Mention the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, and the eyes of hikers grow misty. If they’ve hiked it the memory lingers on; if they haven’t, you can be sure it’s on their life-list. And say “Mad Mile” to an avid kayaker to get the same reaction.
The entire coast of Abel Tasman faces open sea, and its waters offer some of the world’s best kayaking, which is one of the reasons we were there. The park is encircled by one of the world’s most famous hiking routes, the 30-mile Abel Tasman Coastal Track. The best part is that it’s easy to put the two experiences together – and add a fair bit of luxury and a lot of comfort to the package.
Easy for Travelers
New Zealand has mastered the art of making things easy for travelers, especially those who love active outdoor sports. And if, like me, you prefer your hiking without a heavy pack filled with your bed, food and tomorrow’s clothes, Abel Tasman is the place for you. Set out for a day’s rugged, scenery-filled hiking with water and lunch in your day-pack and know that the rest of your gear will be waiting on a beach near your campsite. How much easier can it get?
Your pack, along with those of dozens of other hikers, will have been picked up by the water taxi and taken to your next stop. And when you get there, its contents will be just as you packed them.
Luzury at Awaroa Lodge
Our first stop was not a campsite – far from it. We took a water taxi directly from the park entrance at Marahau to Awaroa Lodge, an eco-conscious compound on a sweeping sand-encased bay midway up the coast. The lodge has kayaks, but the dangerous waters around the Mad Mile mean that you can’t take them out without one of their guides, which was fine with us.
He not only knew the waters, the tides and the winds, but he also knew a lot about the geology and marine biology of this coast, which encompasses the Tonga Island Marine Reserve. The lodge’s equipment is just as superior as their guides, even to waterproof jackets. Depending on the seas, trips from here can include paddling with the fur seals that slide into the sea from the low rocks of Tonga Island. Paddling that famous coast, legendary among kayakers, was the thrill of a lifetime, with waves big enough to surf our kayaks down and a spectacular rocky shoreline.
Fine Dining in the Wilderness
Waiting for us when we returned to Awaroa Lodge, along with a hot shower and a glass of New Zealand wine on the terrace of our spacious room, was a memorable dinner. The dining room ambiance is somewhere between an upscale safari camp and a low-key luxury resort, with good, but personable service and a wall of glass that brought the leafy outdoors inside. Dinner began impressively, with the choice between seared scallops with smoked chili marmalade, roasted duck spring rolls, crayfish omelet with sprout salad or fresh local oysters.
So good was dinner, in fact, that we decided to stay here and take advantage of the abundant day hikes with return by water taxi. The Abel Tasman Coastal Track runs right past the lodge, and seven hours of hiking brought us to the northernmost park, Separation Point, where seals lolled in the sun. Much of the trail is in the forest, which varies from high to lowland trees and often includes giant ferns that make the forests seem like some long-overgrown tropical garden. The track climbs over headlands, descends to beaches, and follows cornices cut into the hillsides above the sea.
And after the day’s hiking and the boat-ride home, we knew that our comfortable beds and another smashing dinner would be waiting at Awaroa Lodge. Roughing it doesn’t get much better than this.