The great advantage of travelling Golden Bay is that you can visit at any time of the year. In fact the winter season can be exceptionally beautiful with less wind and rain, especially in July. We have just arrived back totally refreshed from exploring this untouched paradise. Here’s what we can tell you.
Where is the Golden Bay in New Zealand?
The Golden Bay area can be found on the north-west corner of the South Island. You can only gain access via the Nelson-Tasman region and travelling over the Takaka Hill. Actually, that particular part of the road is an absolute pleasure. The valley scenes are so awesome!
From Nelson to Takaka and without rushing through, your entire trip will take about 2 hours. However, if you drive further on to Collingwood, it will take you another 30 min. Try not to rush your trip to Golden Bay. If you stop at the Hawkes Lookout, which is only a 10-minute walk, you’ll get stunning views. There is a car park at the start of the walk, plus a handy toilet block! Once you reach the top of Takaka Hill, you can enjoy a much longer hiking trail to stretch your legs.
Another option for getting to the Golden Bay region, is by flying with Golden Bay Air. These guys fly ex Wellington and Nelson. This is quite handy to know, especially if you are time-short. Golden Bay Air also rent out cars – which is what you really need for travelling the Golden Bay area.
Where do stay when travelling Golden Bay?
Your options may be more limited to that of other regions, but there are some good choices out there. For example, we found a number of B&B’s and cottage accommodations. Of course, there are also well maintained generic motels. But some of us love authentic places. And for these, you do need to be prepared to pay a bit more.
We stayed at Adrift in Golden Bay, which is 15 min north of Takaka. As this is a couples-only retreat, you are guaranteed a tranquil stay. You can opt for a studio or a villa. We chose the Honeymoon Villa.
Some of the villas have direct access onto a beautiful beach. You can look out through the large windows at the front and drink in the sights. Occasionally you will see riders on horseback galloping by. Best of all, it is soothing to hear those gentle waves rolling in.
Another very popular place in the Golden Bay is Pohara. Pohara is further to the east of Takaka and near the northern entrance of the Abel Tasman National Park. But in our opinion, the further north (toward Collingwood and Farewell Spit) you head, the better it gets! The scenery is just gorgeous in this remoter part. And if you stay in this spot, you will get Air B&B’s and Holiday House options.
Where are the best beaches in the Golden Bay?
One of the key attractions of being able to stay in Golden Bay, is its closeness to the Abel Tasman National Park. From the Golden Bay region, you can access the remoter northern part of the park.
No travel to Golden Bay is complete without a visit to Wharariki Beach. The sea winds add a stunning texture to create movement in the sand. Wharariki Beach will be far as you can travel by road. Admittedly it does takes a bit of effort, but believe me, it is so worth it.
You’ll get to walk over huge sand dunes and pass wind-swept rock formations. But first, all this is accessible by walking through a rolling hill farmland – a reserve-style landscape of pastures and forest. In fact, the walk to get to the beach is an added bonus – it doesn’t take long and you’ll pass some really beautiful spots.
What to do in the Golden Bay region?
The Golden Bay region is all about the outdoors and the arts. In this piece of New Zealand, you will experience life at a much slower pace. The people here, have a strong connection to the land and value the simple things in life. There are many well-known artists in the region – from painters, to clay and metal artist. So, watch keep an eye out on our drive. And do check with the local Golden Bay Information Centre which is located on the left hand side just as you enter Takaka. Here are just a few recommended activities.
Ngarua Caves on Takaka Hill?
While travelling over Takaka Hill it’s well worth stopping at the Ngarua Caves. Apart from the caves classic limestone formations, you will also see a skeletal display of the extinct Moa bird. The tour runs every hour and takes about 45 minutes. Very much suitable for children too.
Friendly Takaka in the Golden Bay
Takaka has a special feeling and vibe. The locals are friendly and they have a lovely feeling of community. Everyone seems to know each other! If you’re into an organic way of living and eating, then you’ll love the shops here. We found a couple of wonderful cafes in Takaka. So do stop here for lunch before heading towards Collingwood.
Pupu Springs Golden Bay outside Takaka
Just a few minutes north of Takaka are the Pupu Springs. Their official name is ‘Te Waikoropupu’. Part of every Golden Bay trip should be a stop at these beautiful springs. An added bonus is that you can take a 20 min loop walk around the lake. Just stop at the carpark, go to the entrance and start walking.
What you will see, are some of the clearest and cleanest spring water coming out of the bottom of the lake. It is feed by deep water veins that come from the Southern Alps. These springs are a true and natural wonder! There is no need to photoshop your photos. The colours you see here, represent the true colour of the pristine waters of Pupu Springs in the Golden Bay.
Cape Farewell Horse treks New Zealand
One of the key reasons we made the trip to the Golden Bay was for a horse trekking tour. For many years this one has been on our ‘bucket list’. We were so lucky with the weather – it was PERFECT – These photos are the proof! Now, we are real amateurs when it comes to riding horses. However, the staff at Cape Farewell Horse Treks made it all so easy. We were impressed by how well maintained and neatly displayed all their equipment was. The riding hats were all hung in neat rows graded by size. The horses were well cared for and best of all – LOVED! Here’s me on ‘Arnold’ and Pam, riding ‘Homer’:
After some meticulous checking by the staff, we both set off with Pam (another Pam) and the delightful Clarissa. These guys were so much fun and the conversations we had were interesting. We all seemed to care about the same things in life. It was a great connection. The tour began with a beach explore and we loved this part. The calmness of the water and the birds flying overhead created some tranquil moments.
