Separated from the rest of the world by one big ol’ hill, the isolation of Golden Bay is one of its biggest charms.
Unique, isolated & utterly charming, Golden Bay is separated from the rest of New Zealand by Takaka Hill which can cause problems for anybody susceptible to carsickness. Whatever the temporary discomfort, the trip to Golden Bay is always worth it.
Full of lush green valleys, dairy farms, and long sweeping bays, the natural environment is stunning. There really is no other part of New Zealand quite like Golden Bay. It may have the more artists and creative types per capita than any other part of the country, but it is also home to some very traditional rural communities.
Takaka, a charming rural village, is the largest town in Golden Bay with a population of just over 1,300 people. Collingwood is an even smaller village, located on a sometimes wild and windswept beach, flanked on another side by a large tidal estuary. There are other small communities and holiday houses scattered along the coast around the large crescent shaped bay that is Golden Bay.
Golden Bay has a charm and vibe very much of its own, and is quite unlike anywhere else on the planet. Local residents seem to have invented and installed a large scale anti-stress device somewhere in the area as it is physically impossible not to feel relaxed and at ease in the place. Golden Bay is another favourite holiday spot for locals and visitors from overseas looking for somewhere off the beaten track.
Golden Bay is the northern access point for the Abel Tasman National Park.
Golden Bay has some of the most remote, wild and wonderful spots in New Zealand. The western coast is full of long, windswept beaches, huge sand dunes, massive wetland areas, huge tidal estuaries, and rocky outcrops that belong to another planet.
Wharariki is perhaps the most accessible of these beaches, but is still a 20 minute walk across farmland from an unsealed road. It is well worth the effort though with an amazing, beautiful beach, funky rock formations and a large NZ fur seal colony.
Further down the coast is the expansive Whanganui Inlet, a wonderful combination of tidal estuary, and wetlands. The fishing out this far is wonderful because it’s well protected by the weather. Recreational boats can only access the outer areas of the coast across a sandbar that is only passable under certain weather conditions. Further down the coast is Anatori, a remote and stunning camping spot.
Much of this western area of Golden Bay is the Kahurangi National Park. In addition to the Heaphy Track, another of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Kahurangi is full of hiking trails, huts and some of New Zealand’s very best backcountry areas.
There are lots of fun family things to do and places to visit in “the bay”. An abundance of nature and good weather make it easy to plan and enjoy family time together.
The long thin piece of land that pokes out from the South Island’s north-western corner is Farewell Spit. Farewell Spit Nature Reserve is a bird sanctuary and wetland of international importance. The Spit is around 35km long and public access is restricted to the first 4km with vehicle access only allowed for supervised tours by concession holders. Farewell Spit Eco Tours run awesome guided trips from Collingwood.
The historic Langford Store in Bainham is well worth a visit. The store has been in the same family for generations, since it opened in 1928. EB Langford was the initial proprietor, followed by his grand-daughter Lorna who ran the store and post office for 63 years.
After a cuppa and a scone at the store, it’s a short drive to the Salisbury Falls swimming hole. This is a remarkably beautiful spot in the river with extraordinarily deep swimming holes, and big rocks from which to jump into the aforementioned swimming holes. It also has the largest supply of the small flat stones that are perfect for skimming (skipping to our friends from the US of A). Visitors have been known to skim stones for so long their arms end up hurting for days afterwards.
The Wainui Falls Track, located just inside the National Park is an excellent walk for young families. It includes a nice little suspension bridge and the rather picturesque waterfall at the end.
Just north of Takaka is the rather remarkable Te Waikoropupū Springs or Pupu Springs for short. These are the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand, the largest cold water springs in the Southern Hemisphere and they contain some of the clearest water ever measured. The spring discharges 14,000 litres of water per second (trust me, that’s a lot). They are also rather pretty to look at and the little bush walk to get there is nice too!
The qualities of the water from Te Waikoropupu Springs are of considerable scientific interest. In 1993, The National Institute for Water and Atmosphere (NIWA) carried out optical measurements underwater and found that the visibility was 63 metres. More recent tests have put the visibility at 80 metres. This is very close to optically pure water, with clearer water found only beneath Antarctica’s near-frozen Weddell Sea. The water clarity is a result of natural filtering prior to the water’s emergence at the Springs.
Located just before you reach Takaka is Anatoki Salmon Fishing & Cafe. When you arrive here you arm yourself with a fishing rod and then attempt to catch yourself a meal in a person-made lake populated with salmon raised on the property. Once you’ve caught yourself a fish, you take it back to the cafe where it cleaned ready to take away and cook yourself, or to have it hot smoked while you wait. This is an ideal and fun introduction to fishing for kids as it’s as close to a ‘sure thing’ as it gets.
Golden Bay attracts rock climbers from all over the world looking to access the renowned limestone crags in the area. There are two main crag options for climbing in Golden Bay, with a few other off-track spots scattered around the place.
However, between the bush clad limestone bluffs of Paynes Ford and the sunbaked Pohara Sea Cliffs there are over 300 climbs to keep climbers entertained for many weeks.
Located just outside Takaka is a campground that caters specifically to outdoors enthusiast who doesn’t mind living cheap and easy. The generally easy going rock climbing community congregate at Hangdog to share stories and experiences, in between their adventures.
As you drive into Takaka you will be struck by how many art galleries line the main road. This will give you an initial indication of just how many creative people call Golden Bay home. The fact you can live cheaply in Golden Bay, and that housing has always been comparatively affordable has drawn artists to the area for many decades. Let’s face it, creating pieces of art is not always the easiest way to make a living.
In addition to the galleries that line the main drag in Takaka, you will spot signs for galleries all over Golden Bay. By way of example, Onekaka Arts is an excellent carver’s studio and shop for local jade (Greenstone or Pounamu to locals) and unique jewellery.
A short distance from Onekaka is Living Light Candles the perfect place to pick up the perfect gift!
Estuary Arts has an extensive range of artwork in ceramic and glass, as well as acrylic and watercolour paintings.
Peter Geen does incredible landscape paintings of places around Golden Bay that they look like photographs, only much, much cooler!
The listings above are a small selection of the incredible arts and crafts available in Golden Bay. The best way to discover the work of local artists is to wander through the galleries and stores in Takaka, or to cruise around the roads of Golden Bay stopping each time you see a gallery signposted!
Ngarua Caves is a visitor attraction right at the top of the Takaka Hill. The Caves make a perfect rest stop if your stomach needs some recovery time after having come up either side of the Takaka Hill. However, it is also well worth the visit in its own right.
The Caves have an extensive variety of stalagmites and stalactites, some of which can look rather phallic if that’s the way your mind works! The Caves also contain an excellent skeletal display of the extinct moa, a large flightless bird. Before hungry humans wiped them out, moa would sometimes fall through holes to the floor of the caves below, and it is the remains on these birds you will see.
Located on the property is also a huge, truly remarkable piece of local jade.