Golden Bay, curving gracefully from Abel Tasman National Park around to the encircling crescent of Farewell Spit is such a place. This hidden corner of New Zealand was valued by early Maori for its plentiful seafood and by colonial Europeans for timber, gold and other minerals. Today it’s a fertile mix of dairy farming, tourism, lifestyle blocks and arts and crafts. The one problem for casual visitors to Golden Bay is that they may never want to leave.
The bay has many scenic contrasts; deeply glaciated mountains, green lowland pastures, high alpine meadows, contorted limestone formations, dramatic coastal cliffs, bubbly freshwater springs and glistening silica and marble sand lapped by a turquoise sea. No wonder the area was chosen for a number of Lord of the Rings film scenes. The diversity of people who have made their home here is reflected in the culture, self-reliance and creative artistry in the art and craft galleries and studios.
Takaka Hill, known as ‘Marble Mountain,’ is the grand entrance to Golden Bay. Its craggy summit at 791 metres has a scenic lookout that offers a panorama of the coast, plains and mountains clear across to Nelson and the Marlborough Sounds. The nearby Ngarua Caves and the walk to the 176 metre deep Harwood’s Hole, the biggest tomo or hole in the Southern Hemisphere, show an amazing variety of weathered limestone landforms. Waikoropupu Springs under the hill, are the largest in New Zealand, with dancing pebbles hovering over the outlet of the crystal clear water. Turn off SH.60 to Riwaka Valley and more physical phenomena can be found. The Riwaka Resurgence occurs where soft limestone rock has been eroded to form a subterranean river system, which suddenly erupts out of a dry riverbed to continue its way to the sea.
Takaka township is known as the ‘Heart of the Parks’ giving access to the world class Kahurangi and Abel Tasman national parks as well as Farewell Spit. The spit is renowned as a sanctuary for migratory birds. The spit is advancing at the rate of 6 metres per annum and locals joke that when it reaches Wellington they will build a road on it with a tollgate.
Collingwood, 135km northwest of Nelson, is the gateway to the famous Heaphy Track. The area is notable for art and craft studios featuring jewellery, scrimshaw, pottery, stoneware, porcelain, tableware and landscape paintings. The town is surrounded with natural limestone wonders like the ‘Devils Boots,’ Te Araroa Caves, Wharariki ocean beach, massive sand dunes and the pleasant Kaituna Walkway.