Golden Bay, New Zealand | Touring the Top of the South
Immerse yourself in a world of beautiful beaches, outstanding natural landscapes & incredible outdoor activities.
Officially recognised as the first European to ‘discover’ New Zealand, Dutch explorer Abel Tasman anchored briefly at Wharewharangi Bay near Wainui Inlet in what we now know as Abel Tasman National Park. Tasman’s 1642 encounter with New Zealand was brief, and he would never return again. His visit to New Zealand is commemorated by the names Abel Head, Abel Tasman Point, the Tasman Mountains, Abel Tasman National Park, Tasman district and the settlement of Tasman. The district also offers access to New Zealand’s second largest National Park, Kahurangi, where intrepid nature lovers traverse the world famous Heaphy Track and Nelson Lakes National Park which includes Lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa.
Nelson City is the main centre of the Tasman District. Latitudinally, Nelson is almost level with our capital city, Wellington, in the North Island. The Tasman District borders Canterbury to the South, Marlborough to the East and the rugged West Coast. Nelson has a large regional airport transiting 1.2 million passengers annually.
State Highway 60 is the main route from Nelson to Farewell Spit at the very top of the South. Though the drive to the top and back can be done in one day, the beauty of golden sandy beaches, dense native forest and natural attractions will entice you to stay and make the most of this slice of kiwi heaven.
There are several alluring stops along the way and we recommend deviating off the main road to explore Mapua & Ruby Bay. Home to several talented artisans you’ll love the artsy feel and there’s good cafes to enjoy tasty local treats and delicious aromatic coffee. From here you can follow the coastal road which will lead you back onto the main highway to Motueka.
Motueka is a thriving little town with great amenities. Supermarkets, fuel stops, pretty parks and a lovely waterfront drive with beautiful views make Motueka a worthy stop. Galleries, op shops and organic cafes dot the main street inviting you to browse and taste. Motueka has an earthy feel and many of its residents hanker after an alternative, simpler lifestyle. This is reflected in quirky accommodation options, eateries and the local Sunday Market.
Continuing on State Highway 60 from Motueka through Riwaka, you can divert right and head for Kaiteriteri. This is a loop road that will bring you back onto the main highway. It’s a beautiful drive leading to fantastic coves and bays with plenty of accommodation options should you choose to stay. Kaiteriteri offers amazing water activities, water taxis & cruises are plenty. You can hire a kayak and explore solo or take a guided tour on the water. Split Apple Rock is a favourite photo op for guests and many choose to venture to more inaccessible areas by boat. There’s loads of tracks and trails to explore in Abel Tasman National Park all with incredible views and wildlife. Marahau Beach is secluded and a bit off the beaten path but well worth the short drive.
Back on the highway your next adventure is traversing the Takaka Hill. Part of the road was washed out in a storm and is presently under one lane controls on the Riwaka side. Its steep and windy and by no means a speedy stretch of road. Several lay - buys make it easy to pull over and let traffic pass and there are plenty of good parking areas to stop off and enjoy outstanding scenery & views.
Takaka is the first little township you’ll arrive at after the epic descent off the hill. It’s the central hub of Golden Bay, world famous for calm swimming beaches, marigold sands & sweeping coastal views. Artsy, quirky and steeped in history, Takaka is a delightful place to eat and browse. With galleries galore art lovers are treated to outstanding local works including paintings, sculpture and bespoke jewellery.
From Takaka you can take a right turn and head for Pohara, Tarakohe & Wainui Bay. Following Abel Tasman Drive you may wish to traverse the Pigeon Saddle via Totaranui Road to the Awaroa Car Park. Awaroa Inlet rose to fame when seven kilometres of privately-owned beach was put up for sale. A crowd funding campaign was launched to buy the beach back for public use and more than 2 million dollars was raised in the effort. Subsequently, a deal was done and the beach was purchased by the people of New Zealand and is now part of the Abel Tasman National Park for all to enjoy. Labyrinth Rocks are fun to explore, especially if you have children on board.
Te Waikoropupū Springs are a must see when visiting Takaka. Offering the clearest water in the Southern Hemisphere, the springs are considered a National Treasure. With a clarity of 60 metres, the springs offer unsurpassed views of aquatic life. Other attractive spots to visit are Patons Rock where swimming is safe and sheltered and Washbourn Scenic Reserve, a short 30-minute return walk through beautiful native bush.
Next stop, Collingwood. It’s a dinky wee town at the mouth of the Aorere River famous for the largest outdoor community artwork in the South Island. Boasting a seaside camp ground, pub, cafes and galleries, Collingwood has a rich history. Ravaged by fire on November 7, 1904, little was left of the town. Interpretation boards on the side of the Fire Brigade building offer insights into the historic fires and a small museum on the main street relays history of the area in photographs & mementoes. Entry is free; however, a small donation is appreciated.
The road to Farewell Spit meanders through grassy meadows with the imposing ranges of Kahurangi National Park inland and calm sandy beaches on the coast. Several estuaries and wetlands along the route are home to wading birds and wildlife. Quintessential Kiwi holiday homes dot the landscape, some rustic, some modern. Pakawau Beach is the last stop prior to Farewell Spit for fuel and groceries. There’s also a cute campground beside the store and a good café across the road. It’s a short drive to Cape Farewell from here. Farewell Spit has limited public access due to its ecological value and conservation status, however, DOC approved tours depart from Collingwood daily and enable visitors to enjoy a guided tour of the very tip of our South. Puponga Farm Park also offers excellent outdoor walks and magnificent views over the Tasman Sea. Wharariki Beach is a must see and a sought-after photo op for many. Accessed via farm tracks and a short bush walk the beach can be windswept and wild so is not suitable for swimming. Low tide is the best time to explore the rocky outcrops.
Cape Farewell is the end of the road on this incredible journey. You’ll return the way you came in, discovering more of Tasman’s beautiful views, history & landscapes. The road to Cape Farewell is not a dead end, but an amazing beginning to discover two outstanding National Parks, remarkable and diverse landscapes and a world of outdoor adventure. Enjoy!
Split Apple Rock courtesy of NelsonNZ.com
Wharariki Beach courtesy of Barbara Wilde
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