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The most valuable tips for kayaking in Abel Tasman’s NP – Nelson/ Tasman Region!

a photo of totaranui in the abel tasman national park

Photo credit: David T on Unsplash

The Abel Tasman National Park is home to some of the most picture-perfect scenery in the entire country. Kayaking in Abel Tasman is easily one of the best places to kayak in New Zealand and the South Island! The tropical vibe, beautiful beaches and stunning landscape mean you are in for an adventure. Oh, and there are seal pups to see! Need I say more? Discover the most valuable tips and everything you need to know about Kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park below! 

Where is the Abel Tasman National Park?

At the top of the South Island of NZ! Tucked away just 60 km north from Nelson (the closest city with an airport). Click here to view the Department of Conservation PDF Abel Tasman map and information sheet. 

The most common starting point for the Abel Tasman coast track and kayaking in Abel Tasman is the Southern end in Marahau just 1.5 hours drive from Nelson. Marahau is the closest access point to the Southern end of the park but you are able to access the park via kayak or water taxi at Kaiteriteri (the small town before Marahau).

The second most common access point to the park is Wainui which is located at the Northern end, 2 hours drive from Nelson, over the Takaka hill and into Golden Bay. Be careful on Takaka hill it is rather windy and has quite obvious drops over the side of the hill in places! It also rains a heap over there so be wary!

How to get to the Abel Tasman National Park: Nelson/Tasman region

The most popular way to get to the park is by driving to Marahau or Wainui in the Nelson/Tasman region of NZ. Most people travelling to the Nelson/Tasman region are on a roadie around a bit of NZ and have hired a car in Nelson or further South. If you’re flying straight into Nelson (the closest airport to the Abel Tasman park) then you’ll be able to hire a car there. Car parks are located at Wainui and Marahau.

kayaking in Abel Tasman with Marahau Sea Kayaks

Public transport options

To be honest, public transport options are pretty average. Buses run generally once a day in either direction. ScenicNZ Abel Tasman is the bus to take to get to the southern end of the park. They drive from Nelson through to Marahau. Transport is usually only once daily and can pick you up from Nelson, Richmond, Motueka or Kaiteriteri.

Click here to view their website. They also depart in the opposite direction at the end of each day at around 4 or 5 pm.

If you are needing a bus to the Northern end of the park head over to Golden Bay Coachlines website by clicking here. They run a service from Takaka (the closest town to the Northern section of the park) to Wainui car park and Totaranui (a popular Northern campsite in the park). They also return once daily.

If you have booked a water taxi or kayak tour you will be able to use the companies transport options. Check in with them when you make a booking. MSK and ATK both run shuttles once daily in time with their trips!

Kayaking in Abel Tasman National Park: Tour options! 

One of the best things to do in Abel Tasman is kayaking however, you may be lost on where to begin looking for a tour and company. There are many companies that offer tours kayaking in the Abel Tasman which can be a little overwhelming. To be honest, most of them all cost around the same price but differ slightly in their tour options. For the purpose of this post, I am going to look into two Abel Tasman sea kayaking companies that I personally recommend and know provide a good service. (My personal opinion from working at the Abel Tasman centre!)

Both companies provide safety briefings before heading out and supply all of the gear needed for your journey including, paddles, spray skirts, dry bags (to put your camera and phones in) and PLBs (personal locator beacons). Only some of the tours provide lunch so unless this is stated in their tour option bring your own food and plenty of water!

kayaking in abel tasman at te pukatea bay with marahau sea kayaks

Abel Tasman kayaking with Marahau Sea Kayaks

Make sure to print and download a map of the park (thanks to ATK) because it will make it easier understanding the trips!! Click here to head to the PDF kayak Abel Tasman National Park map.

Located in Marahau just behind the main shop/dairy on Sandy Bay Marahau Road. They run both guided and unguided tours and require a safety briefing no matter what tour you take. They have options ranging from a half-day – 5 days and are a company with fun, energetic and down to earth guides. Let’s take a little look at their trip options.

Guided kayak tours

For some, the guided tours will be the best option. Abel Tasman guided tours are the most expensive option but are recommended for those that have no previous kayaking experience. As well as, those that want the support, comfort and knowledge from a guide plus, handy tips and information about the park. If you are travelling solo then a guided trip is your only option!

There is a range of guided tours that differ slightly in the duration and location around the park. Most trips incorporate a hike but some incorporate a hike, water taxi or both! Just FYI the kayaking section of the trips are guided but the hiking is not, this is all self-directed!

But don’t worry there are plenty of signs and maps to get your hands on! This is also something that is a great option for all skill levels as you can either challenge yourself with your hike options or take a shorter walk and spend some time on the beach taking in the scenery.

freedom kayaking in abel tasman with marahau sea kayaks

Half-Day guided options: (From $150)

There are 2 guided half day trips to check out with MSK running in the Southern section of the park from Marahau – Observation beach.

