Story: Nelson places

Page 8. Western Tasman Bay

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Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park is the smallest of Nelson’s three national parks. It was created in 1942, 300 years after the visit of the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman. Conservationist Pérrine Moncrieff had lobbied the government to protect the area, including its native forest, at a time when much of the country’s native forest was being logged. The park includes the coast and the mountains between Tasman Bay and Golden Bay.

The Abel Tasman Coastal Track is one of the country’s busiest walking tracks. It is 52 kilometres long and offers accommodation in 18 campsites and four huts. Tens of thousands of trampers and campers visit each year. The sheltered coast offers good moorings and sees many sea kayakers, yachts and other boats in the summer. There are pockets of private land and baches (holiday homes) at Torrent Bay and Awaroa.

Tākaka hill

Tākaka is just 57 km from Motueka, but the winding road over Tākaka hill or ‘marble mountain’ makes the trip take almost an hour. The top is distinctive for its fluted marble outcrops. Quarries on the hilltop supply lime, and marble from here was used in Wellington’s Parliament buildings. Hawkes Lookout offers views over the fertile Riwaka River valley. There are guided tours to Ngārua Cave’s stalactites and stalagmites, and a lookout with views onto the eastern Abel Tasman coastline. On Tākaka hill’s western side, Harwood’s lookout takes in Golden Bay and its wild mountain back-country. These vistas inspired artworks by Toss Woollaston and Colin McCahon.

Canaan Road branches off the main road on top of the hill. Canaan, a biblical name, was given to the strange hump-and-hollow landscape caused by sinkholes. Massive dance parties known as ‘The Gathering’ were held there each New Year’s Eve from 1996/97 to 1999/2000. Walking tracks give access to New Zealand’s largest sinkhole, 357-metre-deep Harwood’s Hole, and huts of the Abel Tasman National Park. Jim Henderson, chronicler of Golden Bay folklore, grew up on a struggling sheep farm on Tākaka hill.


2013 population: 789

Kaiteriteri was nearly chosen as the site for the Nelson settlement in 1841. It has a safe swimming beach and its beaches of coarse golden sand are typical of the Abel Tasman coast. Water taxis and guided sea-kayaking groups depart from here and nearby Mārahau for the coast of the Abel Tasman National Park.


Mārahau may be reached by a narrow winding road from Kaiteriteri or – more commonly – a turn-off from the main road just before Tākaka hill. It has a large sandy estuary, baches and a camping ground. Mārahau is also one end of the three-day tramp along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. Sea-kayaking tours operate from here, with tractors towing trailers of kayaks onto the sand flats at low tide.


The road from Golden Bay into Abel Tasman National Park leads to Tōtaranui, 38 km from Tākaka. Previously a farming settlement before the park was established, Tōtaranui has a campground that is very busy over summer.

How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Nelson places - Western Tasman Bay', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 April 2024)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 7 Sep 2010, updated 22 Apr 2015