GOLDEN DAYS IN Golden Bay
Dramatic peaks, green dairy pastures, golden sands … the first view of Golden Bay Mohua from Takaka Hill can take your breath away.
Early names such as Murderer’s Bay, Massacre Bay and Coal Bay indicate an interesting past before the bay at the top north west of the South Island was named Golden Bay Mohua and came to represent a holiday location of rare beauty and tranquillity.
Known as a popular tourist destination because of its settled weather and relaxed, friendly lifestyle, the bay is protected in the north by the extraordinary Farewell Spit, a thin arch of land protruding for some 30km from the mainland.
Evidence of Maori settlement along the shores of the Golden Bay dates from at least 1450.
When Dutch explorer Abel Tasman anchored 7km out of the bay in 1642, local iwi Ngati Tumatakokiri rammed the Dutch ship’s landing boat with a waka and killed four crew, for which Tasman named the bay Moordennar’s (Murderer’s) Bay.
It is thought the French explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville changed the name to Massacre Bay in the late 1700s.
European settlement commenced in 1842 following the discovery of coal on one of the beaches, but a bid by locals to rename the area Coal Bay was quickly eclipsed by the discovery of gold in the region, and the ensuing gold rush saw the name Golden Bay come into use and eventually off icially adopted.
Before you lay eyes on Golden Bay, you’ll enjoy an amazingly scenic road journey. The long, slow climb over Takaka Hill – New Zealand’s longest hill – is the first enjoyable challenge.
The steep twisting road reveals the ancient craggy lime and marble formations and caving system that give the hill its popular name of the marble mountain.
Well-signposted lookouts lure the driver off the road from time to time to enjoy spectacular views over Tasman Bay to Nelson and beyond, but once the summit of Takaka Hill is crossed at 791m above sea level, Golden Bay suddenly appears with startling beauty, the glacial movement that formed the deep green valley evident as the
Takaka River runs north towards the distant sea, while beyond the valley rise the dramatic Tasman Mountains.
At the summit, the subterranean splendors of Harwoods Hole (the deepest sinkhole in the Southern Hemisphere at 176m deep) and the Ngarua Caves lend a mystical magic to the landscape: it’s not surprising the area featured as film locations in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
After navigating down the zig zagging highway, take time to visit Te Waikoropupu Springs (also known as Pupu Springs and the largest cold water springs in the Southern Hemisphere) – a tranquil, spiritual spot boasting the third clearest fresh water in the world (after the sub-glacial water in the Antarctic and Blue Lake in Tasman).
Extraordinarily beautiful, the springs are a waahi tapu or sacred place to the local Maori tribe, and touching the water is forbidden but you can take a stroll around the walkways and read the interpretive panels along the way, which explain why and how the water is so clear (in a nut shell, Takaka Hill is one giant filtration system due to the karst rock).
Travelling on around the huge, sandy bay which is famous for its scallops, Collingwood is the final settlement of any size before Farewell Spit, the lengthy sand-spit wrapping itself around the upper reaches of the bay.
The Spit is a bird sanctuary and Wetland of International Importance so there are DOC restrictions on public access but guided 4WD safaris depart daily to see the lighthouse at the end of the spit, NZ fur seals and the birds. But writing about it doesn’t do this extraordinary landscape justice – it needs to be experienced in person.
Also of note, for its dramatic rock formations and sand dunes (created by dramatic wind and waves) is Wharariki Beach, located on the Tasman Sea side of Cape Farewell.
The beach is accessed on foot about 20 minutes’ comfortable walk from the carpark but the ultimate Wharariki experience is via horse trek.