  • Blast and Walk: Kayak the most Southern part of the track from Marahau- Observation Beach and walk back to Marahau. (This can be done in either direction depending on the guide and group numbers). It is an awesome Abel Tasman kayak and walk option. 
  • Half Day Blast: Again, in the Southern section of the park water taxi to Observation Beach and kayak back to Marahau. (This trip can run in reverse).

Full Day Guided Options (From $140- $245).

There are much more full-day guided options. If you’re coming to the park you may as well get the bang for your buck! (Check out a PDF map of the park from ATK by clicking here).

  • Fantasy Island: Travelling in the Southern section of the park from Marahau – Observation beach and back.
  • Gourmet Platter: A little bit more exciting than the half-day trip. Catch a water taxi from Marahau – Torrent Bay. Get your walking shoes on and hike between Torrent Bay and Bark Bay. Then, catch a water taxi from Bark Bay- Observation Beach and finish with a kayak from there back to Marahau! A full-on day!
  • Magical Marine Reserve: This is the most popular trip as it runs in the most scenic part of the park. Catch a water taxi from Marahau- Onetahuti and then kayak the stretch between Onetahuti – Anchorage Bay. Finish with a water taxi from Anchorage bay – Marahau.
  • Abel Tasman Platter: Kayak from Marahau – Observation Beach and then take a short walk from Observation Beach – Anchorage Bay. Finish with a water taxi back to Marahau!
  • Best Of Both Worlds: Grab a water taxi from Marahau – Onetahuti Beach then depart on your kayaking journey south to Bark Bay. From there catch a water taxi back to Marahau.
  • PM Paddle: Catch a water taxi from Marahau – Bark Bay and then kayak from Bark Bay – Anchorage Bay. Then catch a water taxi from Anchorage bay back to Marahau!

Multi-Day Guided Options (From $260)

MSK has two multi-day guided kayaking Abel Tasman options. They include a walk, water taxi and kayak!

  • Ocean and Earth: Is a 2 day guided kayak trip. On the first day, you join the Magical Marine Reserve Tour (described above) and camp at Anchorage Bay overnight. The next day you hike from Anchorage back to Marahau.
  • Homeward Bound: An epic trip taking 3 days. Day 1 is a water taxi from Marahau – Totaranui and then a hike from there to Onetahuti. The next day joins the Magical Marine Reserve Tour (described above) and finishing with an overnight camp at Anchorage Bay. The last day is a self-guided hike from Anchorage back to Marahau.

happy chappy kayaking in abel tasman at te pukatea bay

Freedom (unguided) Kayak Options: (From $75)

Freedom kayaking (unguided kayaking) is a cheaper option and an Abel Tasman National Park kayaking experience I recommend to see the park at your leisure. But, only if you have had previous kayaking experience or feel confident enough!

Freedom kayaking options range from 1 – 5 days and there has to be a minimum of 2 people. So if you’re travelling on your own a guided trip it is! Unless you can find a buddy which honestly some people do! Ask around at your hostel if you are staying at one or even ask the kayaking companies if they know of anyone.

When I worked at the Abel Tasman Centre people would often come in asking for a kayak buddy. I would usually write their name down and give them a call if someone else was interested to go with them! So don’t be discouraged if you are by yourself you may find someone!

Freedom kayaking is my favourite type of kayaking because of the freedom involved. The difference between the trips is pretty simple. One is a full day kayak tour and one is a kayak and water taxi, both trips are possible to be made into a half-day.

  • Freedom Islands: Leave from Marahau and kayak north around Adele Island or hug the coastline as far north as Observation beach, turn around and come back. This trip is supposed to take a full day but if you are short on time just head back to Marahau when you need too.
  • Freedom Anchorage (only to Observation Beach if you’re doing a half-day): Technically the Freedom Anchorage trip is a full-day tour. It can be made half-day by kayaking from Marahau – Observation Beach and then catching a taxi back to Marahau. For a full day, kayak all the way to Anchorage and catch a water taxi back to Marahau!

Multi-Day freedom kayaking adventures (From $150).

There are a few options for multi-day freedom kayak tours.

  • Freedom Tonga: Spend 2 days kayaking north from Marahau – Onetahuti beach staying at a campsite of your choice. I would recommend Anchorage Bay. Then, catch a water taxi from Onetahuti bay back to Marahau.
  • Freedom Totaranui: Is the same as freedom Tonga but you spend a 3rd day walking from Onetahuti to Totaranaui and then catching a water taxi back to Marahau.
  • 2-5 day freedom: Take your time and spend as long as you like kayaking throughout the park but heading only as far north as Onetahuti Bay.

kayaking in abel tasman a photo of abel tasman kayaks

Kayaking the Abel Tasman with Abel Tasman Kayaks

ATK is located around the corner from Marahau Sea Kayaks on Sandy Bay Marahau Road and offers similar trips to Marahau Sea Kayaks, both guided and unguided. As well as having some pretty awesome kayak guides.

