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Hiking the Abel Tasman Coastal track with kids – a Mum’s guide!

Over the Summer break, Jonny and I walked the Abel Tasman with Isabella and Louie and it was absolutely glorious. I was literally in heaven every single day. Walking, native bush, golden beaches…what’s not to love?! Having a shared common goal of making it by foot to a destination is such a great way to spend time together. The weather gods were insanely kind to us which made everything so much more enjoyable, especially camping! In the Abel Tasman you are primarily away from civilisation so simple luxuries we all take for granted such as power, running water to drink, fridges to cool food and showers are out of the question. But if you are happy to clean via the ocean or the camp outdoor cold-water shower for a few days then you’ll be fine. The key thing is planning. And taking enough food and water for the kids as well as everything you need to prepare food and water too. Remember there is NO power unless you are staying in one of the limited lodges along the track.


We planned out our trip using our dates and the tides and walked from Marahau to Tōtaranui over four days with a planned rest day on day four for the kids making our total stay in the park five glorious days.

Below is summary of the trip that we did as a family and some tips you may find useful. If you are wanting to book any DOC accommodation while walking in the Abel Tasman, you will need to create an account or login in if you have one here.


Day 1: Marahau to Anchorage camp.  This is a lovely 12km walk that isn’t affected by any tidal crossings. There are many beautiful beaches to stop at along the way for a snack or swim. We chose to stop around the 7km mark at Stillwell Bay. It’s a short detour off the track down to sea level but well worth the effort! The beach is gorgeous for swimming and safe for kids.  The sandy seafloor bottom always amazes me in this park. It’s simply out of this world.  Just don’t leave your food unattended – the Weka will steal it and you’ll be without it for the rest of your trip! As was the case with our scroggin mix we banked on having for at least two or three days.  From Stillwell Bay, there is a big climb to the top of the hill and then a generous descent into Anchorage Bay with great views as you go.

At Anchorage there are both DOC huts and camps available, but both need to be booked ahead of time via the above link. If you are a family, be mindful that you may end of sharing a hut cabin with others which isn’t an issue, just something to be mindful about, especially if you have young kids that still wake through the night. The huts are first in, first served so you may also end up being split across different cabins, depending upon how many other hut-goers get there before you and where everyone chooses to put their sleeping bags!

We chose to camp in a tent both on night one and night two but had our tent and larger packs transferred via boat. This is an extra cost but well worth it, especially if you have younger children. We let our kids walk free of packs while Jonny and I simply carried our day bags. Don’t be fooled though, these were full! Each day we carried enough food for one day including a jet boiler, gas, water for cooking and drinking, snacks and our midday meal. Along with togs, a few towels, sunscreen, plasters, a first aid kit and hundreds of morale boosting treats. These were key – lollies were king!  I have written a separate section on transferring luggage below for anyone that may be wanting to use this service. Oh, and don’t forget insect repellent. Biting bugs are about. I forgot this much to my family’s horror!


We made the conscious decision to really enjoy the journey to each daily destination. Allowing the kids time to stop for a decent swim and play at least once on our way. We also swam at every opportunity we could with them!  While it does require more of an effort such as shoes on and off in the sand, changing into togs and then carrying wet swimwear on the back of your packs, I think it is a such a great way for the kids to enjoy the park and to learn that walking is just one part of the experience.  For us it was about the kids having a really great time and being genuinely happy to do more multi-day hikes in future years to come.  


Day 2: Anchorage camp to Bark Bay camp.  At high tide this is another 12km day but if you get the timing right, you can easily make a low-tide crossing from Anchorage to Torrent Bay which shaves off around 4km, making it one of the shortest days.

We knew the low-tide crossing would be tight but a quick jog along the beach and track and we made it across with shoulder riding the kids (well Jonny’ shoulders to be fair!). This is the most beautiful stretch of the park with majority of the day spent in native bush and crossing over the Falls River swing bridge. The kids were really hot as it was an absolute scorcher of a day and any time we met water, we let them swim to help keep their body temperatures down. Hallway Pool is a fresh water swimming hole that is the perfect jump in, jump out spot!   

The beach that is a must visit en route to Bark Bay is Sandfly Bay. This must be one of my favourite spots in the entire park! It’s breathtaking. It’s about 30 minutes before Bark Bay and quite a steep descent down to sea level but if you know Bark Bay is at low tide, make the effort to head down and stop at Sandfly Bay and enjoy it for a while. In fact, even if it’s high tide at Bark Bay, still stop at Sandfly Bay. It is simply spectacular. If it‘s windy on the costal side, there’s a sheltered inlet that is perfect for swimming.

