TRAVEL DESTINATION: Coastal Tasman Region, South Island, New Zealand
TRAVEL DURATION: Long Weekend
Top of the New Zealand’s South Island is a perfect place to visit during the summer months when it becomes quite lively. If you’re lucky, you’ll be showered with many sunshine hours and at the same time be able to appreciate the soft breeze from the ocean. This is a place of endless possibilities. Whether you want to engage in some hiking, explore versatile landscapes or indulge in fresh local produce, Tasman Region truly has it all.
On my first visit, I realized I needed to change my perception about this part of New Zealand. The reality has been just so much different from my expectations. Instead of low hills and plain pastures, I came across a wonderful contrast between the coastal stretch of sandy beaches and rugged mountains of the nearby Kahurangi National Park, Mount Richmond Forest Park, and Abel Tasman National Park. The duality between the lows and the highs is quite striking. It took me a while to get used to it, and it’s something I was able to fully embrace on my next visit.
The low, coastal part of the Tasman region provides many great possibilities for a weekend filled with adventurous outdoor activities. Today I’ll be sharing my choice of 5 must do’s in the coastal Tasman Region that you’re able to squeeze in a perfect long weekend. So, let’s get exploring.
Split Apple Rock is a granite rock formation, located in the Towers Bay between Kaiteriteri and Marahau. It takes no more than 15 minutes of your walk time (take Moonraker Way) to reach this secluded golden sand beach. Alternatively, you can get close to and explore the formation by a sea kayak, water taxi or boat from Kaiteriteri.
The rock got named after a distinctive apple shape, cut in half. It sits approximately 50 meters off the coast and attracts many people visiting the Tasman area. You might want to take a swim in these waters or explore the caves at the northern end of the beach. Split Apple Rock can either be your quick stopover or a place you spend the whole afternoon at.
Abel Tasman National Park is New Zealand’s only coastal National Park. This is an amazingly versatile area to explore. You can spend anywhere from a day to a whole week here. What’s great is that you can adjust the itinerary according to your free time and also combine different interest, so you’re not tied only to one place and can engage in various activities.
Water taxis are THE way of transportation around Abel Tasman National Park, as I learned during my 5-day hike from south to north end of the park. You can get dropped off at any of the major beach spots. Backpacks can be transferred for you to a specific point while you do the hike along the park’s coastline. You can even combine the hiking with a day of kayaking. Options are endless.
You’ll come across many sheltered bays (that’s where most of the camping grounds are located), tidal lagoons, limestone cliffs and picturesque scenery. It’s important that you do some necessary planning and book camping grounds, water taxis and kayaks before visiting this place. You won’t be able to do many things here without any prior arrangements (especially during the peak summer months). This is a small task to do, compared to the amount of the natural beauty you’ll be able to soak in along this 60 km long stretch of awesome coastal paradise.
On your visit you truly get the feeling that you are part of something special, so be sure to put aside at least a day to explore the slice of New Zealand’s smallest National Park.
Pupū Springs or Te Waikoropupū in Māori is the largest freshwater spring system in New Zealand that homes one of the clearest waters ever recorded. Springs are located in Takaka Valley, in Golden Bay. They are considered sacred to Māori and no form of contact with the water is allowed due to the respect and in hope to protect water quality.
The water visibility apparently reaches more than 60 meters, which is quite impressive. I was actually quite smitten with the whole experience: crystal clear blue to turquoise bubbling springs and streams (camera don’t really do it justice), underwater vents and captivating vegetation along a short 20-minute walking track. Sure make a stopover for this awesome encounter in Te Waikoropupū Springs Scenic Reserve when you visit Golden Bay or pass through this part of North Island.
There are many beautiful beaches spread across the coastal Tasman area, but some of them are extra special. Wharariki Beach is probably one of the most photographed ones in New Zealand, as it spotlights an amazing natural feature in the expression of rock formations named Archway Islands. The short hike to the beach will take around 20 minutes. The sand here gets quite hot during the summer and I suggest you wear jandals on your way to the beach.
Wharariki Beach attracts many visitors not only for the amazing views but also for the swim. You’ll usually be able to spot numerous seals that have chosen this unspoiled coastline to show off. They (especially pups) can often be found on the right-hand side of the beach, preferring the shadowy areas, where they can hide among the coastal rocks. If you have a chance, do stay around this sandy and wind-swept Wharariki Beach for the sunset. The views are breathtaking.
Cape Farewell is located quite close (only 2 minutes by car), so be sure to add the experience on your list when you make the trip to Wharariki Beach. Apparently, the cape was the last land seen on James Cook’s New Zealand exploration trip. While you can solely make a stop at the viewing platform of the Cape Farewell Arch, you can additionally choose from a network of hiking options that run along this coastline. Coastal cliff views here are just amazing to witness.
There’s something special about coming to the physical end of the land. One of such impressive places is Farewell Spit – South Island’s northernmost point. Farewell Spit’s 30km long stretch of the sandy area is one of the largest ones in the world. The inner side of the spit offers the views of the widespread Golden Bay and gets completely emptied at the low tide. Farewell Spit is open towards the buzzing Tasman Sea on the outer side, where it intercepts lots of wind and provides amazing vistas.
The hike along the inner beach, the dunes crossing, and the outer side return walk will take around 2½ hours of your time. The public access to the Farewell Spit is restricted and signs will remind you of the endpoints where you need to turn back. It can, on the other hand, be explored by the 4WD bus tour, which will take you much further out to the very end of the spit.
Unfortunately, no jumping into the water around the inner beach is possible (the water is very shallow), unless you are ready for a mud bath. The outer side did seem a bit unpredictable for a swim to me, but I guess a quick dip in the Tasman Sea would be just fine. Large sand dunes that are stretching across the inner area of the spit is what I loved the most about this place. Yes, you will absolutely be covered in sand when you hike across to the other side, but that’s all part of the fun and adventure.
In addition to my choice of the 5 Must Do’s in the Coastal Tasman Region, I want to mention few places that positively surprised me and made my visit enjoyable:
Ratanui Lodge is a Boutique Hotel located in Pohara, Golden Bay. The service, the food, and the whole experience were outstanding. This was a great place to relax and recharge after completing the whole Abel Tasman Coast Track. I highly recommend it.
Smokehouse Deli & Takeaways is the name of the fish & chips takeaway place on the Mapua Wharf in Tasman Bay. For me, this was the freshest and most delicious fish & chips I’ve ever had. Head down to this seaside village and visit amazing waterfront cafes, galleries, and shops, and try some delicious local produce.
I hope the collection of the 5 Must Do’s in the Coastal Tasman Region I put together gives you a general idea of where to start when you first visit the area. The Coastal Tasman Region, in reality, offers many other experiences beyond the ones I mentioned above. A long weekend might be just enough time to get a general sense of the area at the top of the South Island. Like myself, you’ll most probably want to return and explore more of the natural jewels this place is so well known for.