On the Golden Child of the Great Walks, we joined a Wilsons tour and enjoyed this visually breathtaking walk with two other families and an enthusiastic guide to inform and encourage us along the way.
The Abel Tasman coastal walk winds its way from Marahau (just out of Motueka) to Wainui Bay, sometimes heads a little inland, often follows the water’s edge, and is the perfect trek to start the family on the Great Walks of New Zealand.
We opted for lodge stays, and although Kiwis generally love camping and roughing it a little outdoors, when you set off on a multi-day trek with young kids, it’s not just the adults that benefit from a lovely lodge with hot showers. Sitting on the deck at both Meadowbank Homestead and Torrent Bay Lodge in the late afternoon when the sun has lost its heat and the beach has an amber glow, with a glass of wine in hand, you can really enjoy your achievements for the day. No such requirement for our kids though, they used up the last of the light to play swing ball, beach cricket and scout our surrounds.
We loved the lodge life as much as we loved the walk. It adds another dimension to the holiday, and it gives the adults a chance to reboot and enjoy a lovely family dinner with the kids.
WILSONS ABEL TASMAN
We decided to book our trip with Wilsons Abel Tasman, as we were very keen to stay in their lodges and we loved the idea of meeting new people on the walk. It was my personal desire to have the organisation of bags, food and comfort sorted for us … well, it was a holiday after all! It does seem like a bit of luxury, but this was a holiday we had planned for some time, and we wanted to have pleasantly tired legs at the end, not feel rung out and exhausted from lugging tents, cooking camping food and making sure we had planned for every possible eventuality in our day packs. The team at Wilsons are super friendly and know how to keep it eco and casual enough so it still feels like an outdoor excursion. I must confess, it was a real treat to relax and just worry about the minor things for once!
Check out the Wilsons tours, and remember – all of your food, use of day packs, travelling bags, activities, guides, road and water transport, and ensuite accommodation are included.
The other kids we met were older than ours, but on the track it didn't seem to matter. It seems adventure is a great leveller.
ARE THE LODGES FAMILY-FRIENDLY?
The two Wilsons beachside lodges on the track are Meadowbank Homestead (Awaroa Bay) and Torrent Bay, and are both very comfortable and well set up for families. There are beach games for the kids in the afternoon (or rest days) and loads of board games for the evening. The chefs at each lodge go out of their way to accommodate allergies (and fussy eaters!). As the lodges generate their own energy, everyone has to be aware of power and water usage, but that’s all part of the fun, and teaches the kids about life out of the city.
WAS IT WORTH HAVING A GUIDE?
We all loved our guide, he was full of information and fun with the kids (particularly if any got difficult). It’s definitely not necessary because navigating your way around the track is easy, but if you would like to learn more about the track or join another group, then Wilsons include a guide as part of that service. He made us hot drinks along the way, and knew all of the best spots to stop and let the kids play. Our experience all the better for having Marios along, I believe.
WHY JOIN IN WITH A GROUP?
Children always love being with other families, even if they are a bit reticent at the beginning. Our kids were a bit nervous about walking with people they have never met, but in the end, they had the best time, talking for hours with the other kids, and playing games until late at night.
CAN YOUNG KIDS GO KAYAKING?
Because the seas can get a little challenging out on the Tasman, kids need to be 12 years to kayak the trail. If you book with Wilsons, younger children can kayak, but you will need to hire a private guide. It’s worth considering a small trip to see the seals on Tonga Island. Kayaks are all part of the deal if you book with Wilsons, so no extra charges.
Our kids were desperately keen to have a kayak, so our Guide took us all out at Torrent Bay in the estuary, where young kids are really safe and there are little streams that run to historical sites and waterfalls if you have a bit more time.
IS THE TRACK SUITABLE FOR YOUNG CHILDREN?
Yes, this is probably the best of the Great Walks (in New Zealand) for younger kids, particularly as you can use the water taxis and do just part of the walk. If young kids are tired, you can arrange to have a pick up from one of the bays, leaving the rest of the group to walk. Our guide recommends kids 8 years and up could walk all the way; very young ones could go in carriers, but best to have a few adults to share the load. We kept quite a fast pace thanks to all the enthusiastic children, who were not very sympathetic to any adults who needed a rest after a hill.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
We did a three day tour with Wilsons and walked each day. Only two hours walking and boat ride in to Totaranui on the first day, then around five to six hours on each of the next two days. You could do a five day tour, or if you are walking independently just take as many days as you like depending on where you plan to stay each night. In total, we walked 44.5km.
BEST TIME TO WALK?
You can walk the track all year long, and you’ll have different things to see and experience in the different seasons. You can expect good weather most of the time as the Abel Tasman seems to have its own little microclimate. Our forecast was for three days of rain and we ended up with three cloudless days. Not uncommon apparently.
- Bark Bay was my favourite beach, I loved the sand dunes and lagoons to play in.
- Packing our own lunches and snacks was the best … particularly the jet planes and the local apple chips.
- Sitting around at night playing Headz Up was so much fun. The family we travelled with were English, and it was cool to talk to them about school and friends from where they come from.
- We played ‘spot the stoat trap’ with the other kids all the way around the track. I won!
- So much better walking with other kids because otherwise the adults can be a bit slow.
CAMPING AND HUTS ON THE TRACK
- Check out www.tramper.co.nz for DOC huts and camping grounds along the way. These are very cheap and often huts don’t charge for kids.
- Stay on the Aqua packers boat in Anchorage Bay for something a little different.
- Wilsons can transport your bags (including camping gear and food) to your destination each night. Remember some camp grounds will still require a short walk with your gear to get there.
- You need to take all of your food and requirements with you as there are no shops on the track.
- There is no phone coverage in much of the northern part of the walk.
A NIGHT IN NELSON
We flew into Nelson and stayed at the Monaco Resort. This cute English-inspired resort is fantastic for kids, has wonderful food and large comfortable cottages, perfect for families. In spring, the gardens are fabulous and provide a magical place for kids to run and explore. Wilsons picked us up from here to start the track, so no need to rent a vehicle.
A LITTLE GENTLE CYCLING TO BEGIN
We decided to spend a day in Nelson before we started and rented bikes from Gentle Cycling Company for a day on the Taste Trail. The trail is completely flat and easy to ride. It has been developed as a pathway with minimal riding on the road then flowing into the vineyards, so if your kids are good riders, it is easy to keep them in tow. We had a tasty day trying Pic’s peanut butter, treating ourselves at the Wagapeka organic cheese shop, visited the WOW world of wearable arts and classic car museum, and managed to sneak in some seasonal raspberry and boysenberry picking and eating! They will even pick you up from your accommodation.
Love a good NZ adventure? check these out