Golden Bay: Adventure playground for all
July 19, 2019
by TeresaGlobalTravels Teresa Lynch
A little history of Golden Bay
On a frosty winters morning, we set out to drive, via the Lewis Pass, to Golden Bay. Abel Tasman first came across this circularly indented bay area in 1642, and in the 1770s Captain Cook visited this area. Names such as Murderer’s Bay and Massacre Bay—due to the death of sailors in a fight with the local Maori—and Coal Bay lasted between the visits of the various explorers such as Tasman, Cook and D’Urville. However, it was during the gold digging days, around 1857, Golden Bay was given its name. Google map – Golden Bay
Despite the bay being very shallow, several harbours were established for the transport of coal, cement, local produce and timber. The geology of the region comprising sinkholes on Takaka hill and the underground cave complex below are fascinating. During the creation of this land, 16-23 million years ago, the rocks of this area were formally adjacent to Fiordland in the south. At the time of activation of the ‘Alpine Fault’ on the Southern Alps, which forms the division between the east and west coast of the South Island, many disruptions to the land occurred. Takaka Hill was formed and separates Golden Bay from Tasman Bay. The road over the hill is the only road in and out of the region.
The road trip
Passing through the Wiapara wine region we turned inland toward the beech forests at the foothills of the Southern Alps.
We continued towards Maruia where we stopped at the 9m waterfall created in 1929 during the Murchison earthquake. A challenge to white water kayakers, many enjoy the thrill of ‘going over Maruia’.
The ‘Dangerous Kitchen’ – for great food!
Arriving in the early evening at Takaka, we ate pizza and salad at the ‘Dangerous Kitchen’ to the sound of a young Irishman playing the flute, a ‘hank tank’ and foot drums.
To everyone’s delight, on this night of Golden Bay’s ‘festival of lights’, held to celebrate Matariki, the Māori New Year, three ‘muses’ performed a belly dance.
Sans Souci Inn – B&B
Built between 1992 and 1994, our Mediterranean style eco-accommodation in Pohara at the beautiful ‘Sans Souci’ was superb. The complex uses solar power for sustainable heating and comprises 9,500 mud bricks, that were handmade from clay, straw and water in a commercial yard near Nelson before the 161+ tons worth were transported to the site for the final assembly.
The units are spacious and cosy with a central bathroom, and a well equipped central kitchen is available for guest use.
In summer, the restaurant is open to the public. Vera and Reto, who built Sans Souci, keep it in the fine style which was their vision in the early ’90s when they arrived from Switzerland to make New Zealand home.
Coffee, cake and Rawhiti Cave
The next day, following cake and coffee at Pohara’s iconic ‘Totally Roasted Cafe’, we walked about 30 minutes up ‘Dry River’ before steeply ascending for about 40-minutes to reach Rawhiti Cave.
The wide entrance, which has extensive stalactites, is a hidden gem in this area of geological wonder.
A viewing platform is provided to keep visitors off the delicate rocks which slope to the cave floor far below.
Tata Beach and Pupu Springs
The following morning, sitting alone on the golden sands of Tata beach, we were awed by the absolute calmness of the day, the sea birds flying low above the water and the surrounding beauty. The beach in summer is usually packed with locals and visitors.
After lunch at the ‘Wholemeal Cafe’, we drove west out of Takaka, and into the bush following the Takaka River.
We arrived at the entrance to Pupu Springs (Te Waikoropupu Springs) and walked the 30-minute track to where the water bubbles up from within deep pools. At a depth of about 7m, you can see through the clear water to the bottom of the pool.
Pupu Springs are the largest cold water springs in the southern hemisphere and the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand. Back in Takaka we again enjoyed the ‘Dangerous Kitchen’ for dinner.
The following morning we drove to Nelson on our way back to Christchurch.
Golden Bay has much to offer nature lovers, the artistically inclined, fishermen, organic foodies, sports enthusiasts and travellers. There is the iconic ‘Mussel Inn’ for good food and entertainment before heading towards Farewell Spit which arches 34km beyond Cape Farewell on the west coast end of the Bay. One of the largest sand spits in the world, it has been recognised as a bird sanctuary since the 1930s. An important wetland area, the ecosystem is carefully maintained to support the migratory birds.
Hiking in Golden Bay
The two most famous hiking trails are the Abel Tasman and the Heaphy track. The Abel Tasman can be walked or kayaked from Totaranui to Marahau and is popular all year round. The Heaphy track starts inland from Collingwood and is a 4-6 day hike through tussock downs and lush forests with nikau palms towards Karamea on the west coast. Between May and November, it can be traversed on a mountain bike.
Cape Farewell’s lighthouse
In 1869 a wooden lighthouse was built at about the 27km mark. When the harsh conditions deteriorated the lighthouse, a steel structure was built in 1890. It became fully automated in 1984 but the buildings are still maintained for use by the department of conservation, Maritime New Zealand and organised tour groups.
Wanganui Inlet has been described as a ‘hauntingly secluded area’ and one of the best preserved tidal estuaries which contains a 13km wildlife and marine reserve. Flax mills, saw-mills, coal and gold were the former industries; whilst today, fishing and secluded holidaying make this one of the area’s best-kept secrets.
Wharariki beach near Cape Farewell offers a great number of windswept forest and nature walks, horse riding, rock caverns, mountain biking and remote natural surroundings. Given all that is on offer, I suggest if you are visiting New Zealand, you allow plenty of time for your Golden Bay experience.