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Mike Yardley: Glories of Golden Bay

Mike Yardley,
Publish Date
Sat, 2 Mar 2024, 9:38AM
Wharariki Beach Rock Formations. Photo / Supplied
Wharariki Beach Rock Formations. Photo / Supplied

Mike Yardley: Glories of Golden Bay

Mike Yardley,
Publish Date
Sat, 2 Mar 2024, 9:38AM

Maybe it’s a quirk of nature or God’s sense of humour, but isn’t uncanny how the very tip of the South Island, is shaped like the beak of a Kiwi. In fact, the entire landmass north of Collingwood resembles the head and body of a Kiwi. Remote and wind-blasted Farewell Spit is a sweeping 30km-long sliver of sand that arcs east, buffering Golden Bay from the Tasman Sea. If you’ve never done it before, revel in this singular environment, by hopping onboard a Farewell Spit Eco Tour, for a 6 hour journey of discovery. 

Within minutes of departing home base in cutesy Collingwood, we’re immersed in the fetching landscape and the romance of the place names. We pass by a rustic old shack in a paddock, which used to be the home of Barry Crump, and we see the mud brick houses built by the Millennium Man, a super-rich American eccentric who thought all major cities would be paralysed by the Y2K bug, and shifted his entire family out here as a survival measure.  

Quirky stores in Golden Bay. Photo / Mike Yardley

Intersecting with the spit, the shallow waters of Golden Bay are an insidious death trap for whales. At low tide, the spit is aproned by vast gleaming mud flats, a halfway hotel for droves of shore birds and migratory waders from as far as the Arctic Circle, like the bar-tailed godwit. You’ll see colonies of gannet, heron, dainty oystercatchers, playful little blue penguins and the plethora of languid seals, snoozing in the sun.   

Fossil Point is a fascinating stopover, where old fossils are embedded in the multi-hued sedimentary rock face, a totem to the Jurassic age, when dinosaurs roamed these parts. A 30 km romp along the sugar-white sand brings us to Farewell Spit lighthouse. The historic structure, New Zealand’s only steel latticework lighthouse, was built in 1897 to replace the earlier wooden structure which was rapidly decaying as a result of nature’s hostile forces. 

A highlight on the return run down the beach, flanked by the crashing breakers of the Tasman, was the chance to scale one of the towering sand dunes, that are stacked as high as 30 metres.  Farewell Spit is formed entirely from quartz sands, derived from the erosion of granites and other rocks from the Southern Alps, that wash down into the Tasman Sea from the West Coast’s rivers. Those sands are transported northward by coastal drift, piling up on Farewell Spit, which actually grows a few metres longer each year. 

Cape Farewell and the hole in the rock. Photo / Farewell Spit Tours

Trying to scale the dunes was a formidable task, as our group were involuntarily subjected to a full-body sand-blasting exfoliation. One final highlight on the approach back to Collingwood is to take a short diversion through hilly Puponga farmland, to reach the northernmost tip of the South Island, majestic Cape Farewell. Crowned with a delightful ocean arch, this is the South Island’s stupendous hole in the rock. High on the cliff tops, this supremely unmolested stretch of ocean front real estate abounds with fur seals and pups basking on the wave-battered rocks below. On a clear day, Mount Taranaki looms on the horizon, like a dark pyramid.  

Just west of Farewell Spit, Wharariki Beach is one of the region’s most prized photogenic spots. Stroll through hilly pasture to reach the sculpted white sand dunes and a stroll down the beach. It’s unsafe for swimming, but the rock formations and the two archway islands spell Instagram gold.  

I headed back to Takaka to explore more of the region’s celebrated bays and beaches. From the bustling town centre, take a journey on Abel Tasman Drive to bask in the Midas-touched shoreline of Golden Bay. First up, the crowd-favourite beach of Pohara, before Ligar Bay, Tata Beach and the vast golden carpet of Wainui Bay join the procession. An enchanting diversion close to Pohara is the Grove Scenic Reserve, a fairy forest with paths that guide you through nīkau palms and statuesque northern rātā trees seemingly dripping roots down limestone rocks and water-formed ancient canyons. The climax is the lookout point, high above a jutting rock face. The 30 minute loop walk is a mystical little track, a short and sweet work-out, when you need a break from the beach.  

Tata Beach's golden sands. Photo / NelsonTasmanNZ

Just 7km north of Tākaka, one of Golden Bay’s most beautiful taonga (treasures). Te Waikoropupū Springs, informally called Pupu Springs, are New Zealand’s largest freshwater springs and the largest coldwater springs in the Southern Hemisphere. Feast your eyes on the clearest water you’ve ever seen, bubbling out of the earth at 14,000 litres per second, dancing with light to create shimmering turquoise hues. The 45 minute loop walk around the springs makes for an easy stroll, on well-formed paths and boardwalks.  

The region spills forth with alluring hospitality, brimming with character and personality.  The retail scene is a distinctive hotbed of hippies, eccentrics and creative artisans with more potters and candle-makers than you can shake a candle stick at. When in Collingwood, I highly recommend the oversized ice-cream sundaes from the Collingwood Tavern. And you couldn’t find a more cutesy café than the Courthouse Cafe. Built in 1901, the courthouse operated for decades on the back of the gold boom, before passing into private ownership in the 1960s. The menu is expansive, but you can’t go wrong with their mussel chowder and sourdough bread. 

Courthouse Cafe, Collingwood. Photo / Mike Yardley

Halfway between Takaka and Collingwood, a signature experience is The Mussel Inn. Built just over 30 years ago by the Dixon family, there’s a woolshed come farmhouse vibe to the Mussel Inn – rustic and homely. Famous for their fresh steamed mussels and mussel chowder, their menu spans steak, fish and vegetarian options too. They also produce their own craft beers, ales, ciders and soft drinks. If you’re the designated driver, you’ll love their home-made lemonade and ginger beer. 

Speaking of libations, make tracks to Kiwi Spirit Distillery. On Abel Tasman Drive, treat yourself to some delicious tastings of their Whiskey, Gin, Vodka, and enticing range of liqueurs. (Tangelo liqueur was my favourite.) If gin is your thing, try their classic dry Championz Gin, and their earthy Greenstone Gin made with totara and kahikatea berries. Relax in the sun under the wisteria covered pergola and breeze your way through a selection of their tasting cocktails. What a way to toast Golden Bay. 

Tasty liqueurs at Kiwi Spirit Distillery. Photo / Kiwi Spirit Distillery 

The Booking.com APAC Travel Confidence Index reveals that 63% of Kiwis prioritise food and dining experiences when travelling, while 68% seeking breath-taking and unforgettable landscapes. Golden Bay ticks all those boxes with gusto.  I stayed at Summerspring Beachfront Accommodation, just north of Takaka, in Rangihaeata. This pet-friendly property is a true gem, where you can escape the madding crowd to enjoy your own slice of absolute beachfront paradise in Golden Bay. My apartment was generously equipped with full kitchen facilities, SKY TV, 2 double bedrooms, a spacious living area and outdoor dining area.  Offering accommodation, bookable attractions and car hires, Booking.com takes the stress out of travelling all on one platform. www.booking.com 

Mike Yardley is our resident traveller on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings. 

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