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Our Day (or two) in Golden Bay

I am dedicating an entire post to the two short days we spent in Golden Bay. You may want to get comfortable as it is a long one. This easily qualifies as one of the top highlights of our trip so far. I have a lot to say about our day in Golden Bay. (Simply couldn’t resist the lure of the rhymes in that sentence) Planning a visit to the Golden Bay area came after suggestions from our local hosts as well as from our friends in Blenheim. It’s a bit like saying you should go visit the coast of Oregon. There is a lot to see in a relatively short span of coastline. Actually, we found a lot more we wanted to see than what was possible in one day between the two hour drive there and back again so we booked a hotel for a night so we’d have some time to be flexible and hopefully make the most of our drive over the hill. Being Labor Day weekend, we had the advantage of an additional day to incorporate travel. A tour of the Farewell spit became an obvious choice after talking with local folks and a bit of online research. Now, if you’re at all like me, you’d pull that up on google maps and look at it and think–“aw well it’s just a little finger of land we’ll take a drive out there spend some time on the beach.” Well, that’s not really how it happens. That little finger of land, the Farewell spit is actually about 30 km (about 19 miles) long and access to is determined by the tide schedule, unless of course you have your boat handy. Public access to the spit is on foot only and you are only allowed to walk in 4 km–that’s far short of where the lighthouse is near the far end of the spit. We were thrilled to see that the one and only tour company, Farewell Spit Eco Tours, that has permission to drive on the spit operates all year long. Plus their reviews on Trip Advisor alone were enough to convince us we should give it a try.

The tour departed from the tiny town of Collingwood which is where we booked the hotel. Knowing we would have the leisure to drive at a relaxed pace, seeing some sights as we went we were free to consult the map and the road signs for little places that caught our interest as we went along. The trip over Takaka hill offered wonderful panoramic views of the lush green valley and Golden Bay. Sheep and cattle dotted the valley like salt and pepper on a fresh green salad.

On Takaka hill overlooking Golden Bay valley.

On Takaka hill overlooking Golden Bay valley.

After a brief stop to breathe in the view on top, we followed the rapidly descending road and crossed the valley to the coast. Just past the little town of Takaka, there was the sign for “Te Waikorpupu Springs” It dawned on me as we whizzed past that this was the “Pupu” springs that our friends told us was a must see while in the area.

PuPu springs

PuPu springs

We’ve noticed that the Maori names here are inevitably longer than most can or are willing to pronounce and so it seems that popular sights like this often get shorter nicknames. It didn’t take Paul long to turn Zed around and soon we were winding our way up the little road to the springs. Based on what we’d been told of the place and the feeling of what this trail may have to offer, in terms of scenery and photography opportunities, coupled with our “no hurry” attitude, we knew estimated time of 45 minutes would likely be much longer and it was. The walk through the bush was refreshing and we could feel an air of renewal. Then we came to a platform overlooking the largest of the springs and stood there speechless.

PuPu springs

PuPu springs

Perfectly crystal clear water surging up from the ground, swirling, dancing and sparkling in the sunshine. It was like gazing into the earths eyes. Lush green foliage surrounded the springs inside and out, you could easily make out leaves on the water plants submerged in the water.

fantail at PuPu springs

fantail at PuPu springs

fantail at PuPu springs

fantail at PuPu springs

Fantails (one of the cutest and quickest little birds I’ve ever seen) darted about over the water and through the trees, seemingly taunting me standing there with my camera. One flitted back and forth directly in front of my camera, too fast for me to get a photo. Watching the movement of these guys is truly amazing.

fantail over PuPu springs

fantail over PuPu springs

Standing in awe in this sacred place, we inhaled another breath of life’s adventure. Finally we tore ourselves away and resumed the journey to Collingwood, now in search of a place for lunch. Zed zipped past the Mussel Inn, which later it occurred to us was the place our host, Sam, had suggested for dining. By that time we’d already parked and were walking past the saddled horses tied to the hitching post out front of the Courthouse Café in Collingwood, what better indication that this is indeed a very small town. Lucky for me they had pizza, and of course coffee. I’m pretty sure those two will remain at the top of my favorite foods list as long as I live. Drawn to the water we drove to the end of main street, where the wharf was, not satisfied, we drove around the block that essentially encompassed the entire town unsuccessful at finding a place to walk along the beach. Once more around the block on main street, we checked into our hotel. The day was still young and we wanted to see as much of the area as we could in 2 days so we set out to find the walk to Kaihoka lakes. Everything seems to always look simpler on a map than from behind the windshield, to me at least. This day was no exception. I described to Paul how to get there and where to turn, but then the road ends up at intersections I can’t locate on the map. Sometimes we turn around when this happens, sometimes we spot a signpost to point the way and sometimes we just keep going to find out where we end up. This time it was the latter. We turned up yet another narrow, winding dirt road and kept going and going and going, and gazing and oohing and awing at the scenery. Hills so green against a sky so blue they looked like they were painted on. Zed bumped over a couple cattle guards and down through the middle of some farm buildings and corrals.

