Abel Tasman – The smallest but most visited National Park in New Zealand.
Abel Tasman Canyons burst onto the scene in summer 2012/2013. Since then they’ve earned the title of top rated Motueka activity on Trip Advisor and Rankers Canyon Category Winners in 2013. The owners, Toine and Eva, hail from The Netherlands and are two of the nicest people you will ever meet. I was lucky enough to experience the Torrent River Canyon in their first season and couldn’t wait to get back up there and test out the new features.
The trip began with an Aquataxi ride from Marahau to beautiful Anchorage Bay. This was followed by a 90 minute guided hike, along the Abel Tasman National Park Coast Track and an inland track into the canyon – dug out by Toine. Lunch was had sitting on large rocks on the rivers edge before we adorned wetsuits and entered the water. Depending on the size of the group it takes between 2 and 3 hours to descend the canyon.
Their slogan, ‘Come with us where few have gone before and feel the true flow of nature’, couldn’t be more accurate. We were dwarfed by the steep walls, covered in moss and ferns, of the canyon. There was no turning back, the only way out was to jump off cliffs into deep pools below, slide down water polished chutes, zipline, swim and abseil beside showering waterfalls. We exited the canyon at Cleopatra’s Pool, and walked across the Torrent Bay Estuary to Anchorage to meet with our water taxi.
After a delicious breakfast at iconic Toad Hall we met up with Stew from Abel Tasman Golden Future Conservation Tours. They are another new business in National Park, locally owned and operated, with over ten years experience. This a great way to see the park. Stew has a wealth of knowledge about botany, wildlife, conservation and ecology. The guided tours are also really personal. You’re encouraged to share your interests, whether it’s guided walking, bird watching, mammal spotting, photography, snorkelling, fishing or paddleboarding, in order to maximise your experience. Also, the exact tour depends on the tide, allowing lagoons to be explored and beaches, that only exist at low tide, walked on.
Our personalised tour saw us visit the western beach of predator free Adele Island to listen to the native forest birds. Afterwards we motored up to Te Pukatea Bay, one of my favourite beaches in the park and one of the most photographed, because of its perfect horseshoe shaped bay. We walked around Pitt Head, a beautiful headland forest track which is being transformed into a mainland ecological island. There are numerous lookout points along the way too. Lastly, we visited Stew’s secret fishing spot to catch Blue Cod for dinner.
The Abel Tasman region is also home to Skydive Abel Tasman, who have been operating for over 22 years. Even though both Sam and I had skydived before, the friendly and professional crew showed us a video and explained features of the skydive. Once we were kitted up in a jumpsuit and harness we met and chatted with our tandem masters. On the way up to altitude the view included three National Parks, golden sandy beaches, turquoise waters, snow-capped mountains and even Mount Taranaki. This is definitely one of the most scenic skydives in New Zealand.
At 16,500ft the door opened. I watched two sport skydivers exit the plane and then it was my turn. For the first time I did not have a cameraman flying around me. Mitch, who is probably the youngest tandem master in the country, showed me how to use my hands to control which way we turned in free fall. It was incredible! I know I’ve said it before but I really want to learn to skydive.
One aviation adrenaline rush was not enough, we walked across the carpark to UFly Extreme. Here you get to experience the most exciting part of flight training, Aerobatics. You need absolutely no previous flight experience and you get to fly possibly the best aerobatic aircraft, the Pitts Special. I had flown with Vince previously, so was super keen for Sam to have a go. However, Sam ‘who ate all the pies’, exceeded UFly’s 95kg weight limit.
From the moment you take off you can feel the power of this plane. Within no time we were up to altitude and beginning to perform aerobatic moves. I got to barrel roll the plane, loop it, fly figure 8s and upside down all above the beautiful Abel Tasman. This is quite possibly still one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets. It’s a hands on, high adrenaline activity but the best part is I was in control of the plane for most of the flight. I walked away completely buzzing.
Our final day was spent walking part of the Abel Tasman National Park Coast Track. The Coast Track is one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks and extends for 54km, between Marahau (the southern entrance in Tasman Bay) and Wainui Bay (the northern entrance in Golden Bay). While the southern end of the park is the busiest, due to its accessibility and more sheltered bays, the north is equally as beautiful. This is one special location not to be missed.
Another way to explore the Abel Tasman National Park is by kayak. I’ve spent ten seasons as a guide for the Sea Kayak Company and made this video at the beginning of Summer: A Day in the Life of a Sea Kayak Guide. Whether you choose a guided tour or freedom rental, I definitely recommend a multi-day trip. One day in the park is not enough.