The Park is renowned for golden beaches, estuaries and tidal lagoons, ancient podocarp forests and sculptured granite cliffs. Tramping or hiking is one of the main attractions of the region and its world-famous Abel Tasman Coast Track is one of the Department of Conservation’s Great Walks. Kayaking, hunting, camping and sightseeing are other popular activities. There is a more inland route, the Abel Tasman Inland Track, which is less frequented.
The region has a mild climate and you can comfortably visit at any time of the year. However, it is a popular destination and booking is advised. High season in the region runs from 20th October through to 18th April.
At 22,530 hectares, Abel Tasman National Park is New Zealand’s smallest national park, established in 1942. The vegetation cover varies and reflects a history of fires and land clearance, but the forests are regenerating well, especially in damp gullies where a rich variety of plant life can be found. Black beech dominates the drier ridges.
Birds like tui and bellbirds are common in the forested areas while the wetlands and estuaries are home to pukeko and wading birds. The park’s boundary excludes the estuaries and seabed but, in 1993, the Tonga Island Marine Reserve was created along part of the Abel Tasman coast. As in any national park, all life in the reserve is protected.
For at least 500 years, Maori lived along the Abel Tasman coast, gathering food from the sea, estuaries and forests, and growing kumera on suitable sites. Most occupation was seasonal but some sites in Awaroa estuary were occupied all year. The Ngati Tumatakokiri people were resident when, on 18 December 1642, the Dutch seafarer Abel Tasman anchored his two ships near Wainui in Mohua (Golden Bay), the first European to visit Aotearoa-New Zealand. He lost four crew in a skirmish with the local people and soon moved on.
Permanent European settlement began about 1855. The settlers logged forests, built ships, quarried granite and fired the hillsides to create pasture. For a time there was prosperity but soon the easy timber was gone and gorse and bracken invaded the hills. Little now remains of early European enterprises.
Concern about the prospect of more logging along the coast prompted a campaign to have 15,000 hectares of crown land made into a national park. A petition presented to the Government suggested Abel Tasman’s name for the park and it was duly opened in 1942 – the 300th anniversary of his visit.
Access to the Park boundary is usually at the southern end through the small settlement of Marahau. ScenicNZ coaches get you efficiently from Nelson to Abel Tasman National Park with various drop-off options along the way.