The 22,530ha Abel Tasman National Park is not only New Zealand's smallest national park but also its sunniest region. Its golden beaches, sculptured granite cliffs and world-famous coastal track are good to visit any time of year.
Maori lived along the coast for at least 500 years pre European settlement, gathering food from the sea in their waka tangata (carved canoes), fishing the estuaries, hunting in the forests and growing kumera.
European settlement began in 1855. Forests were logged for homes and ship building, granite was quarried and hillsides fired to create pasture. Prosperity existed until easy timber was gone and hills were covered with gorse and bracken.
These days, vegetation cover varies and reflects a history of fires and land clearance, but forests are regenerating, particularly in damp gullies where there is a rich variety of plants. Black beech dominates drier ridges.
Common forest birds such as tui and bellbirds can be seen around estuaries and wetlands. You will probably also spot seals, deer, goats and wild pigs.
Waka Tours offers guided tours in the national park. You paddle a waka tangata with qualified guides, while learning about Maori culture. Owners Tania and Glen Gribben are Maori and have the experience to explain the Maori way of life, how their people lived, teaching passengers the special waka salute and pointing out an old fortified Maori village known as a pa.
Lunch is taken at Split Apple Rock Beach where you can lie back and take it all in and enjoy a refreshing swim.