It doesn’t quite take the 30 minutes the DOC sign advises to get down, but it is steep. The kids loved the climbing though – not one complaint going down or heading back up. I think kids really love technical walking as they are so concerned with what they are doing, they don’t even have time to think about the effort!

We arrived at Bark Bay in all its glory – at peak high tide on a 30’C day ready to swim! The camp site here is literally just above the beach. There isn’t much shade at the camp site now due to a lot of the trees being damaged and taken out in storms of recent years. So, if you are camping in a tent, just be mindful in peak Summer that they are like huge ovens! Anything containing chocolate will likely be a melty mess. Another thing to note is that Bark Bay is very tidal. At high tide, it is glorious for swimming and at low tide, you will need to walk some way out before the water gets deep enough to take a decent dive. However, it’s still glorious.

Just like at Anchorage, Bark Bay offers both DOC huts and campsites. As mentioned above, the campsite is right on the beach, whereas the hut is on the other side on the inlet, a 5-minute walk from the beach.


Day 3: Bark Bay to Awaroa

This was going to be our longest day – around 13km.  However, what we didn’t realise is that when you head to Awaroa Lodge, you shave off around 5km compared to walking to Awaroa Hut. We stopped at Onetahuti on this particular day for our snack and swim. You could be tempted to stop at Tonga Quarry, however after Tonga Quarry there is a big uphill climb before you descend into Onetahuti. So you may need another swim if you stop beforehand! The uphill climb definitely required some towing and positive words of encouragement where the kids were concerned.

If you are heading to Awaroa hut and the tide allows you some flexibility, heading down towards Awaroa Lodge where the track forks offers you the perfect chance to purchase water or enjoy some fresh food! You can dine at the outdoor pizzeria over the Summer months (when it’s not raining) or at the lodge. Just make sure you have the tide right if you need to get to Awaroa Hut! This area is very, very tidal. If it’s high tide at Awaroa, you will not be able to cross the inlet by foot to carry on North towards Tōtaranui. You will need to wait until low tide. We met many hikers who were enjoying a beer or pizza while waiting for their tidal crossing.


Day 4: Awaroa Lodge

We chose to stay at the lodge for two nights as we wanted to give the kids a rest day and enjoy some lovely food and hot showers with this trip being our main family holiday of the year! The restaurant offers the most incredible cuisine with majority of the fresh produce grown on-site in their organic garden.  If you were wanting to do a cheaper trip, staying the Awaroa DOC hut or campsite is the option to go for. Just be mindful that the hut and camp site is on the other side of the Awaroa Inlet and at low tide it’s quite a walk to the beach with ocean to swim in. But at high tide it’s not far at all. There is plenty to see and do around this area with the lodge near-by so if you did want to plan a rest day with some luxuries near-by (i.e. food, water), this is the spot!

Day 5: Awaroa to Tōtaranui


As I mentioned below, this is only possible at low tide as you need around 20-30 minutes to cross the Awaroa Inlet at low tide. We had to set our alarm for around 5.45am and wake the kids to make the crossing on our particular day. But once across the inlet, there is plenty of time to enjoy the scenery as it’s only around a 2-hour walk to Tōtaranui. All up it was a 10km day walk from Awaroa Lodge to Tōtaranui for us on our last day. Waiharekeke is the most incredible beach and if you have the time, make sure you visit. We were the only ones on the beach! It is raw and untouched and one of the beaches that aren’t a main thoroughfare along the coastal track. 

The kids did such an amazing job of walking every day. We made sure they had plenty of food and water with every afternoon spent letting them just be kids!

There is plenty of information online regarding the Abel Tasman here or here and you can choose to do as little or as much as you wish depending upon fitness and the age of your children.


Some shorter options:

1.       Day walk from Marahau into Anchorage (12km) and then catch the last boat back to Marahau for a little taster.

2.       You could boat into Bark Bay, walk the 12km (high tide route) to Anchorage, stay in the DOC hut or a tent, and then walk the 12km back to Marahau. Bags could be transferred for you if you prefer to carry only your day bags.

3.       Boat to Tōtaranui, walk the 2-hours to Awaroa Lodge (check the tide times!), stay one night in the lodge. Boat back to Marahau or walk to Onetahuti to catch the boat back on day two.

