Cruising Guide: Abel Tasman
French Pass to Nelson to Farewell Spit
The Abel Tasman area’s main claim to fame is it’s beautiful national park - comprising some 40 miles of sheltered and varied coastline – golden sand beaches are interspersed with outcrops of enormous boulders covered with fur seals. Some of it’s better known beaches stretch for miles, while others are hidden away and so tiny the sunbathers would have to be stacked.
Quiet estuaries and native bush clad hillsides are home to penguins, herons and all manner of birdlife while a stream of trampers grunt their way along the world famous walking tracks, camping grounds and lodges. It is a great place to drop off any crew members in need of exercise, a regime easily enforced by collecting them further along the coast.
The ideal vessel for an Abel Tasman Park sailing holiday is one with a sufficiently shallow draft to sneak in to one of the many tidal lagoons that lie behind the beaches. Motor or pole your way in at high tide, anchor on the sand and spend as long as you like happily re-acquainting yourself with the earth and tracking sand through the boat.
Torrent Bay, in the middle of Abel Tasman Park, provides the only really good big boat anchorage. It is a superb spot, tucked behind the western side of a protecting headland that ensures an agreeably long sunset and shelter from any wind direction. A sweep of golden beach is about the right length to work up a breakfast appetite. There is a Department of Conservation (DOC) camp ground at the Eastern end of the beach with showers, washing facilities and hordes of admiring international trampers ready to believe any salty lies you are inclined to tell them. (Slip the DOC ranger a few dollars for the use of the shower)
It is a four hour sail from the Abel Tasman side to d'Urville Island in the east, but with Farewell Spit protecting it from anything rough out of the Tasman Sea, the mountains as a backdrop and a summer’s sea breeze, the time slips away unnoticed.
During winter, when there is typically no wind at all, the scallop season provides a marvellous excuse to hire a boat out of Nelson for the day. Load it up with friends (there’s scallop per head quota), wine (the region is famous for its wine) a picnic lunch (the scallops have to be landed intact) and motor slowly up and down the scallop beds towing your dredge.
The place to find the charter fleet is in Nelson, the region’s biggest town. The port is protected by a natural 12km bank of boulders sensibly named the Boulder Bank. The council owned marina is at the northern end of the harbour and is accessed by taking the first right turn off Highway 6 when you hit town en route from Picton. If you are flying in take a taxi from the airport to town which is a 9km drive.