Image of the November 2013 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
November 2013 Issue
Home / Articles / Wild Trips

Off the beaten track in Abel Tasman

Whariwharangi Hut. Photo: Richard Brown
Whariwharangi Hut (20 bunks), Totaranui, Mutton Cove and Anapai Bay campsites
Roads to Totaranui and Wainui car park both branch off Abel Tasman Drive 21km east of Takaka. Wainui car park is a further 3.5km and Totaranui a further 11km
GPX File
Whariwharangi Hut (gpx, yo 29 KB)
Your device does not support GPX files. Please try a different device.

Whariwharangi Hut, Abel Tasman National Park

Just about the only criticism of the Abel Tasman Coast Track is the number of people who walk it. The golden beaches, easy walking and endless swimming holes bring with them boat loads of tourists with whom you have to share.

Although you can never spend an entire day without seeing a soul, there are ways of reducing the number of times you have to say “g’day” to as you walk.

One of those is starting very early in the morning, though by 10am the campers and boat passengers have normally caught up with you. Another is going out of season (April to October), but it’s now November so that gives you rather a long time to wait.

There is, however, one part of the track that stays relatively quiet throughout the summer, even at high noon. The northern section from Totaranui to Wainui Bay is a path far less trodden, not because it’s less scenic – many regard it as the most stunning section of the track – but because it takes a little more effort to reach.

The drive from Nelson takes an extra hour-and-a-half compared to the bustling southern entrance to the park, and the water taxis go only as far as Totaranui with timetables that offer little chance for full day walks.

Totaranui campsite is heaving, but only for the first few weeks of the school holidays. The rest of the time, if you take the extra effort to reach the northern end of the park, you’ll be rewarded with postcard images virtually to yourself.

The northern end of the track can be turned into a seven-hour loop starting from either the car park at Wainui Bay or the Totaranui campground. It passes four gorgeous beaches, a seal colony and the most picturesque hut – Whariwharangi Hut – on the track.

I walked it in one day but, next time I do it, I’ll take more time and stay overnight.

From Totaranui I headed inland, away from the Coast Track and up Gibbs Hill. This is by far the least attractive section of the walk – it’s a means to an end and it’s good to get this out the way first, so you can truly enjoy the rest.

The top of Gibbs Hill provides a remarkable view of Farewell Spit. On a clear day you can see the giant sandy arm in its entirety and even the sea beyond. The track then descends quickly and you soon join the coast track where you can head left to Wainui Bay or right towards Whariwharangi Bay.

It’s worth heading left just to get a glimpse of Wainui Inlet, which looks like a serene lake at high tide and golden whipped cream at low tide.

Otherwise, a right turn winds you down to the historical Whariwharangi Hut – a world apart from the other huts on the track. It’s a restored two-storey farmhouse originally built in 1896. It feels and smells like a backcountry hut and, if you arrive early enough, you can enjoy a snore-free night in the twin room upstairs.

The track continues to Whariwharangi Bay and runs alongside it before heading up into the forest. It’s definitely worth the side trip to Separation Point – the last bit of which provides the only genuinely steep section of the walk – where you can relax on the rocks and watch the seals lazing below.

The walk back to Totaranui takes you past Mutton Cove, Anatakapau Bay and Anapai Bay – idyllic spots with small campsites at Anapai and Mutton Cove located close to the shore. Anapai Bay has a small archway and stack at its northern end which, when combined with the colour of the sand and the water, makes an unbeatable photo opportunity.