With all this rain in Wellington, I find myself dreaming of summer in Golden Bay at Christmas time last year. That statement in itself is strange to write: I haven’t yet got used to winter being in the middle of the year and summer being over Christmas – it just doesn’t feel right! Winter in Wellington isn’t that bad
aside from the single figure temperatures, gale-force winds and constant rain, but it has become the time for me to share sunnier memories with you.
James and I spent around a week exploring Golden Bay in December 2015. We spent Christmas in an Eco-Pod in Collingwood Park Motel, and a few more days in campsites around the area. Despite December being the high season in New Zealand, the area wasn’t too busy. Golden Bay isn’t firmly on the tourist trail of the South Island because it’s kind of out of the way; you have to go up one road to get there and take the same road to get back. However, despite the journey, a visit to Golden Bay is worth it if your itinerary will allow it.
Golden Bay is located in the Tasman region at the northern end of the South Island and is most well-known for Farewell Spit, a 26km long stretch of sand that protects the bay from the harsh weather of the Wild West Coast. The weather in Golden Bay is fine, the people are friendly, the vibe is relaxed, and there are lots of things to see and do – though you could easily do nothing but relax. Here are my recommendations for a visit.
The road to Golden Bay itself offers much to see and do – and you may want to take a break from driving, as it’s a long, winding road passing over Takaka Hill… as New Zealanders would say, it’s pretty gnarly!
Just before the summit of the hill is a turning towards Canaan Downs, which is at the end of an 11km-long gravel road (drive slowly!) The scenery here was featured in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, but in reality it’s not that glamorous, just hills and sheep. You can camp here for $6/night.
I recommend you walk to the famous Harwood’s Hole – a huge crevice in the ground which is the deepest vertical shaft in New Zealand at 176m. It’s impressive but you cannot see all the way to the bottom. The cave is off-limits to the inexperienced and you should take care when viewing it; there are no barriers so you could topple in…
Also worth a look is a spectacular lookout which is signposted from the track towards Harwood’s Hole. The view is absolutely stunning – if you can stand the vertigo!
James and I didn’t visit these caves, but from the sounds of it they are well worth a visit according to my trusty Lonely Planet Guidebook. You can explore the stalagmites and stalactites of the underground complex with a tour guide, and see a variety of bones from the Moa, a huge, flightless bird driven to extinction when the first Māori arrived in New Zealand. The website is here.
Takaka is the first town you will reach when arriving in Golden Bay. It’s small with a relaxed, friendly vibe; the people are always keen to stop for a chat. This is a town with a lot of hippies, and accordingly, a lot of boutique shops selling elephant pants and incense. It’s a good place to base yourself for some or all of your visit in Golden Bay.
These springs are an absolute must when visiting Golden Bay. Nicknamed the “Pupu” Springs, they are the largest freshwater springs in the whole of New Zealand and produce around 14,000 litres of water per second – enough to fill 40 bathtubs! The most striking thing about the Springs however, is their colour: blue, blue, blue.
The Springs are hugely important for local Māori people: they are a taonga (treasure) and a waahi tapu (sacred place). The pure water should not be touched for this reason – though you may see other tourists turning up in their swimsuits, hoping to take a dip!
There is a short walk through the trees and moss-covered limestone rocks to a lookout across the fields to the sea. Although the forest isn’t deep, the walkway is kind of eery as it’s so quiet and the rocks are at times uncomfortably close to one another…
The Labyrinth Rocks are located in a reserve similar to Grove, however this has been made into an attraction of sorts. The limestone rocks have formed in a maze-like formation, which you can explore at your own will. There are free maps at the entrance. Look out for the toy figurines (and skulls…)
A 30 min walk up the river brings you to the foot of Wainui Falls. You’ll pass through the forest and across a swing bridge where there is a pool – bring your swimsuit on a warm day.
Being situated so close by, you can’t not take a hike through the famous Abel Tasman National Park. Starting at Wainui car park, hiking part of the Abel Tasman Coast Track makes for a perfect day out as you walk along the coast, through the forest and alongside picturesque beaches. Take the time to stop at the many bays and inlets en route – and don’t forget your togs (swimsuit)! We walked to Mutton Cove where we had lunch and took the same route back.
A couple of weeks prior to our day hike, we walked the Abel Tasman Coast Track from Marahau to Totaranui and it was AMAZING. You can read about that here.
En route to Collingwood from Takaka, you’ll come across the famous Mussel Inn, one of the most loved pubs in New Zealand. They offer hearty food and live music in a rustic setting nestled amongst the trees – ideal for those warm summer nights. All of the beers, ales, ciders, soft drinks and house wines are brewed onsite at the Mussel Inn: you could choose a ‘Captain Cooker Manuka Beer’ or a ‘Pale Whale IPA’ – or better still, get a tasting paddle and have one of everything!
The reason I liked the Mussel Inn so much was for it’s attention to the environment – from using LED light bulbs to self-composting toilets, they make green choices with every initiative.
Here’s a link to their website to get your tastebuds tingling!
Wharariki Beach is one of those treasures that you come across and instantly fall in love with. It’s about a 20 minute walk from the car park across the farmland. The vast white sands stretch out to the crashing waves of the Wild West Coast. Seals sunbathe and splash about in the pools and chase each other through the rocks. It’s most famous for its Archway Islands which make a picture-perfect landscape.
Please keep your distance if you are lucky enough to see seals on Wharariki beach or elsewhere in New Zealand. A respectful distance is 10 metres. Do not get between them and the sea as this will make them feel uncomfortable.
This incredible feature has been shaped by wind and water and continues to grow. It is New Zealand’s longest sand spit and a protected nature reserve due to the huge number of birds it sees, including many migratory birds during the summer months. You can explore part of the Spit by foot, but not past a certain point; you’ll need to explore with a tour provider.
Golden Bay is the northern gateway to Kahurangi National Park, the second largest National Park in New Zealand. Kahurangi means ‘treasured possession’ in Māori. The park is most well known for the Heaphy Track, one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. James and I haven’t hiked this one but have heard endless good things about it. The route was used by local māori for hundreds of years on their quest to find precious pounamu (greenstone) on the West Coast; it finishes near Karamea.
Thanks for reading and happy travels!
Disclaimer: All the photos used in this post are my own. Some links are affiliate links which help to run this site.