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.
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.
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.
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
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
Where to stay