Nature and conservation
At 22,530 hectares Abel Tasman National Park is New Zealand's smallest national park. It was established in 1942 and is located at the top of the South Island; the nearest towns are Motueka, Takaka and Kaiteriteri. With its mild climate, it is a good place to visit at any time of the year.
The most noticeable features of this park are the golden sandy beaches, the fascinating rocky outcrops (mainly granite but with a scattering of limestone and marble) and the rich, unmodified estuaries. The landscape has been modified, perhaps more than in our other national parks. The vegetation cover varies and reflects a history of fires and land clearance, but the forests are regenerating well especially in damp gullies where a rich variety of plants can be found. Black beech dominates the drier ridges.
The more common forest birds, like tui and bellbirds, can be seen along with pukeko around the estuaries and wetlands. The park's boundary excludes the estuaries and seabed but in 1993 the Tonga Island Marine Reserve was created along one part of the Abel Tasman coast. Like a national park, all life in the reserve is protected.
Watch the Abel Tasman National Park episode from the Wild about New Zealand TV series.
Get involved in the Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust.
History and culture
For at least 500 years Maori lived along the Abel Tasman coast, gathering food from the sea, estuaries and forests, and growing kumera on suitable sites. Most occupation was seasonal but some sites in Awaroa estuary were permanent. The Ngati Tumatakokiri people were resident when, on 18 December 1642, the Dutch seafarer Abel Tasman anchored his two ships near Wainui in Mohua (Golden Bay), the first European to visit Aotearoa - New Zealand. He lost four crew in a skirmish with the local people and soon moved on.
Permanent European settlement began around 1855. The settlers logged forests, built ships, quarried granite and fired the hillsides to create pasture. For a time there was prosperity but soon the easy timber was gone and gorse and bracken invaded the hills. Little now remains of their enterprises.
Concern about the prospect of more logging along the coast prompted a campaign to have 15,000 hectares of crown land made into a national park. A petition presented to the Government suggested Abel Tasman's name for the park and it was duly opened in 1942 - the 300th anniversary of his visit.
At 22,530 hectares Abel Tasman is New Zealand's smallest national park. It is located at the top of the South Island; the nearest towns are Motueka, Takaka and Kaiteriteri.
Roads lead to Marahau and Totaranui at either end of the coastal track (1.5 and 2.5 hours from Nelson) and provide access to the inland track system.
There are regular and on-demand bus services to the park from local towns and from Nelson as well as a launch and water taxi services.
Know before you go
If you are going to be using the track system in the park for overnight trips, make sure you are properly equipped and well prepared.
Everyone needs to carry a sleeping bag, cooking utensils, sufficient high-energy food (with some extra for emergencies), a waterproof raincoat, and warm (wool or fleece) clothing. A portable stove will also be needed. Firm footwear is recommended but boots are not necessary. Giardia has been found in park waters. Boiling, chemical treatment or filtering can remove it. Check for up-to-date information on weather and track conditions before starting your trip.
Looking after the park’s islands
The three largest islands in the park, Tonga, Adele and Fisherman, are home to many native plants and animal species which are either low in number or are no longer found on the nearby mainland.
Adele and Fisherman islands can be accessed by boat or kayak but do not have toilets and camping is not permitted. The nearest toilets are at Appletree Bay. Tonga and Pinnacle islands are specially protected areas with public access by permit only, to protect the seal breeding colonies.
The islands have no non-native mammalian predators – please help keep them that way so they remain safe for native wildlife and plants living there.
If planning to visit Adele and Fisherman islands, please, before you go:
- Check boats, kayaks, all bags, containers and gear before going onto islands and ensure there are no mice, rats or other animals inside.
- Ensure that all clothing, footwear and gear are free of soil and plant material, including seeds and foliage.
- Check there are no ants or spiders in food and gear you are taking with you.
On the islands:
- Dogs are not allowed on the islands and elsewhere in the national park.
- Do not light any fires, including barbecues and beach fires. Fire can cause devastating damage to wildlife and vegetation.
- Take all rubbish with you when you leave the island.
Weather for Abel Tasman National Park - Nelson rural forecast