New Zealand is full of places to explore, ‘not to be missed’ spots and Instagrammable locations that it’s hard to narrow down where you should visit, especially if you’ve only got a few weeks.
On the south island, from exploring it thoroughly in the time I lived there, I found an un-missable location is Abel Tasman National Park which sits just across from sunny Nelson; it’s most well known for the Abel Tasman Coast Track.
Now, most tourists head straight to the little town of Kaiteriteri. I have been to myself and it’s picturesque and the perfect gateway to all the activities in the Abel Tasman national park. However, it can be very busy and over-crowded. So, if you only have time to visit one place to access the Abel Tasman national park, personally I suggest you take the extra hour to drive over Takaka hill into the stunning Golden Bay region and pay Kaiteriteri a quick visit on the way back if you have the time.
Even the drive over to Golden Bay is an experience in itself as you climb over Takaka hill (also known as Marble Mountain) to be greeted by views spanning across the land from Abel Tasman national park right over to Kahurangi National park at the other end of the bay. Plus you can see right out to the sea where you can see the Cook Strait. It certainly gives you those spectacular views you expect from New Zealand.
Now I’ve got you interested, let’s dive into what you can do and see in Golden Bay that makes it such a special place.
Located West of Cape Farewell, it’s a bit of a drive around the bay from Takaka, but 100% worth it and you can do some other sightseeing along the way.
Wharariki beach is possibly one of my favourite beaches in the whole of New Zealand. It’s breathtaking landscape, golden sands, good surf and seal locals create a charm that’s hard to ignore. It’s individuality is enhanced further by the archway islands which are iconic rocks that are frequently photographed and, at the right angle, one even has the resemblance of a baby elephant.
There are various hikes you can do in this area, but if you’re focusing on the beach, my suggestion Is head down Wharariki road to the car park where you’ll be greeted by some friendly horses and peacocks roaming around and you’ll catch sight of the cute coffee shop that’s laid out amongst the trees – a great spot for a coffee and a muffin post walk.
From the car park take the walking track left toward Wharariki beach to do the loop which takes you through farmland, past the lake and through the forest before you come down to the beach from above and get spectacular views across it.
While I was there it was blue skies but cloudy and this created beautiful reflections in the layer of water on the sand. Make sure to check the tide before you head down there because you don’t want to get caught out and be unable to get across the beach as some areas can get cut off by the large rocks when it’s high tide.
Enjoy the views, take some photos capturing the elephant, hunt out the seals and soak up the scenery. Trust me. It’s a place you won’t forget in a hurry.
Cape Farewell and Farewell Spit
Cape Farewell is the most northern point on the south Island of New Zealand and lies between Wharariki beach and Farewell Spit, and is a stop on the cliff top walk. Gaze down at the seal colony below, get a picture with the hole in the rock or walk along the cliff top and gaze out over the 34km Farewell spit.
Set amongst rolling, green farmland, you’re also likely to be surrounded by cows and sheep. It doesn’t get much more ‘New Zealand’ than that.
After you’ve blown the cobwebs out up at Cape Farewell, head back around to Farewell spit, one of the largest natural sand spits in the world. It’s a highly protected nature reserve due to the number of bird colonies that reside there and public access is limited to the first 4km. If you want to get further out and witness the incredible ecosystem that hosts migratory birds you need to book on to an eco tour.
Whatever you decide to do, it’s worth taking a walk there and seeing for yourself the expanse of the spit, it’s yet another natural wonder that can be found in New Zealand.
Te Waikoropupū Springs
While you’re in the area, you cannot miss a visit to the stunning Te Waikoropupu Springs, known as pupu springs for short by the locals. It’s the largest fresh water springs in the southern hemisphere and can claim to be some of the clearest water ever measured, gaining it’s clarity through ten years of filtering through the surrounding rocks before entering the springs.
The springs are held in high sacred and spiritual regard by the Māori people so you cannot touch or drink the water. Definitely a special place to observe, but leave untouched. Make sure to take a read of the info by the car park to find out more about what the springs mean to the Māori people.
It’s just a short walk through the bush to the springs and, like a lot of places in New Zealand, it has a well maintained boardwalk making it an easy and pleasant walk that’s accessible to everyone.
Access to Abel Tasman National Park walking track
You can park up in the Wanui Bay car park and take your pick of a day hike or, with a little more preparation, choose to do a longer hike and stay in the huts in the park. From here you can access the northern, most remote part of the Abel Tasman National Park – an area well worth exploring.
The famous Abel Tasman Coastal track that spans this part of the Abel Tasman National Park starts in Totaranui and ends at the Wanui car park in Golden Bay so if you’re a keen ‘tramper’ (what they call ‘hikers’ in New Zealand) then this is an incredible 60km hike to get your fix from.
If you just fancy a day hike, do the 5 hour hike to Separation point and back. It takes you through the national park and along some of the stunning coastline that makes the national park so iconic. If you’re lucky you may even spot dolphins from the point and, if not, you’ll be likely to see either the residential seals or Gannet colonies.
I absolutely love walking through this national park. You won’t be short of breathtaking scenery and in the northern part of the park you can often be walking for hours without seeing anyone else. It really feels like you’ve submerged yourself in nature and cut yourself off from the world.
Not far from the Wainui car park, you will find another short walk (approx hour return) to Wainui falls.
I cannot recommend this walk enough. We decided to do it after our 5 hour hike to separation point. With our tired legs from the hike we were a little apprehensive, but as soon as we got going I did not regret it one bit.
The jungle like scenery makes it feel very surreal and like you’re walking through the movie set of Jurassic park rather than natural bush land in New Zealand. I was blown away with this walk and our efforts were rewarded by a spectacular waterfall. I’m a sucker for waterfalls so, for me, the walk was well worth it. But, even if you’re not too bothered by waterfalls, the walk itself is stunning – really worth adding to the list during your stay in Golden Bay.
The vibrant towns of Golden Bay
To add to the charm of Golden Bay, you have a multitude of small towns that all have their own character and play their own part.
We stayed in humble Pohara in a campsite overlooking the beach and it was the perfect place to have a base and rest our heads at night after the days exploring the region. Beautiful sunrises and sunsets meant peaceful walks along the golden beach or a few beers at the pub across the road.
For somewhere a little less sleepy, head to Takaka. A hippie town full of shops to browse through, street art to admire and a few more bars and restaurants to provide a bit of atmosphere.
Tata beach is pretty small and there is not a lot to see there, but it is home to Golden Bay Kayaks. This is a ‘must-do’ activity during your stay and this is the company you have to do it with – they’re awesome! You get to see the national park from the water, and their knowledgeable guides provide you with huge insights on the history of the place, the formations of the stunning landscape and offer heaps of information on the wildlife that resides in the area. We were even joined on part of our tour by a rather friendly seal.
A huge plus to this kayak tour was that we were the only tour out on the water. In comparison, you can be one of a thousand boats in the busy period if you choose to kayak in Kaiteriteri on the other side of the national park.
There are other towns dotted throughout the Golden Bay region which all have their own characteristics so you may decide to explore them or find accommodation there. Personally, I would recommend staying in either Pohara or Takaka because you’re close to the national park, but also have easy access to drive around the bay to the other sights.
I hope this article has got you adding Golden Bay to your list of places to visit in New Zealand. If you’d like any further info on this area of New Zealand, get in touch.