National Park Exploration: Abel Tasman & Nelson Lakes

Prompted by an Air New Zealand domestic sale, we booked two winter getaways on a whim. The first was at the beginning of August to Nelson, located at the northwestern tip of the South Island – much, much further north than our South Island campervan trip took us.

With a bit more research, we realised that Nelson is the gateway to both a thriving wine country and two of the country’s most stunning national parks. With less than 48 hours in Nelson, we prioritised Abel Tasman National Park. A quick Google image search will explain why – it’s home to an epic coastal hiking track, with the clearest water and golden sand beaches along the way. We booked our boat transportation through the park (highly recommend Wilsons Abel Tasman) and hoped for sunny skies.

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Abel Tasman Hike

The weather and park did not disappoint. We opted for a long day walk covering the most diverse six miles of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. (The whole track is 37 miles and would take 3-5 days to complete!). The walk we chose was called ‘Swing Bridge, Bush and Beach’, and it was amazingly beautiful, winding along cliff tops, crossing a river by swing bridge, and opening up to gorgeous bays.

And we got to see even more of the park from the water! To get to the start of the track from the park entrance (Kaiteriteri), you have to book a water taxi transfer. We took a one-hour cruise to Medlands Beach to begin, and walked back, ending at Anchorage bay. From Anchorage, we got back on the boat and cruised back to the start in Kaiteriteri.

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The coolest thing about our trip was that since it was the “dead” of winter (by that I mean about 55 degrees!), the track was close to empty. From our 30-passenger cruise, only five people opted to do the longer walk – and those were the only five we saw during our all-day hike. At a winery the next day, we were chatting with our tasting pourer (that’s a word right?) and she said that in the summer the tracks and cruises are so packed that it completely detracts from the views and sense of tranquility the park is known for. I’m sure it would have been amazing if it was warm enough to take mid-hike dips in the sea, but we felt very lucky that we put on our beanies and braved the “cold” to avoid the crowds.

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Nelson Lakes Photo Op

After an evening spent re-fuelling with delicious thai food and homemade cinnamon ice cream in downtown Nelson, the next morning we drove to the second national park close by – Nelson Lakes. We didn’t have time (or the energy!) for another long hike, so we opted for a classic pier photo op, and walked to another lookout point. Worth it!

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Once back in Nelson, we even managed to visit a winery! Although the neighbouring Blenheim is much better known, Nelson has a decent-sized wine region. But because it was winter, most of the wineries had shut down for the season. After lunch and a quick tasting, it was back to Auckland.

Plane Travel & Views 

Side note: In New Zealand, flying to small regions feels SO different from the US. yOu only have to arrive 30 minutes before your flight (we still are there at least an hour early), there is basically no security, and baggage claim looks like this:  


The views from the plane were stunning! We flew over Mount Taranaki, the tip of the volcanic cone peaking through the clouds. Once back underneath the cloud line, we were treated to a view of the whole coastline.

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From the time we landed back in Auckland, it would be one month to go until our next winter getaway – Wellington!

Abel Tasman

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