Abel Tasman National Park


The Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand's smallest national park, is now a ‘must-walk' for many tourists, but not so long ago it was well off the beaten track.

On 7 May, 1957, the Nelson Evening Mail described the area as "a stretch of little known coastline.....only a few miles from modern highways and speeding traffic, it is difficult of access except from sea and remains in much the same state as in pre-historic eras."

Abel Tasman National Park Abel Tasman National Park [Lindsay Vaughan, 2006]
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Abel Tasman sailed past in 1642, James Cook saw it in a fog in 1770, but Rear Admiral Dumont d'Urville  was the first known European to anchor in its still waters in 1827 and record his impressions of the ‘majestic scene' surrounding them.

According to John and Hilary Mitchell in Te Tau Ihu o te Waka (Volume 1), when d'Urville anchored in Tasman Bay, the Māori in the area were possibly Ngāti Kuia and/or Ngāti Apa, with Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri  slaves. D'Urville noticed the distinction commenting that "half of these people seemed to be of high rank, judging by their tattooing, and the distinguished appearance of their faces."

Abel Tasman National Park Abel Tasman National Park [Lindsay Vaughan, 2006]
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Just fourteen years later in 1841, the first European settlers stumbled ashore after their long arduous journey from England on the first ships - the Will Watch, Whitby and Arrow. Between 1854 and 1857, about 26 pioneering European families lived along the coastline, with some palatial homes being built in the bays. The key activities were farming, timber milling and ship-building. With few roads, the sheltered waters of Tasman Bay were a-flutter with schooners, cutters, brigs and barques.

But by the 1930s, the settlers and builders had left this beautiful, but remote area, and only holidaymakers and fishermen remained.

One land owner of the time, Don Brownlie remembered early holidays when trampers were rarities and tracks and conditions were primitive. Fish were so plentiful, they could be caught on demand; dredging just a few hundred metres, produced as many as ten dozen scallops. A craypot set overnight could catch four or five crayfish - "there were always enough for a meal," he commented laconically to the Nelson Evening Mail in 1988.

Mrs Moncrieff signing new book, Dec 1976Mrs Moncrieff signing new book, Dec 1976 The Nelson Provincial Museum, Geoffrey C Wood Collection, 2708 fr7
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In 1936, Captain H.M. Moncrieff and his wife Perrine, bought 502 acres at Astrolabe. No sooner was the land bought, than it was gazetted as a private scenic reserve. A crusader, who had formed the Nelson Bush and Bird Society in 1928, Mrs Moncreiff was described as a woman of strong convictions, with an irrepressible sense of humour and an intense interest in people.

In the summer of 1937, Mrs Moncreiff heard of a proposal to mill native timber at Tōtaranui. She began lobbying Government and persuaded seven local bodies in the district to endorse a petition to declare 38,819 acres of Crown Land and State Forest a National Park.

The petition was granted by Government in November 1942 and the official opening was held at Kaiteriteri on 19 December 1942. Queen Wilhelmina, the late Queen Mother of the Netherlands, was the Park's first Patroness.

A 1957 Nelson Evening Mail article waxed eloquent about the area: "On a summer's day the diaphanous blue veil of the sky hovers over gleaming golden sands and mirrored lagoons which drowse peacefully in the sparkling brilliance of sun."

Written by Joy Stephens and published in Wild Tomato, 2008, with the support of The Nelson Provincial Museum. Updated December 2020

The information in this article is from resources available at the Nelson Provincial Museum's Isel Park Research Archives. For more information see http://www.nelsonmuseum.co.nz/

Sources used in this story

  • Mitchell, H & J (2004) Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka: A History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough, Vol I The People and the land. Wellington, N.Z. : Huia Publishers. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/63170610
  • Nelson Evening Mail 

Want to find out more about the Abel Tasman National Park ? View Further Sources here.

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  • Hi thanks for this awesome information my family has a Bach in the able Tasman national park and have found this website great to learn about for a school project and for personal use I now know how the park was created!

    Thanks a lot

    Posted by Lily, 20/10/2016 12:18pm (7 years ago)

  • i am from renwick school. we are going on the abel tasman walk and we have to do a assignment on abel tasman and i found this info awesome
    Hello Alissa. Thanks for the comment. Ed.

    Posted by Alissa Marks (12), ()

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Further sources - Abel Tasman National Park


  • Baker, M. (1996). Perrine's park: An environmental, ecofeminist history of the creation of Abel Tasman National Park. B.A. (Hons.) thesis. Dunedin: University of Otago.
  • Dennis, A. (1985). A park for all seasons: The story of Abel Tasman National Park. Wellington, N.Z.: N.Z. Lands and Survey.
  • Dorfman, E. & Gasperini, A. (2005). Abel Tasman National Park in Sanctuary: New Zealand's spectacular nature reserves (pp. 95-107). Auckland, New Zealand: Penguin; New Zealand. Dept.of Conservation.
  • Hewson, P. (1996). Abel Tasman Coastal Track In New Zealand's great walks (pp. 33-46). Auckland, New Zealand: Hodder Moa Beckett
  • Hodge, R. (1993). Creating a park: Perrine Moncrieff and the Abel Tasman National Park: a research essay submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in History.
  • Homer, L. & Molloy, L. (1988). Abel Tasman National Park in The fold of the land: New Zealand's national parks from the air (pp. 120-127). Wellington, New Zealand: Allen & Unwin; Dept. of Scientific and Industrial Research.
  • Host, E. & Abel Tasman National Park Board (1962) Abel Tasman National Park: A handbook for Visitors. Christchurch, New Zealand. Abel Tasman National Park Board
  • Johnson, G. (1976). Abel Tasman National Park. Christchurch, New Zealand: Bascands. [held Tasman District Library]
  • Moncrieff, P.(1943?). History of the vicinity of the Abel Tasman National Park. Nelson, New Zealand: Perrine Moncrieff.
  • Pascoe, J. (1974). Abel Tasman in National Parks of New Zealand (pp. 64-75).3rd ed. Wellington, New Zealand: A. R. Shearer, Govt. Printer.
  • Simpson, P. (2018) Down the BayNelson, New Zealand : Potton & Burton.
  • Tremain, L. R. (1977). Bibliography for Abel Tasman National Park. Wellington, New Zealand: National Parks Authority, Dept. of Lands and Survey.


  • Abel Tasman boundary extension plan gets support (1995, January 10) The Press, 10
  • Abel Tasman marine reserve site identified (Conservation Dept identifies site for new marine park) (1992, December 24) The Dominion, 2
  • Dick, Allan (Aug/Sep 2007). The Abel Tasman. NZ today, 23, 96-98,101
  • Glossary of coastal names (1976, August). Journal of the Nelson Historical Society, 3 (.2), 22-27. 
  • Land bought for Abel Tasman National Park (1969) Forest and Bird, 171, p.12
  • Mackay, Deirdre. (May 2000). Who were these early engravers? Tu mai : offering an indigenous New Zealand perspective,13, 6-8 
  • Park's popularity brings problems (1992, December 17), The Press, 13


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