When we got to the South Island, we decided to hit to road to a wild and dreamy destination, up north, called Nelson Tasman Region. It includes gorgeous Abel Tasman and Kahurangi National Parks. So far from everything and not on the usual 'must-dos in New Zealand', it happened to be one of the most fabulous sceneries we discovered in New Zealand...
Known as the sunniest region of the country, Nelson Tasman is fringed with lush nature, golden sand beaches and turquoise waters -it's a true PARADISE for nature lovers. If Abel Tasman National Park is absolutely stunning, it's when we kept going north that we discovered true hidden gems. This itinerary from Nelson to Wharariki Beach can take from 5 days to fifteen, depending on the time you've got. Of course, I'd recommend to take your time, as slow travel is always a good idea. Enjoy the unexpected, and immerse yourself in the atmosphere. That's the (only) way to do it.
Pack your trekking gear, your flip flops and you're camera, you're in for quite a scenic road trip...
itinerary of a road trip from nelson to wharariki beach
nelson to abel tasman national park
Nelson is the last 'big' city you'll see for the next days, so don't forget to pack up on food supplies and, most important, mosquito repellent -those sand flies are the worst thing alive in New Zealand! The town itself is really cute and worth a few days stop. Don't miss the fresh market on Saturday, where you'll be able to buy all kind of homemade delicacies for your road trip!
Only an hour drive from Nelson, Abel Tasman National Park is gifted with a stunning coastal walk with golden sand pristine beaches -and a beautiful inland walk, a little bit more adventurous. There are many public campsites in the park, so you can easily camp and go on a multiple days trek -which is highly recommended!
If you're a sea lover, there's another option than the car. You can get on a boat trip for a day of two. We took what they call a 'water taxi' from picturesque Kaiteriteri. It took us along the coast, around some islands to see the seal colonies, then dropped us off somewhere on the bay, to let us hike for about two hours, and picked us up on the other side. The hike was absolutely fabulous, we walked on gigantic spread of sand, on a vertiginous coast, to finish in the bush -as usual in New Zealand. Abel Tasman National Park is so big you can easily feel like you're alone there. We loved it so much, whenever we come back, we're planning to go on a multiple days trek to explore the park deeper.
Kahurangi national park: from takaka to firewell spit
We stopped in Takaka randomly, to discover a lovely hippy town -it reminds me a bit of Nimbin in Australia, without the touristic side. The shops are full of colorful clothes and art & crafts and the streets full of locals with long hair, walking around barefoot in a style coming straight from the sixties.
Then arrived Collingwood, last town before entering in the wild Kahurangi National Park. In Maori, Kahurangi means 'treasured possession' -a clue to what awaits you up there. A wonderful network of tracks lets you explore wild rivers, gigantic sand dunes, high plateaux and coastal forests. We walked all the way to the base of Firewell Spit, a narrow sand spit at the northern end of the South Island. There is no public access elsewhere on the Spit except by DOC permit or with a licensed tour operator. As it's mostly sand dunes as far as our eyes can see, and we so were amazed by the beauty of the site, of course... we got lost. It took us more than two hours to find the carpark -just in time before it got dark.
the locals' most wonderful Secret spot: Wharariki Beach
That's the thing when you stay with locals instead of backpackers -you meet people, hear stories, and discover some treasured secret spots. A local friend told us about that beach she loves to go whenever she wants some tranquility. She lend us a tent, and we drove to Wharariki Beach Holiday Park. Fortunately, they still had some campsites left. We set up the camp in the dark and got straight to bed, exhausted by our long hike / we almost got lost in Farewell Spit desert / are we gonna die eaten by penguins ? adventure.
The next morning, we wake up to discover the most fantastic view up the valley. The campsite is quite big, with a wide range of facilities for everyone from campervans, campers and backpackers. Autumn is almost there, so it starts to get a little bit chilly -the perfect temperature to enjoy a warm tea with a view. Impatient to discover the beach, we jump in our hiking shoes and walk to THE Wharariki beach. The scenery blows us away. Everything is big here! The sand dunes, the cliffs, the beach, the winds. It feels so remote, so wild and peaceful, although we're only an hour drive from the next town. Is this for real? We feel so lucky to be here, and so thankful to our friend who gave us this wonderful idea.
We are alone on this massive beach, watching the waves coming in and out the cliffs. At the far right of the beach, hundreds of meters from here, we can see some agitation. There are some people gathering, something's happening. We run there, excited like kids on a Christmas morning -what is it, what is it?!
On a tiny natural pool made of rocks, a bunch of baby seals is playing around in the water. They swim, whirl about, swoop up and down, jump. It's the cutest show ever! They don't seem to be bothered by us, actually, they are more curious than anything. One of the baby seal even tries to taste one of G's toes to see if it was tasty -apparently, it wasn't. We'll stay for hours watching our new buddies having fun in their little playground.
Wharariki Beach is a great spot for a picnic -luckily we knew that, so we arrived with our backpacks full of supplies. After a wonderful day, we hiked back under the sunset, to finish our day on a perfect note.
The next day, we drove back to Nelson, and continued the road to Havelock for a gastronomic feast: this town is known as the mussel capital. This isn't a joke! This fishing village serves some of the best mussels and wine in the country. Scenic hikes, beaches, wildlife, good wine and food? That's what I call a proper ROAD TRIP!
Itinerary of a road trip in nelson tasman national park
Nelson - Abel Tasman National Park : 65 kms, +/- 1 hr drive
Abel Tasman - Takaka : 25 kms, +/- 35 min. drive
Takaka - Collingwood : 26 kms, +/- 20 min. drive
Collingwood - Farewell Spit : 33 min. drive + hike
Farewell Spit - Wharariki Beach Holiday Park : 30 min. drive, then 20 min. hike to the beach
Wharariki Beach - Nelson : 160 kms, +/- 2,5 hrs drive
Nelson - Havelock : 75 kms, +/- 1h15 drive