At a whopping 34km long, one of the largest natural sandspits in the world has formed at the top of the South Island, the result of continuous coastal erosion and oceanic drift from the West. The Spit forms the ‘birds eye view’ of Golden Bay into the shape of New Zealand’s very own national bird - the kiwi - and it is home to over 90 wetland and migratory bird species of its own.. how’s that for irony? As a dedicated wetland of international importance, Farewell Spit is what we like to call paradise for nature lovers, and is home to gannets, godwits, knots and waders, as well as playful seal pups and cheeky oyster-catchers. A trip to the Spit with Farewell Spit Tours just wouldn’t be complete without a leisurely climb to the crest of the undulating sand dunes, before a speedy descent to the base, racing against the wind-wrought ripples that lay before you.
Just a short distance from the Takaka township, you’ll find the extraordinary Te Waikoropupū Springs. Holding the title as the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand, and the largest coldwater springs in the Southern Hemisphere, this wahi tapu (sacred place) is considered a taonga (treasure) by local Māori, and is held in high cultural and spiritual regard. Although you cannot swim in the springs, or even so much as glide your finger across the surface, it is easy to appreciate its allure when it contains some of the clearest water ever measured. A vibrant community of eels and native fish can be seen darting around underneath the bubbling surface, and the senses are awakened with the sweet sound of birdsong emerging from the depths of the manuka and kanuka forest.
Known for their freshly steamed mussels and laid-back vibe, the Mussel Inn is the place to be if you’re looking for an extraordinary time in Golden Bay! The internationally famous live music venue hosts a full and vibrant entertainment calendar, and has everything you need for a fun and authentic Golden Bay experience; from a large open fire for those cold winter nights, to sturdy tables for dancing on, and a comprehensive selection of homemade beverages. Beer, cider, wine, soft drinks and spirits – you name it, they make it (and then they give them quirky names such as Captain Cooker and Golden Goose)!
A short 20 minute walk through undulating farmland, manuka groves and coastal forest will take you to a place that is so extraordinary it will blow you away (both literally and metaphorically). The wonderful, windswept Wharariki Beach rivals the recognised wonders of the world, and it’s easy to see why. A spectacularly rugged coastline and a scattering of arches, caves and sand dunes have formed as a result of its exposed location on the wild northwest of the South Island, and you’ll regularly see seal pups bounding along the sand and twirling playfully in the rockpools. Wharariki Beach is undoubtedly a picture perfect location, featuring on many Instagram feeds and the ever-familiar Windows 10 screensaver. Top tip: explore the hidden gems of Wharariki on horseback, cantering across the sand and crossing over the lush green hills of the Puponga Farm park.
Sometimes we wonder if there’s something magical in the air in Takaka & Golden Bay, or if the diverse community of artists and artisans who choose to call this place home is just a coincidence. The vibrant township, which is adorned with colourful murals, oozes an undeniable passion for the arts; with jewellery stores, boutique stalls, art galleries and glassblowing studios occupying the main drag, and talented artisans selling handcrafted chocolates out of a hole in the wall in a nearby carpark. Creativity and character is deeply rooted in the Golden Bay community, and the Saturday Village Market is a true showcase of this, bringing locals and visitors together in a celebration of art and wonder.
If you enjoy fresh fish, a visit to Anatoki Salmon for an authentic and fun family experience will take the meaning of ‘fresh’ to a whole new level. Feel the thrill of catching your own dinner as you spend the afternoon on the banks of the Anatoki River, casting your rod into waters abundant with premium Chinook salmon. Watch as they back-flip out of the water, wiggle their tails on the surface and tease your line with cautious nibbles. Then, choose a picnic spot along the picturesque riverbank to eat your catch, smoked or raw, or take it home with you for a classic kiwi feed, BBQ style.
Quite possibly one of our favourite waterfalls in the Nelson Tasman region, the picture perfect Wainui Falls can be reached by a short one-hour return walk through lush native bush. Shaded by overhanging nikau palms, the stroll along the banks of the flowing Wainui River is both a relaxing and mesmerising experience, with nothing but the distant sound of cicadas to divert your attention from its beauty. Shortly after crossing the swing bridge your senses will be awakened by the thundering sound of the falls as they cascade down granite bedrock into the deep blue pool below, curtained in a halo of spray.
The Labyrinth Rocks sound like something directly out of a fairytale, and after taking the fascinating short walk amongst limestone outcrops and lush native bush, and through weaving maze-like pathways, it’s easy to see the inspiration behind the name. Founded by an English geologist, the Labyrinth Rocks park is something of a hidden gem, full of delightful surprises at every turn. Children will love searching for the small figurines veiled by fallen leaves and rocky ledges, and spotting the faces and characters etched into the limestone; the kissing pigs, the witches couldrons and even the stegosaurus. Top tip: the key to an enthralling and magical experience in the Labyrinth is an open mind, and an active imagination.
From the curious caver right through to the advanced abseiler, Takaka & Golden Bay have an array of exciting cave systems just waiting to be explored. A guided tour of Ngarua Caves at the summit of the marble mountain (Takaka Hill) promises a breathtaking experience for the whole family, with a plethora of stalagmites and stalagtites protruding from the cavernous surroundings like shark teeth. For those with a reasonable level of fitness, Rawhiti Cave is what we like to call ‘geological eye candy’ and is well worth the two-hour return walk. With what is quite possibly the most diverse limestone entrance and twilight zone flora of any cave in New Zealand, it is adorned with green and pink plants, moss, algae and stunning phytokarst formations. Last but not least, Harwoods Hole, an iconic film location from the Lord of the Rings and the deepest vertical shaft in New Zealand (176m) is located in the Canaan Downs Scenic Reserve. A nearby lookout offers stunning views over the Takaka Valley, but there are no barriers and it is very dangerous to approach the edge, so we recommend keeping the children away from this one.
Head to the end of Washbourn Road in Onekaka and you’ll find the remnants of the Onekaka Wharf, yet another popular subject in the many photographs and artworks produced by Nelson Tasmans’ talented locals. Once a major industrial area, the Onekaka Ironworks was established in the 1920’s to turn the regions rich iron ore resources into pig-iron and iron pipes, before shipping them out to overseas markets. But when the world was plunged into the Great Depression in the early 1930’s, the company was unable to contend with the harsh economic conditions of the time, and to this day the ruins of the ironworks -wharf is the last remaining evidence of the companies existence.