drive to Kaihoka lakes

drive to Kaihoka lakes

Scenes like this don’t seem unusual to us anymore now that we’ve seen more of this country. It’s typical to have walking tracks go through farmer’s land and livestock so we pressed on. Then there it was, a little sign for Kaihoka lakes with a tiny little carpark and an outhouse. Despite the sunshine, the wind was still keeping the temperature rather cool so once again, we were dressing for warmth, ignoring all sense of fashion. I stood ready to go in my 2 pair of wool leggings with wool skirt and hiking boots. Then decided I needed another layer on my legs, so I pulled on the leg warmers. The bright green sleeves of my wool jacket poked out from under the bright orange winter coat with the hood pulled over my purple headband.

Kaihka lakes

How’s that for I don’t give a shit about what I look like, I’m warm and comfortable. The walk was only 10-15 minutes and the views were less spectacular than we’d hoped but the palm trees along the track were worthy of some photos Kaihoka lakes (13)for sure. After we returned to the car we left the little carpark, neither of us able to really correlate the maps, electronic or paper with the roads and intersections we were actually seeing, we opted to simply go back the way we’d come and get in a bit of beach time before calling it a day. Cruising along the coastal highway we both saw the big yellow “beach” sign in time for Paul to pull over, what neither of us saw in time was the amount of “beach” that was covering the parking area. As soon as the tires left the road both of us could feel Zed sinking into the soft silky sand. Paul realized it just as I was exclaiming “Oh, that’s all sand” and stopped but Zed wouldn’t move backwards and we didn’t want to risk trying to pull forward into even deeper sand. I’m pretty sure we both imagined we’d have to wait for a friendly local to help pull us out, but as luck would have it with just me giving a little push from the front we managed to get back on to solid ground. We were able to enjoy a brief beach walk and some shell searching.

Pukawau beach (6)

Now for the tour of the Farewell spit. In anticipation of strong winds like we’d experienced the day before and knowing we’d be out on the spit with essentially no protection from nature, we prepared our attire in layers to withstand the chilly morning and provide wind protection when out on the sand dunes. To our surprise and delight all those layers were not necessary.

sunrise Collingwood

sunrise Collingwood

It was a brisk yet calm start to the morning and the sun greeted us through a nearly cloudless sky as we cruised along the highway in the 4WD van toward the farm park at the entrance to the spit. This farm park as our guide explained is a working farm but owned by the government.  Public access by foot is allowed throughout the farm park. Eco tours has been granted vehicle access and as we crossed through the gate onto the spit, the vast line of debris next to us gave us good reason to understand why the tours must be so carefully scheduled around the tides. It was pretty obvious that the surface we were riding across would be well underwater at high tide, and according to our guide there are places along the spit where the tide actually comes in faster than you could run. There are such drastic differences in high and low tide here that it can in some places cover six miles and it is amazing to see these tidal plains. The sun rose higher and the winds stayed calm as we sailed smoothly across the sand. All you could see for miles and miles was this vast expansive stretch of sandy coastline. At the 4km marker our guide stopped the van and had us look back at the cliffs where we’d started it certainly did not look like it was nearly 3 miles away.

Cliffs in the distance where we entered the spit

Cliffs in the distance where we entered the spit

It gave a good perspective on the area. Things that looked like they were “right over there” like you could walk over and back in a few minutes were miles away. Our guide made the drive seem like a casual daily outing which after many years of experience I suppose it is, but he tried to give us some idea of all the potential challenges and responsibilities he faced in doing this job. He drove the van over closer to the ocean and then told us to look back and see the water rapidly filling the tire tracks. “You don’t stop here.” he said.

