Finding Soul food for the Family in Nelson Tasman


If you’ve tried to control your children’s use of their devices you’ve experienced what it’s like trying to push water uphill with a rake. All the ranting about badly-wired brains, mature chats about poor performance, appeals to look out the window, threats of restricted use, punishment by confiscation, imposition of rules … fail. Their device is as important to them as Izona cargo pants were to me in the 80s.

SO, what if I suggested eight hours with your children with no device interference? And further, this time comes with enough fresh air to dissipate hormone-fuelled anti-parent language, enough beauty to the eye to lift serotonin levels, and enough exercise to encourage hunger that is satisfied by good, plain (ie low processed) flavoursome picnic can satisfy?

That’s what a day in Abel Tasman National Park can give you – quality time in the great outdoors doing things that will happily remind you of the good ol’ days (possibly never actually experienced by you, but heartily depicted on the TV we watched in the good ol’days for an hour after school) making for a happier, more engaged parent as much as child. It’s a soul-feeding exercise all round with no kumbaya singing.

Abel Tasman National Park contains one of New Zealand’s 13 Great Walks and the track attractively hugs the coastline, across beaches and through regenerating native bush, around lagoons and over panoramic-view hills. Water access means you can zip in and out of this Great Walk for just a day – even half a day – via the many water taxis plying the waters.

And stopping right there for a second – the seawater in this place does not need any special filters or digital enhancement for photos – it really is crystal clear water of the most amazing teal, azure, turquoise - my superlative-vault can’t do it justice. With the backdrop of orange sands and bush down to the beach, it’s like a forgotten world without the hard yards to get there. There’s a lot to be said for ‘safe adventure’ … it’s the tiniest bit intrepid to step off a boat with the threat of getting your feet wet, onto a beach often without a building in sight, and the boat LEAVING YOU THERE – alone to fend for yourself (for the next few hours).

But I’m getting ahead of you …

Abel Tasman day

Getting there

If visiting the park for the day out of Nelson, you drive or bus to Marahua or Kaiteriteri to start your adventure. Both offer safe swimming, kayak and SUP rentals plus various options of water transport into the park. Despite popular belief, Kaiteriteri is not actually in the Park – it’s around the corner: the Park and its Great Walk start at the charming seaside village of Marahau.

The first part of the walk is a little plainer compared with other parts, as you are going across the wide estuary mudflats – but it is still pretty and flat, so relatively easy if mobility presents some issues, or you have a baby in the backpack. The beach at Marahau is a large safe tidal swimming beach and a number of cafes and other activity options are here so out is most satisfying.

But if the Abel Tasman National Park itself is in the sights, get a water taxi or launch and head into the Park aways before alighting. Tickets are available from small booths set up near either beach and this mode of course vastly increases your chances of seeing seals, dolphins and a myriad of palagic birds.

The tourism operators in this Park genuinely love this environment –they respect it, they know a lot about it, and they know how good their life is. I couldn’t recommend one over the other for professionalism, knowledge and their keenness to give you a great time. Brochures/websites/apps outline the different options depending on what you want to do - just cruise, walk and cruise, kayak and walk and cruise … your choice. I been on many of the options and have NEVER been disappointed – even in the mist and rain.

The large boats have excellent commentary (although the sound quality can be variable) or on the smaller boats you can sidle up to the driver (skipper?) and play 20 questions.

Abel Tasman day
Getting into the Abel Tasman National Park by boat is easy with a water taxi or launch


Abel Tasman day
If you're lucky you might see a seal or two on the boat trip into the park

A stroll in the park

And once you get dropped at the beach and disembark, you walk. Through verdant shady bush or second generation landscape with a lot of manuka and honey-dew covered beech trees, past trickling streams or the occasional waterfall, across a swing bridge or along a beach. Think, talk, argue (you’re family!), sing, listen … enjoy the luxury.

Behind the scenes DOC wages an on-going battle with predators so the birdsong isn’t back where we’d like it to be yet: various trusts such as Project Birdsong and Project Janszoon are trying to regenerate the bird life in tandem with the predator control, while groups such as the Tasman Guardians are attempting to rejuvenate the reef life after it was all but wiped out by the runoff from the land following deforestation by the settlers. It’s more than a full-time job being custodians to natural environs! (If this is an area you would like to know more about, or expose your children to, I do recommend Abel Tasman Eco Tours. Their tagline is “open your eyes” and the amount of info they impart in a fascinating interactive way over a day is enjoyably engaging and genuinely worthwhile for all ages).

You will find a well-maintained track, the time estimates in the brochures are realistic for those more inclined to walk rather than stride, and your transport WILL pick you up at the predetermined spot (but try not jump on a different return operator – it just confuses things at the end of the day when everyone should be accounted for).

Yet another bonus is being genuinely a year-round option. The Nelson Tasman region gets high sunshine hours in summer, but consistently the highest sunshine hours in winter with generally a benign temperature. (In fact the offseason is more desirable in my humble opinion – the sun’s not so hot, there are less footprints in the sand, kayaking’s better with calmer waters and there’s that lovely air of doing something less ordinary – always welcome in winter!).

Back at the carpark, your group may immediately fall on their devices and a different type of silence will descend, but I guarantee they had a good time, you feel good, and the colours will stay in your mind as a happy place for years to come.

Abel Tasman day

Abel Tasman day

A note to readers

Abel Tasman National Park is New Zealand’s smallest national park so it needs some extra loving care when you’re in there, please, so our children can take their children on angst-busting walks too – predicted to be even more necessary in the looming decades.

So if you just want to say you ‘did’ part of the track and the main aim is to take a few selfies for later posting to those stuck at their desks, then please go somewhere other than the Abel Tasman, ‘cos you’re just cluttering up the track for everyone else who genuinely want to connect with something special.