Occupying the northwestern tip of the South Island, GOLDEN BAY curves gracefully from the northern fringes of the Abel Tasman National Park to the encircling arm of Farewell Spit, all backed by the magnificent Kahurangi National Park. With bush-clad mountains on three sides and waves lapping at the fourth, Golden Bay’s inaccessibility has helped foster the illusion that if it is not a world apart it is certainly otherworldly.
Wainui Bay, just east of the main town of Takaka, is most likely the spot where Abel Tasman first anchored, guaranteeing his place in history as the first European to encounter Aotearoa and its fierce inhabitants. The apparently isolating presence of Takaka Hill keeps today’s bayside communities from growing virally, though the area has attracted a cross section of immigrants, alternative lifestylers, craftspeople, businessmen and artists, which goes some way to explaining the population’s perceived spirit of independence. The area has been particularly popular with German-speakers who now constitute ten percent of the five thousand or so residents. Sunny, beautiful and full of fascinating sights, Golden Bay deserves a couple days of your time and has a knack of inducing you to stay longer.Read More
North of Collingwood the road skirts Ruataniwha Inlet, and, after 10km, passes The Innlet. The road now follows the coast 11km to Puponga, at the northern tip of the South Island, where you can stay at the excellent Farewell Gardens Motor Camp. Around 2km on is Puponga Farm Park, a coastal sheep farm open to the public; check out the visitor centre.
From the Puponga Farm Park, there are great views right along Farewell Spit – named by Captain Cook at the end of a visit in 1770 – which stretches 25km east, often heaped with tree trunks washed up from the West Coast. The whole vast sand bank is a nature reserve of international importance, with salt marshes, open mudflats, brackish lakes and bare dunes providing habitats for over a hundred bird species: bartailed godwit, wrybill, long-billed curlew and Mongolian dotterel all come to escape the Arctic winter, and there are breeding colonies of Caspian terns, and large numbers of black swans. Sadly, the unusual shape of the coastline seems to fool whales’ navigation systems and beachings are common.
Short walks head to the outer beach (2.5km) and the inner beach (4km); both provide good views of the spit, which is otherwise off-limits except on guided tours from Collingwood.
The Heaphy Track
The Heaphy Track
The huge expanse of Kahurangi National Park encompasses 40,000 square kilometres of the northwestern South Island, between the wet and exposed western side of the Wakamarama range and the limestone peaks of Mount owen and Mount Arthur. over half New Zealand’s native plant species are represented, as are most of its alpine plants, and the remote interior is a haven for wildlife, including rare carnivorous snails and giant cave spiders.
The park’s extraordinary landscapes are best seen by walking the Heaphy Track (78km; 4–5 days), which links Golden Bay with Kohaihai Bluff on the West Coast. one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, it is appreciably tougher than the Abel Tasman Coast Track, though it compensates with beauty and the diversity of its landscapes – turbulent rivers, broad tussock downs and forests, and nikau palm groves at the western end. The track is named after Charles heaphy who, along with Thomas Brunner, became the first european to walk the West Coast section of the route in 1846, accompanied by their Maori guide Kehu. Maori had long traversed the area heading down to central Westland in search of pounamu for weapons, ornaments and tools.