A Local's Guide to Exploring Abel Tasman & Nelson Lakes

Abel Tasman is a great place for easy exploring, but you’ll be competing with huge summer crowds. For something more adventurous and less trafficked check out this local gem instead.


Photo © iStock/dchadwick

For easy exploring in the sunshine, head to Abel Tasman. For adventure, Nelson Lakes. Or, why don’t you make time for both? Our local insider, Helen Glenny lets us in on what to do.

Abel Tasman National Park

The 37mi (60km) Abel Tasman Coastal Track forms the centerpiece of this national park. It’s a three to five-day hike along the warm golden coastline, and one of the island’s most scenic easy hikes.

Even better, a water taxi can drop you off and pick you up, so you can easily experience just a day or two on the trail. Bark Bay to Anchorage is a particularly spectacular section – if it’s low tide, take your shoes and socks off and enjoy the shortcut across the wide tidal flats.

Abel Tasman is a great place for easy exploring, but because of that, you’ll be competing with huge summer crowds. For something more adventurous and less trafficked, head inland.

Kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park. Photo credit: iStock

Nelson Lakes National Park

Just an hour away, you’ll find St Arnaud, your base for adventures in Nelson Lakes National Park. From here, water taxis can transport you across the region’s lakes for short walks and nights spent stargazing.

To get further inland, you’ll need to go on foot. And to access the gem of the park – Blue Lake, home to the clearest water in the world – you’ll need a few days up your sleeve.

Day Trips in Nelson Lakes

Take a water taxi up Lake Rotoroa to Sabine or D’Urville Hut. Head out for the day, walk the trails for a few hours (watch for rare birds), and take a boat back out. A water taxi can also take you up Lake Rotoiti to Lakehead Hut, where you can enjoy the flat, two-hour walk back out along the lakeside.

In St Arnaud, walk the tracks around town looking for rare birds, and keep an eye out for the famous multi-colored Mandarin Duck that might be on the lakefront. 

Trampers walking alongside Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes National Park. Photo credit: iStock

Overnight Trips in Nelson Lakes


For an overnight trip, take a boat into Lakehead or Sabine Hut, and take a boat or hike out the next day. You’ll need to take sleeping bags and food with you, but the huts have mattresses and fireplaces.

Lakehead Hut sits on the edge of an open grassy expanse at the head of Lake Rotoiti, so it’s an amazing spot for stargazing on clear evenings.

Robert Ridge to Angelus Hut

If you’re feeling energetic, pack your bags and head up Robert Ridge to Angelus Hut for a night (six hours, 7.6mi/12.2km, intermediate). This range rises between the two lakes, with amazing views of the surrounding area. The hut is located on the edge of Lake Angelus, among yellow alpine tussock.

Even though it’s just an overnight trip, pack for all seasons – I was last there in January (mid-summer) for an overnight snow dump. The hut is manned over summer by volunteer hut wardens who can update you on weather, track conditions, and the best way down the mountain if bad weather comes in.

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Take the 4 to 7 Day Travers–Sabine Circuit

The Travers-Sabine track shows off the very best of the park. It’s a four to seven-day walk, covering 50mi (80km), but I’d recommend allowing the full seven for this adventure.

Venture up the Travers Valley, past thundering waterfalls and across a few rivers to Travers Hut in the upper reaches of the valley, among rocky peaks and icy rivers. As long as you’ve got good weather, follow the track up and over the misty Travers Saddle to West Sabine Hut the following day.

Leave your pack at the hut and take a day to explore Blue Lake, about two hours up the valley from West Sabine Hut. This is the jewel of the area – a small vibrant blue lake that’s been officially crowned the world’s clearest water. Your last two days are spent walking out via the deep green Sabine Valley – leave some time for lake swims.

Sure, a huge amount of effort is needed to fully explore this park, but that’s why the area is so spectacular. The Travers Valley, Sabine Valley, and Blue Lake are some of New Zealand’s most spectacular sights, and you could easily experience them in mid-summer without another person in sight. 

Ridge walking in Nelson Lakes National Park. Photo credit: iStock

Relaxation in Marlborough

Nelson Lakes National Park isn’t the easiest place to explore. Your accommodation is basic DOC huts, and you’ve got to carry everything you want to eat on your back. So when you get home, you’ll be craving a little luxury.

Luckily, Marlborough, right next door, is the home of New Zealand wine. Spruce yourself up, order a glass of vino and a wander through the vines – Te Whare Ra and Cloudy Bay are my favorites. It’ll feel even better now you’ve earned it.

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