Some essential information:

Water: There is no drinking water available within the park (unless at Awaroa Lodge, the pizzeria or Tōtaranui). While the maps all state drinking water is available at both Anchorage and Bark Bay, this isn’t the case. So, make sure you carry enough drinking water for the first few days or come prepared to boil and cool water for drinking with vessels to cool water in. Or alternatively and more smartly, bring a filter or some other water system that allows you to have water ready to drink without waiting for it to cool down. We chose to carry a full bladder that just contained water for boiling during the day to cook the kids noodles in and for making tea or coffee.  This was separate to our safe drinking water in our bottles.


Washing: There are DOC camp kitchens at each campsite/hut but all they have is cold running water. A universal plug for washing dishes would be helpful too! I packed a small snap lock bag with a small bottle of detergent, a dish cloth and a tea towel for washing and drying dishes. There are washing lines at the Anchorage campsite while at Bark Bay we used the camp wire near our tent.  Throwing in a handful of pegs wouldn’t go astray for drying togs, towels, tea towels etc…because if it’s windy, you’ll have a hard time keeping anything on the line!


Cleaning: As I mentioned above, unless you are staying at one of the limited numbers of lodges within the park, you won’t get a hot shower. There is a cold outdoor shower at both Anchorage and Bark Bay. We used the Anchorage shower after an evening ocean swim on day one but on day two, it was just the ocean as the Bark Bay outdoor shower had run out of water. As can happen in the bush!

Food: Getting the food right is key for the trip to be enjoyable! Along with the food, you will also need to remember gas, any cooking equipment needed for your menu and utensils, bowls, plates and cups.

We purchased some fresh fruit (nectarines, blueberries) to last the first two days. However, it was so hot, it barely made that! Be mindful that what you pack is what you have. There is no running to the shop in here. Alongside the fresh fruit, we also took freeze-dried fruit and Nibblish dried berries to provide the antioxidants and colour for us all.

Generally, our daily intake looked like this:


·         Jed’s coffee bags for the adults (made with the jet boiler)

·         Gluten-free bun toasted over the gas flame smeared in a peanut butter slug (Emily)

·         Quick oat sachets for the kids + muesli sachets + milk powder

·         We made our milk via milk powder made up in a shaker (we portioned out milk powder for each day into snap lock bags which then became our daily rubbish bag). We then added boiled and cooled water to make up the milk which was used in oats, muesli, coffee and tea.


·         Fresh fruit (day 1 and day 2)

·         Freeze-dried fruit

·         Nibblish gently baked fruit bags x 2

·         Nutty muesli bars (x1 per person per day)

·         Seaweed

·         Lollies

·         1x large family bag chips each day shared

·         Scroggin/nut mix

Lunch for the kids:

·         Two-minute noodles! Not the healthiest but they were light, practical, easy to cook and the kids demolished the entire pack each day. Yes, we took 10 packets!

Lunch for the adults:

·         Snacky foods or sometimes buns toasted over the gas flame smeared with a peanut butter slug. Real fancy. But I’d recommend taking easy lunches like tuna/cracker packs or wraps that could be filled with tuna. Just be mindful of weather and the heat, especially in the peak of Summer. There is nowhere to cool anything, so it needs to last a few days at potentially hot temperatures.


·         Freeze-dried meals. Not the nicest but convenient and light and fuel for all. Here are some options:

Radix – my absolute favourite -



·         Chocolate but this melted uncontrollably in the heat so lollies it was!


NB: Each day as we packed our main bags to be transferred and set them out on the beach ready for collection, we portioned out our day food, snacks and water for our day bags that we carried on our backs. Keep portable snacks such as lollies and muesli bars in your side pockets that are easy to grab if kids are hungry and need to snack as they walk. Our kids did this every day!


Rubbish: The mantra – leave only foosteps. You need to carry out whatever rubbish you have. By the end of the trip this can be quite a lot. I’d recommend take an empty heavy duty rubbish bag that won’t tear like a compositable one, especially when you need to pack it within your pack.


Sleeping: If in a tent, you’ll need the tent (!), sleeping bags, thin mattresses (we purchased inflatable ones from Macpac) and potentially inflatable pillows. Or you can fill your sleeping bag cover with clothes to form a pillow.

If in a hut, you’ll just need a sleeping bag and whatever you choose to use as a pillow. Some ear plugs wouldn’t go astray to block out any snorers!


Transfers: If you don’t wish to carry all of your packs, especially if travelling with young children, you can use the transfer service. This is $25 per bag per movement for up to 20kg. This can all be sorted via your transfer provider. We used Abel Tasman Aqua Taxis and they were brilliant!


I think that’s all for now! But if anyone has any questions, please feel free to let me know.


Happy hiking x


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