. Passing travellers revel in collecting rocks and organising symbols and words to record their passing. Marsh crake, heron and pied stilts fish in the fertile waters and the reeds sway in the breeze. Marahau, after all translates as ‘windy garden’.
Stus lookout is the first of many elevated vantage points, looking out over inviting waters and glistening sands. The scene differs with the ebb and flow of tides. At high tide the turquoise waters cover the cockle beds and creeks, while at mid-low tide, parallel ridges of soft sand pierce the water level. At low tide the sandflats extend nearly 1 km from shore.
At Tinline Bay, a grassy expanse and toilet lead to the 20 minute return detour into lofty forest of the Nature Walk.
Most of the first section of the walk traverses regenerating forest, only incorporated into the National Park in the 1970s. Another short detour after the bridge over Tinline Stream leads to Tinline Beach, covered at high tide.
Tea tree, gorse, tree ferns and scrub line the trackside. Pass the junction on the left with the Inland Track towards Holyoake Clearing and Castle Rocks Hut. A 10 minute-return detour then descends to Coquille Bay, named after the boat of French explorer, Dumont D’Urville.
Expansive views retreat from Marahu Bay, the Tokongawha peninsula and further over the blueness of Tasman Bay to the Richmond Ranges behind Nelson. It’s a good vantage to understand the geography of the entire region, as on clear days the snowy peaks of Nelson Lakes National Park rise on the interior horizon.
The track weaves in and out of gullies with some original forest cover and towering beeches blackened from sooty mould deposits. The lagoon behind Apple Tree Bay is shortly before the junction down to the beach. This coarse sandy beech has shade at the northern end and under the pine trees half way along. There’s a toilet here too. The Bay was originally called Orchard Bay, as the first settlers, in their wisdom, thought it a good place for fruit trees. They mostly died and only apple trees were left, but by 1901 none remained. But the name stuck.
Apple Tree Bay to Anchorage 2 hours 30 minutes one-way
Steep cliffs tumble to the sea and bright coloured kayakers are framed with foliage of beeches and podocarps. Adele Island and Fishermen Island (Motuarero-nui and Motuarero-iti) start to the fill the coastal views. These predator free islands are a major part of the Project Janszoon ecological restoration project and are used as safe havens to translocate birds to. The hope is their populations burst the carrying capacity of the islands and the spill-over starts to colonise the mainland.
The detour to Stillwell Bay (10 minutes return) shows more baches on private title. A ski lane ruins the peace in the high summer, but the rocks at the northern end are good for an explore.
The next junction is to Akersten Bay and Yellow Point. Taking a left leads to Akersten Bay. This longer descent arrives at another cracker of a beach, covered at high tide, but with good midday shade on the elevated terrace behind. Picnic tables and lazy ferns make this a good lunch spot. Right at the junction leads 10 minutes to Yellow Point, although this viewpoint is shrouded in vegetation.
Back on the main Coast Track, two other detours are signposted. Observation Cove and Cyathea Cove are now accessible via new tracks cut into the tea tree forest. Observation Cove was named during D’Urville’s expedition as they set up an observatory. Cyathea Cove is noted for being the site of Moncrieff’s bach. Perinne Moncrieff was instrumental in setting up the National Park in 1942.
The track continues to gently climb inland through a lower, scrappier vegetation, still recovering from clearance by early land settlers. Without the forest canopy to protect the surface from intense rains, the top soil is easily washed out to sea. The depleted land in turn only carries a lower capacity of plants and favours the conditions of imported weeds such as willow leaved hakea (Hakea salicifolia) and spiky leaved hakea (Hakea sericea). The lime coloured foliage on the hills around Anchorage is the target for a Project Janszoon eradication programme.
Shortly after passing a junction on the left, which leads to the Inland Track and Holyoake Clearing, the first descent to Anchorage is signposted on the right. This desert-like ridge has a short detour on the right to arguably the prime viewpoint of the park, with views over entire Tasman Bay. Another junction on the right heads for Watering Cove, immortalised in Louis de Sainson’s painting of the Frenchmen refilling their water stocks aboard the Astrolabe. It’s a steep descent to the beach used by many kayaking companies as a start/finish for trips. They prefer this, as around Te Karetu Point is the start of a notorious stretch of water known as the ‘Mad Mile’ - unprotected by the islands and open to stronger winds and waves than elsewhere in the park.
Some fine views of Anchorage Bay and the rolling coastal hills to the north accompany the descent to the ephemeral lagoon behind the beach. The hut and campground are at the southern end of the beach, behind one of the main water taxi stop-off points. Kayaks line the beach awaiting transport back to Marahau or Kaiteriteri. This corner is often busy. It’s better to head to the northern end and at mid-low tide explore the bizarre rock formations and sea caves.
South Island ▷ Nelson Region ▷ Abel Tasman
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Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