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.

If there's one thing you'll find in Golden Bay it's good hearty food and a laid-back dining experience. The Mussel Inn is a favourite with the locals, known for their freshly steamed mussels and quirky but relaxed vibe. 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. Other popular dining destinations include Roots Bar in Takaka, Old School Cafe in Collingwood and Toto's Pizzeria in Wainui. There are also plenty of great distilleries in the area that are well worth checking out. 

Stunning natural landscapes abound in Golden Bay, so you'll want to allow enough time to explore some of these scenic locations. The picture perfect Wainui Falls can be reached with 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, until your senses are 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. Labyrinth Rocks Park and The Grove Scenic Reserve offer a spectacular experience as you walk through limestone outcrops, with the lookout from The Grove nothing short of extraordinary and the magical shapes, faces and little figurines discoverable at Labyrinth Rocks sure to ignite the imagination of curious little ones. 

Photo: Ryan Domenico

Exploring the extraordinary coastline by kayak is as good as you imagined, but better with Golden Bay Kayaks. The only company operating guided tours into the Abel Tasman National Park from the North, they are a small family-focused company operating from the beautiful Tata Beach. Slip straight into the clear waters, paddle around the Tata Islands, watch the seals frolicking in the rock-pools and enjoy the peace and quiet of this pristine paradise. Everyone's appetite for kayaking is catered for whether you are looking for a morning of stories with friendly, local guides or to share special times with your family. You may want to treat yourself with a Bespoke Eco Private Tour or take your time and explore the entire length of the Abel Tasman National Park on a multi-day trip.

Photo by Kane Hartill

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. 

Photo by Kane Hartill

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. It's just a short 20-minute walk through undulating farmland, manuka groves and coastal forest to the beach, or you could take a longer stroll along the Puponga Hilltop Track if you want to see other gems such as Cape Farewell and the Pillar Point Lighthouse. 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. 

Golden Bay is undoubtedly home to some of New Zealand's most scenic locations, from the majestic sand dunes of Farewell Spit to the crystal-clear springs at Te Waikoropupū Springs and the wild, windswept Wharariki Beach. If you're short on time, or you just want to see these landscapes in all their glory, a scenic flight to see them from above is a truly unforgettable experience. Savour the sights as you trace the sheltered shortline, the dunes and lakes and the rugged mountain landscapes on a scenic flight or helicopter trip, combining a Golden Bay tour with one of the Abel Tasman or Kahurangi National Parks if you wish.

Photo: Golden Bay Air

From the curious caver right through to the advanced abseiler, Golden Bay has an array of exciting cave systems to explore. A guided tour of Ngarua Caves at the summit of 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 a two-hour return walk will take you to the most diverse limestone entrance and twilight zone flora of any cave in New Zealand, 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, though there are no barriers and it is very dangerous to approach the edge, so we recommend keeping the children away from this one. 

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, with talented artisans selling handcrafted chocolates and distilled beverages. 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. 

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