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Golden Bay

Golden Bay Beach. Photo (cropped): Nelson NZ

Beyond Nelson and Tasman Bay lies a land surrounded by national parks, blessed with landscape so picturesque, Tolkien could have imagined it: white sand beaches, valleys with pristine rivers, limestone caves, rising to dramatic mountains and lakes. 

Parts of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and Hobbit films were filmed on location here, and many locals have lovingly labelled this place ‘Middle Earth’. With such a backdrop – it’s not hard to see why.

Rawhiti Cave entrance, Bookabach/28639
Rawhiti Cave entrance, Bookabach/28639

Golden Bay is cut off from the rest of the South Island by mountains. Drive in over Takaka hill, “Marble Mountain” and Golden Bay stretches before you, below is the main township of Takaka.  There are a procession of lovely beaches, whose yellow sands give the area its name. At the end of the SH60 lies the town of Collingwood. Beyond is Farewell Spit, which shelters Golden Bay from the north, and provides a sanctuary for migratory birds. On the west side of Farewell Spit lies the Whanganui inlet.

In summer, the beaches around Golden Bay aren’t too crowded, and there are plenty of swimming holes in the many rivers. Along with an abundance of adventurous options like hiking, kayaking, walking, mountain-biking, freshwater and ocean fishing, there are also plenty of leisurely activities too. 

Not surprisingly, people seeking an alternative to an urban lifestyle have made this their home.  Visitors to the area can enjoy wine tastings, boutique beer breweries, art and craft galleries too. Eco-tourism is taking off with unique experiences on offer: bird-watching tours to Farewell Spit, flying fox rides, horse treks, salmon farm fishing and Hobbit tours.

Totaranui Beach, Bookabach/28639
Totaranui Beach, Bookabach/28639

There are three National Parks in this area. The Kahurangi National Park is famous for the Heaphy Track, the longest of NZ’s Great Walks, 4-6days. The Abel Tasman National Park  is immensely popular in summer, for its stunning mix of beaches and coastal forest. Try hiking the Coast track (3-5 days), or the Inland track, sea kayak around the park’s coastline or catch a water taxi to a remote beach. Nelson Lakes National Park features mountains, beech forest and tranquil lakes.

Here’s some other activities you can try while staying in Golden Bay:

- Feed the tame eels at Bencarri Farm Park
- Catch, smoke and eat a salmon at the Anatoki Fishing and Cafe
- Order a local brew and a serving of mussels at the famous Mussel Inn
- take a Hobbit Location guided tour (Chetwood Forest and West of Rivendell)
- Eat fresh scallops in Collingwood
- Catch whitebait on the Aorere River
- Walk along Wharariki Beach, west of Farewell Spit

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Top ten things to do

  • Walk to Te Waikoropupu (Pupu) Springs – the largest freshwater springs in Australasia
  • Kayak or hike in the Abel Tasman National Park
  • Explore Te Anaroa Caves in Rockville - take a fully-illuminated walk through stalactites and moa bones
  • Walk the Wainui Falls track and take a dip in the many swimming holes
  • Walk to the lookout to view Harwoods Hole – experienced cavers can abseil here
  • Mountain-bike the Rameka track or one of the many other trails on offer
  • Head into Takaka for the market on Saturday mornings
  • Take a horse trek or eco tour to Cape Farewell Spit and see the birds
  • Head to the Grove Scenic Reserve near Takaka - walk through limestone formations and rata trees
  • Go trout fishing in the Aorere and the Takaka Rivers
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