Best day hike in the top of the South Island

Abel Tasman Beach

My home town Nelson is the gateway city to many tourist gems, amongst them the best day hike in the South Island. The 12.4 kilometer (7.5 mile) walk from Marahau to Anchorage is the start of the Abel Tasman National Park, which is one of the more popular Great Walks of New Zealand (completed in 3-4 days). Described as an easy four-hour walk on a gentle coastal trail, our merry band (a school trip of 11 and 12-year-old girls) set a cracking pace and easily took an hour off that estimate. 

By Kirsten Thorp (author disclaimer….this hike begins less than two hours from my back door)

With just a moderate amount of fitness, plus a daypack with plenty of water, lunch and swimming gear, this is a knock-out walk.  It ticks all the boxes. Let’s start with natural coastal beauty – think golden-sanded swimming beaches caressed by blue-green clear lapping sea. We encountered wildlife such as fur seals sunbathing on boulders and granite outcrops; and walked to the melodious song of Bell birds and the chirping summer-time beat of New Zealand cicadas.  Cheeky fantails duck and dive through the bush. As you catch glimpses of the Coast it’s easy to spot sea birds such as sea shags. It’s also easy to spot pods of red sea kayaks, as paddling the park is a popular tourist activity. 

Begin the walk by crossing the estuary from Marahau and walking across an elevated causeway. You are soon walking through dense beech forests dotted with mature kanuka trees, ferns and dappled light.  There are several natural rest points on the way to Anchorage (with self composting, long drop loos if ‘nature’ calls). The signage along the way is excellent.  We stopped at TinLine campsite and also dropped down to picturesque Apple Tree Bay, crossing small streams and breathing in the fresh, slightly dank aroma of native-bush.  After two hours you reach open land, with sweeping views across the top of the National Park towards Torrent Bay. Your final descent is a winding track into the safe harbour of Anchorage Bay, complete with a DoC hut, flushing toilets, drinking water, picnic tables and lovely sheltered swimming. 

A popular addition to this walk is a side detour to the beautiful Cleopatra’s Pool – a series of connected freshwater pools about an hour from Anchorage towards Torrent Bay. This side walk is definitely worth the detour.  The rocks surrounding the pools are lined with green moss, which makes a natural water slide for the daring, and a refreshing place for a dip. [image of Cleopatra pools]

While retracing your steps and heading back to Marahau would round out the day walk, our group took a water taxi back to our start point. (Around $30 per person)   This fun speed boat ride takes  just 15 minutes and is a thrilling glimpse from the sea of the walk you have just finished.  

PS This walk appeals to a wide range of walkers and runners. We saw pre schoolers, octogenarians and everything in between including several fit (in both senses!) looking trail-runners.

First Light Travel's Hiking Tours


Kirst Thorp
Kirsten Thorp
: 21 Sep 2017 (Last updated: 12 Mar 2020)

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