From the beach, the four of us, plus the boys, climbed a track which lead to the most panoramic views. With just the sound of nature around us, we stayed here for a while to absorb the beauty.
Golden Bay Farewell Spit Nature tours
Farewell Spit is a nature reserve. Access is only possible with a guided tour. As far as we know, the only tour operator is Farewell Spit Tours. We did this trip in 2013, view our travel blog here. The tour starts from the Farewell Spit Tours base in the Collingwood Village. It is important to keep in mind that it is only possible to do this tour at low tide. So naturally, the tour times change from day to day.
Golden Bay Foods and Spirits
Like so many other parts of New Zealand, the Golden Bay is blessed with excellent food. However, be aware that eateries are limited to specific areas. Therefore we recommend that you either purchase lunch or supplies in Takaka or Collingwood. We travelled over the weekend and found some excellent local cafes and restaurants. However, during the winter season, you might find that some of them are closed, especially on a Sunday.
Dangerous Kitchen Cafe Takaka
After our arrival in Takaka on the Friday, we found this town buzzing with activity. The main street is the ‘hub’ and best of all, it has two great cafes – ‘Dangerous Kitchen‘ and the ‘Wholemeal Cafe‘. These two cafes offered such healthy options, including vegan and vegetarian. Best of all, they were smack bang in the middle of the main street.
We loved the Dangerous Kitchen and its enormous pizzas. Their fresh salads were full of freshness and don’t get me started on the cakes!. As in most New Zealand cafes, the coffee was divine. The cool part, was the flow between the interior and the outdoor leading onto the footpath. Basically you can sit right on the main street and watch the world go by. And you will also enjoy the vibe where it is perfectly natural to start a conversation with a stranger.
Wholemeal Cafe Takaka
On our way back we came through Takaka on a Sunday. The Dangerous Kitchen was closed. So, we looked around and found the ‘Wholemeal Cafe‘ just a couple of doors away. From the outside, it didn’t look as inviting as the Dangerous Kitchen. However, once we walked in, it became very appealing! The actual building reminded us of a former dance hall or something similar. It had a great atmosphere and most welcoming to families with young children. Once again, the locals were out in force and that is always a good sign!
Mussel Inn Cafe & Restaurant
Travelling further north of Takaka towards Collingwood you’ll find the famous ‘Mussel Inn Cafe & Restaurant’. This restaurant is practically an institution in the Golden Bay region. As you can imagine, a visit here is a must-do for all travellers.
As our accommodation was only a 5 minute drive from the ‘Mussel Inn’, it made sense to have dinner here. On entering, you might think that you had entered ‘Hobbiton’. Totally wooden inside and every bit of wall space was taken up with ‘objects of interest’ We loved the large open fire and the rustic decor.
After ordering the food at the counter we absorbed the local atmosphere. It’s so cool to find these authentic, typical New Zealand places. They have a lovely mix of people from the community people and travellers from far-off places. The food was very tasty and great value for your money. We really enjoyed a wonderful evening at the ‘Mussel Inn’! The Mussel Inn opens from 11am until late at night.
The Courthouse Cafe Collingwood
Collingwood is a sleepy little village. To get into the town, you will need to turn off at the main road. Shops, motels and cafes on your left and right – Classic New Zealand!
There are a couple of cafes in town. Firstly on your right is ‘The Courthouse Cafe’ – a lovely historic building with an indoor and outdoor garden sitting. We enjoyed the atmosphere on a very sunny day. The coffee we ordered was world-class – in fact, one of the best we had for a while – strong, flavour some and hot!
The other cafe in town is the ‘Mad Cafe'(I’m not kidding). However this one was closed so we didn’t get a chance to sample it.
Golden Bay Distillery Tasting Tours
When we are travelling into a region we generally pop into the local information centre. By having a chat with a tourism insider at location you learn so much. At the Takaka Info Centre the staff told us that Golden Bay distilleries are ‘up and coming’. Well, that was good news for us to hear. Personally we don’t have a deep interest in Gin, Whiskey and Schnapps, but there are a lot of other travellers that appreciate such things.
There are a number of those distilleries that offer tasting tours. Dancing Sands and Kiwi Spirits are just some of them. Again, if you want to learn more and you are travelling through Takaka, just pop into the Info Centre and talk to the helpful staff. Digital or mobile tools are great, but nothing beats talking to the locals!
Summary on travelling the Golden Bay
Because of its location, travelling to the Golden Bay gives you a sense of what New Zealand was like a few years back. There are no fancy highways, the villages are small and the locals know each other! And the drive from Nelson to Takaka will only take you 1.5-2 hours. In any case, the serious traveller needs to spend at least 2-3 nights stay to truly appreciated the region and get the ‘Golden Bay vibe’. If you are short on time, you can always stay in the Nelson-Tasman region and visit Golden Bay for a day trip. Subject to the ocean tides, there is no lovelier way to explore the full range at the top of the South Island.
So why would you travel the Golden Bay? If you want to relax and embrace nature, you’ll love it. And if you are looking for gorgeous scenic beaches, a horse trek, or just chilling out, it is definitely worth your while to visit. Somehow you will leave the Golden Bay area with a sense of being ‘refreshed’ and relaxed.
Helpful New Zealand travel links
- Best way to plan a holiday to New Zealand
- Clothing for travelling New Zealand
- What is the best time to visit New Zealand
- Getting around New Zealand (car, coach, flights)
- Other travel hints for New Zealand
- Abel Tasman Day tours
- Abel Tasman Day Hikes
Happy Travelling Golden Bay in the winter season!