I believe ATK is one of the most popular options for kayaking in the park. I think it is because they offer a pretty good service and advertise well! I’m not going to go into as much detail as I did with MSK simply because I don’t want to confuse you as most of the trips are the same. I have provided links to their handy website which will help you out if you’re considering going with these guys.

Guided Options

Half-Day Tours: (From $165)

They have the same half-day tours as MSK mentioned above. Click here to have a look! 

Full-Day (From $140)

They have more of a range of day options for you to choose from, I have outlined the trips that are different to MSK below!

  • Kayak and Pitt Head Nature Loop: Kayak from Marahau – Observation beach and then walk north from Observation Beach – Anchorage (and around the Pitt Head loop walk). Head back to Anchorage Abel Tasman for your water taxi back to Marahau.
  • The Two Gods: Water taxi to Awaroa. Kayak from Awaroa – Onetahuti. Walk from Onetahuti- Bark Bay and then water taxi back to Marahau!
  • Remote Coast: Water taxi to Awaroa. Kayak from Awaroa – Bark Bay. Water taxi from Bark Bay back to Marahau.
  • 5 day & 7-day tours: These run the entire length of the park to golden bay and have to be requested.

Multi-Day guided trips (From $375)

They have more of a range in their multi-day guided tours than MSK. They actually have quite a few to choose from and go into quite a bit of detail! If you are interested in any of Abel Tasman Kayaks multi-day trips click the links below.

Unguided options

Freedom Abel Tasman kayak rental

They do pretty much the exact same freedom rentals as MSK ranging from 1 – 5 days. Their price range starts at $85 making MSK slightly cheaper!

my favourite day kayaking in abel tasman jumping for joy on te pukatea bay

Valuable tips to keep in mind before you book a Kayaking Tour in the Abel Tasman 

How difficult is an Abel Tasman kayak trip?

I would say medium difficulty.

What does that even mean?! Haha well…

If you’re prepared to get a little wet, feel like a bit of a dork and learn how to use your abs while paddling. The guided kayaking trips are designed for people who have zero experience. Meaning it’s pretty easy to pick up!

This is because the kayaks are double meaning you have more support and stability. The Freedom kayak trips are aimed at people with previous kayaking experience or who are confident on the water.

You can only rent a double kayak so there is a minimum of 2 people required. The minimum age for guided kayaking tours NZ is 12 years old, the minimum age for unguided kayaking is 14 years.

Basically, not that hard! It will just hurt your arms after a while if you aren’t used to paddling!

Photo credit Tyler Lastovich on Unsplash

What to expect on a trip kayaking in the Abel Tasman

Good times! Well, hopefully! Kayaking in the Abel Tasman is full of some of the most stunning scenery. Even in the rain kayaking is a good time. Often when it is raining the conditions on the sea are calmer meaning paddling is easier! Basically you are in for some awesome views of seals, wildlife, stunning golden beaches and a pretty cool view of the beech forrest next to you.

The Abel Tasman Coast Track is roughly 60km long and is probably even longer by kayak. You are only able to kayak the entire length of the park if you have your own kayak or, are going with a private group or, are with a company that offers a full-length trip. But, most companies only run in a section of the park. This is actually okay as every section of the park is beautiful!

What to bring on an Abel Tasman kayaking trip

On your confirmation email with any of the companies they will supply you with a list of stuff to bring related to your trip but as a basic guide bring the following:

  • Water bottle
  • T-Shirt, shorts
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Snacks
  • Sunhat
  • Jersey/warm top
  • Jandals
  • Towel + togs
  • Camera
  • Phone
  • Bug spray
  • Change of clothes
  • For overnight trips check out ATK’s list of kayaking gear. Click here. 

Photo credit Tyler Lastovich on Unsplash

The best Abel Tasman kayaking trip

I’ve only ever been on a 1-day kayaking adventure. Mainly because I get sore arms after paddling for more than a couple of hours and also because didn’t have the chance to do any other trips! But there’s always time for that since NZ is my home. For those of you who can’t easily access the park you’ll want to smash out as many activities as you possibly can while you’re here! Right?!


The best kayak tour Abel Tasman trip I recommend to get the most bang for your buck and to give you a good taster of the Abel Tasman park is a trip called Freedom Anchorage which is run by Marahau Sea Kayaks. (MSK).

This trip seems to be my go-to! Simply because of the freedom involved. So, I guess you could say it is rightly named! As the name suggests you head into Anchorage Bay. Starting off in Marahau. You’ll paddle all the way up to Anchorage bay, leave your kayak there and catch a water taxi back to Marahau.