Eco tour van on Farewell spit

Eco tour van on Farewell spit

Then he turned and drove further away from the waves until you could feel the vehicle struggling to get through the softer sand, “…and you don’t stop here. It’s all about finding that sweet spot.” It was clear that the “sweet spot” for traveling by vehicle was constantly changing with the weather conditions and during navigation he was maintaining a calm and relaxed commentary on the area, the history, the landscape, the birdlife and plant life too. Impressive. It was clear that he had done this for a long time, enjoyed it and was very good at it. This tour is definitely is one of the best we’ve been on so far.

Farewell spit lighthouse

Farewell spit lighthouse

One of the highlights was getting to see the lighthouse out near the end of the spit where several of the original houses of the keeper’s families

sand dune on Farewell spit

sand dune on Farewell spit

have been preserved. We were treated to a break for tea in one before driving a bit further toward the end of the spit to see the breeding colony of gannets. On our way back we stopped at one of the larger sand dunes and as we stepped out on to the vast stretch of sand, I felt so small. It was like we’d driven right into a giant sand art picture and got out to have a look. The endless patterns formed from the ongoing relationship between the wind and sand I found mesmerizing. This rather barren landscape certainly was as far from boring as you could get

Our tour on the Farewell spit.

Our tour on the Farewell spit.

. We climbed up on the dune and then each had a chance to find our way to the bottom of the steep face any way we chose. I walked slowly deliberately with a couple hops which filled my boots with sand. As the guide put it, a shoe shrinking exercise. The only other people on the tour with us were an elderly couple from Wellington and it was an absolute hoot to watch her scootch down the steep face on her bum. I stood there thinking, “man I want to have that thriving sense of adventure into my later years too” I cannot imagine all the places she found sand. With every step the sand cascaded down gracefully sliding over itself like satin on skin. Once at the bottom we all spent a little time just playing in the super soft sand. Our guide showed us how you could just plunge your hands in to create a tiny avalanche of sand that crawled up and up and up the side of the dune. It was a privilege and awesome delight to play in God’s sandbox.

footprint in the sand from previous days tour

footprint in the sand from previous days tour

Back in the van we set off to the next stop, an old shipwreck that is nearly buried. Our guide shared that he’d been stopping here for years and recently it was a hit or miss opportunity as the dunes are always moving, it is about to be buried with sand. On this day he was optimistic that we’d see it because of the exceptionally high tide that had washed over the region during the previous week, and we did.

remnants of shipwreck

remnants of shipwreck

What remained were only a few scraps of metal but it certainly was an interesting sight and made one wonder at the story behind that ship and it’s journey. On we went catching a glimpse of a pair of oyster catchers every 1 km, just as our guide said we would. The symmetry of nature is becoming more distinguishable the more time I get to spend observing it.

Rocks at Fossil Point

Rocks at Fossil Point

The next stop was fossil point and as we approached, our guide informed us based on the looks of the tide we needed to make a committed effort to walk to the cave he wanted to show us, as to not get ourselves trapped inside by the rising tide. We arrived to find water already lapping at the entrance so with expertly timed cues as to when we could go in and how long we had before we needed to exit, he managed to get us all in the cave, explain some of the geological history and emerge without anyone getting wet.

Cave at Fossil Point

Cave at Fossil Point

Again, I was impressed that he knew practically down to the minute how long we could spend inside, just by glancing out at the ocean. One other item of interest right at the entrance to the cave was the body of a shark that had washed ashore and become a meal for some seagulls.

Yikes! Shark

Yikes! Shark

Gross, but fascinating–those teeth are scary looking. Walking back to the van as the tide came in we had a moment to observe some fossilized shells in the rocks along the beach and then it was back through the gate

Cape Farewell

Cape Farewell

Farewell. We drove up this short narrow gravel road nestled in the nooks and crannies of more lush rolling green hills dotted with sheep and now vivid white baby lambs.

Ewe so cute

Ewe so cute

The scene so picturesque and such a contrast to the miles of sand we’d just been on. From this road we climbed up the trail to the lookout on the cliff’s edge.

Green hills at Cape Farewell

Green hills at Cape Farewell

After viewing Cape Farewell, we approached our farewell to Golden Bay.

glass bead and jewelry shop, Takaka

glass bead and jewelry shop, Takaka

We departed Collingwood early that afternoon and stopped to enjoy a delicious lunch in Takaka before stopping in a glass bead shop for some more gazing into the face of creativity this time in the form of colored glass instead of sand art patterns. Thanks for reading, I wish everyone a beautiful week.

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