The Story of Wilsons Abel Tasman

Download the article here in PDF format

The Wilson family’s association with tourism in the Nelson region began in 1977 with John Wilson rowing passengers ashore at Torrent Bay in Abel Tasman National Park from Matangi, a boat he had built himself. The family business evolved as a model for sustainable tourism, including boats, lodges, walking and sea kayaking, leading to John Wilson being honoured in 2008 with a Queen’s Service Medal for services to tourism.

Back in 1977, after the only boat operating a commercial service in the National Park was wrecked in a storm, local residents started to hitch rides with John to Torrent Bay. To take on the responsibility of a regular passenger service, the Matangi was surveyed to commercial standard to operate for a summer season that lasted only two weeks.

At that time, John with his wife Lynette and four infant children spent their summer holidays at their small cottage on the edge of Torrent Bay beach. Lynette sold her paintings and local crafts from a tent in the garden of the "bach". She welcomed visitors ashore with a cup of tea and an invitation to browse.

As the children grew, they started showing visitors around "The Bay". In 1982, the family worked with Department of Conservation to create the first guided walk concession to operate in Abel Tasman National Park. The cottage on Torrent Bay beachfront had its first rebuild and extension to enable visitors to stay overnight in the Park. Tourism wasn’t considered a suitable investment by public banks so the family relied on private benefactor, (Sir) Roy McKenzie, to loan them the capital to start their business.

In the early 1990s, the Wilsons were looking to extend their guided trips to include the length of the Abel Tasman Coast Track from Marahau to Totaranui. Lynette inherited land at Awaroa where, in 1884, her great grandparents had built a grand homestead, Meadowbank, so the family decided to rebuild the homestead in 1994. This enabled them to preserve diaries, letters and photographs covering five generations of family stories as well as allowing them to extend their guided trips.

Over the years, the Wilson family has continuously upgraded their lodges, boats and services as technologies are developed to provide modern conveniences with minimum impact on the environment. Guided sea kayaking was introduced in 1995. The state-of-the-art Vista Cruise catamaran, launched in 2009, was flagship for the family’s win in Tourism New Zealand’s Innovating for Success Awards in 2010.

Darryl Wilsons says, "Our family has seen the change in attitude from the early settler’s goal to 'break in the land' to the realisation that we must preserve our heritage for future generations."


  • Mid 1960s
    John Wilson builds a launch, Matangi, at his home in Riwaka, for family holidays in the Park.
  • 1968
    John’s wife, Lynette buys a holiday cottage at Torrent Bay.  
  • 1977
    Matangi is surveyed to operate as a commercial eighteen-passenger vessel. Family business started as Abel Tasman National Park Enterprises.
  • 1982
    Wilson family granted first guided walk concession in the Abel Tasman. Torrent Bay cottage extended and refurbished for guided walk overnight stays in the National Park. John Wilson buys and restores the historic launch Ponui.
  • 1984   
    Third launch Waingaro purchased. Coach service introduced: Nelson to Kaiteriteri (now operated by ScenicNZ coachlines).
  • 1988   
    Abel Tasman Explorer, 145-seat passenger launch, purpose-built in Nelson with legendary NZ boat builder, Jack Guard.
  • 1994    
    John Wilson and family rebuild the Hadfield’s (Lynette’s great grandparents) original homestead after Lynette inherits land at Awaroa. Meadowbank Homestead at Awaroa operates as a 22-bed lodge with ensuite bathrooms to be included on their Guided Walks.
  • 1995   
    Introduction of a Sea Kayaking options to the guided trips.
  • 1999   
    Awaroa Legacy published; co-authored by Lynette Wilson and Carol Dawber.
  • 2000   
    Family wins its first national tourism award: NZ Tourism Industry Awards - Outdoor Activity.
  • 2001   
    Third rebuild of Torrent Bay Lodge to include 13 twin/double ensuite rooms.   
  • 2003   
    Winners of Tasman District Council’s Cultural Heritage award.
  • 2004   
    Winner Large Business of the Year at Our Town Motueka Business Awards
    Assisted local Iwi of Wakatu Corporation with their entry into the tourism industry.
  • 2005   
    Rebranding to highlight Wilson name with unique sea fern logo.
  • 2006    
    Winner Qualmark Mark of Quality at New Zealand Tourism  Industry Awards.
    Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce Business Awards Overall Winner.
  • 2007   
    Qualmark Assessment score of 98%.  Finalists New Zealand Tourism Awards.  
  • 2008   
    John Wilson awarded Queen’s Service Medal in New Year’s honours list for services to the tourism industry.
    Solar assisted power & hot water installed at both Lodges. 
    Finalists Inbound Tourism Operators Council Operator of the Year Award. 
    Meadowbank Homestead guest accommodation rebuilt and original rooms recycled as 2 self-contained holiday cottages. 
    State-of-the-art catamaran, Abel Tasman Voyager, launched on Christmas Day to operate new Vista Cruise services in the National Park.
  • 2010    
    Third national tourism award: judged best Visitor Attraction and Experience (small and medium) at 2010 NZ Tourism Industry Awards, Innovating for Success.
  • 2011-13   
    New-look website designed with purpose-built booking software and upgraded computer servers to introduce real-time online booking.
  • 2013   
    First company operating in Abel Tasman National Park to be awarded the Qualmark Enviro Gold standard.
  • 2014   
    New Hyundai L500 marine engines installed in the Abel Tasman Voyager to increase comfort, reliability and fuel efficiency.  
  • 2015   
    Move to new base premises, purpose built at 409 High St, Motueka, to improve staff and visitor experience at our operational hub..
  • 2017   
    Vista II cruising catamaran launched to replace two Vigour Water Taxis, and allow for four Vista Cruise departures every day through the High Season.
    Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce Large Business Winner
  • 2019   
    Finalists for the Qualmark 100% Pure New Zealand Experience Award.