The trip takes roughly 3 hours but can be shorter if you’re hussing it up the park. Or longer if you’re dilly-dallying next to the seals like you’ll probably want to do!

What happens on the Freedom Anchorage kayaking trip?

The trip starts out like any other with a briefing at the kayak base which, is actually one of the best parts because you get to make an absolute egg of yourself! Or not. Up to you.

The briefing takes roughly 1 hour.

You get to practise paddling and exiting the kayak and are given all the safety information and equipment you need to make the most of your journey. The briefing moves from the land to water where you get a little test to see if you a ready to tackle the elements!

Don’t worry because the guides will stay with you until they think you are ready. Hardly anyone ever has to return to base without kayaking. This generally only happens if you don’t feel confident enough!

The kayak trip starts out low key, paddling in a straight line towards the coast. From there you can either hug the coastline or head out to Adele Island. One time I (and my buddy) headed straight for Adele Island but got a little tired before we made it and ended up paddling in the middle of the coast next to Adele Island and the mainland. If you take anything out of this post this is it

sitting in a kayak in abel tasman national park

Don’t paddle in the middle of the ocean as there is nothing to see!!!

Get yourself to the coastline or out to Adele Island. I would suggest hugging the coastline and exploring the caves near Stillwell bay (if it is high tide). Also, paddling next to the beautiful beaches is absolutely stunning.

Once you’re in line with the top of Adele Island I would shoot across to see the seals which are located at the northern tip (you will get an Abel Tasman park map and told where to go in your briefing).

Then I recommend heading for Te Pukatea bay (one of my favourite beaches in the park!). Look at how beautiful it is! To learn more about the best beaches in the Abel Tasman click here to view my post! 

We stopped here and had a bite to eat and enjoyed the view as well as getting totally saturated with an epic fail of an exit. For some reason, I jumped out a bit too quick and water rushed into my section of the kayak.

The hardest bit was getting into the kayak again. Safe to say we took on a bit of water! The second hardest bit was paddling through the Mad Mile (just around the corner from Anchorage bay). See the highlighted red bit of the map below.

It’s known to get rather windy there. Once you make it to Anchorage bay I recommend paddling around a bit and if it’s high tide you should definitely pop into the little cove at the end of the beach. It’s a nice tranquil spot to enjoy your surroundings and not as busy as the main beach.

Alright. Hopefully, you got a good taster of the Freedom Anchorage trip but don’t worry if that doesn’t tickle your fancy as there are MANY, MANY more kayaking options to explore.

How to book one of the kayak tours

Okay, so maybe now I have convinced you to go kayaking in the Abel Tasman? I hope so! If you’re interested in booking an Abel Tasman tours with Marahau Sea Kayaks head on over to their website by clicking here.

Their website is pretty easy to navigate but if you are unsure of what to book just flick them an email or give them a call!

If you’re interested in booking a kayak trip with Abel Tasman Kayaks head on over to their website by clicking here. Their website is very easy to navigate and they have great downloadable maps giving you everything you need to know about the trip!

Other Abel Tasman kayak tour options

I only covered 2 companies in the park because they all run a similar operation. But if you’re not keen on any of the companies above no worries, there are other Abel Tasman kayak hire options. There are around 6 kayak companies running in the Abel Tasman National Park! The other companies I would recommend are:

kayaking in abel tasman with my friends!

Where to stay in the Abel Tasman National Park

You may be tired after your kayaking adventure! I recommend staying at one of the following:

Marahau Beach Camp- Is an awesome camping option situated in Marahau directly across the road from the Abel Tasman Centre.

Luxury Accommodation Abel Tasman- Split Apple Retreat is an incredible option to enjoy a luxury health retreat lodge! It is located between Kaiteriteri and Marahau. Awaroa Lodge is another stunning option located in the National Park itself.

Hostel Abel Tasman- The Barn backpackers is a quirky and vibrant backpackers in the Abel Tasman National Park. Only minutes walk from the entrance!

Hotel Abel Tasman- Abel Tasman Lodge is an awesome option in Marahau with spacious and chalet-style accommodation. I definitely recommend checking out!

To book huts or accommodation in the National Park you will need to head to the Department of Conservation website here. 

Loved this article on Kayaking in Abel Tasman? Pin the images below for later!

Other helpful articles for you: 

Everything you need to know about hiking the Abel Tasman Coast Track! 

Try an epic canyoning experience in the Abel Tasman National Park! 


  1. Liane Hickling says

    Thanks for this really helpful review. Do any of the company’s hire single kayaks or just doubles? My husband and I are seakayakers in the UK and competent and would be happier solo.

    • Lee says

      Hi Liane. You’re welcome. I know for sure the companies hire single kayaks if you are going on a group trip. It would be best to contact the companies directly and ask if you could hire 2 individual kayaks letting them know your experience. I would recommend chatting to Abel Tasman Kayaks 🙂

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