Cut off from the rest of the island only accessible by the one twisting mountain pass over Takaka Hill or a four to six-day walk through the Kahurangi National Park over mountains and along windswept beaches is the beautiful Golden Bay. Made up of a few tiny towns with many art galleries and an alternative lifestyle set of people, it makes for a quiet, relaxed place with a stunning wilderness and out on Farewell Spit; an other worldly feeling. Though the spit shelters the coastal seas somewhat from the frequent Cook Strait storms it does not however protect anything else. We saw what we had in store for us when we left Kaiteriteri, a storm that when it hit, would remind me of the time I was stranded at a surf camp in the middle of a cyclone whilst traveling Australia. So we rushed over the mountain range of Takaka Hill pausing only briefly for a quick view of the Tasman region and Nelson from Hawkes lookout.
The road down the other side was a wonderful drive with its hairpin corners and the marvelous view of the mountains rolling into the lush valleys below scattered with farmland and the blue sea washing up on the longest curved bay I think I’ve ever seen. It was almost perfection, the grey clouds detracted from the view, lacking in any drama it just added a miserable air to the day. In Takaka, the “largest” town, we ventured around the quirky little shops, I was in my element with the hippy clothing, pretty scarfs and soooo much gorgeous jewelry. Of course Chris wasn’t enjoying his time so I didn’t get to stay for too long, probably a good idea as I would have spent too much. We also quickly visited a sacred Maori spring, Te Waikoropupū, that is reputed to have the some of clearest water in the world. It certainly was very clear, it was very deceiving in that though it was deep, the bottom seemed just below the surface. The bubbling pools were different shades of crystal blue or green, it was all very pretty.
We went to a campsite in Collingwood, a little hamlet of place, we chose it for the value of money but when we arrived we realised we would have paid anything for the panorama. The campsite was right next to the beach but my eye was immediately drawn towards the mountains across the estuary slopping into the sea and we were so close to the water I felt as if we were right on top of it. We weren’t just looking at the view, we were in the view. There wasn’t much time to take it all in though as those depressingly grey clouds were growing darker by the minute. We had to get out car set up quick and make sure our tent was up with the bivouac sheltering anything that might leak. As we were just finishing up the first rain drops came, the sun was just setting somewhere behind the clouds and a wind had started to whip up. I took to making the dinner whilst Chris battened down the hatches, by the time we were snuggled up in the cosy lounge the rain was battering hard and there was no end in sight. We didn’t get much sleep that night, I felt sure the car was going to be blown over at any minute and the bivouac kept coming loose, cracking against the car like a whip. I could hear the sea crashing so close and started to think maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to have a spot right next to the tumultuous ocean.
We hoped it would blow over in the night but when we woke it was still going, just going from the car to the toilet meant getting drenched to bone. Sometime in the afternoon the owner of the campsite made the perilous journey from the office to the lounge to awkwardly hand us a cabin key so we could spend a night keeping dry for free, clearly he was a man who often makes kind gestures but finds the gratitude uncomfortable and we had plenty of gratitude to give.The rain was still too hard to move anything over so we stayed in the lounge watching home improvement programs and chatting to an elderly lady who sounded like she had traveled the world twice over. She was one of those people who had probably aged in looks through the stresses of circumnavigating the globe though had managed to stay young at heart, we felt like we were speaking to someone our own age and she had so many interesting stories to tell. Eventually the rain lessened and we made it into our cosy cabin where we holed up for the night drinking tea and watching movies.
As usual when a storm blows itself out the world becomes clean, there’s a freshness in the air that lightens the soul. So we let the remaining breeze blow us along to Farewell Spit, a sandbank the reaches far out into the ocean for twenty-six miles. There was still a bit of rain about so we braved the sea air wrapped up. The walk along this side of the spit was nice enough, white sand dunes covered in grasses and shrubs and as we reached further along we started noticing whale bone’s dotted about. The spit is notoriously known as a death trap for whales, one day 174 pilot whales washed up on the shore with many of them perishing. The real beauty of the spit became apparent when we walked up the sand dunes to the top and found ourselves in another world. This wasn’t just your usual sand dunes gracefully melding into each, these were sand dunes that were being constantly battered by the weather, moving, compacting, blowing away. There were different colours and shades, pools of clear water rippled in the wind and reflected the bright blue sky. Somehow grass had managed to find an anchor to grow and the green stood out like the contrast had been turned up amongst the grey and white.
We sat here for quite a while occasionally shouting at passerby’s the best way to go so as not to get stuck in the soft sand until we decided to visit the North of the North, the spit didn’t count as it’s not solid ground. There wasn’t much of note at the northernmost tip of the South Island, only an information board and a railing to stop us falling off the cliff. We managed to spot a few seals before the wind got too much to handle joining back up with the black, narrow road that led us through sheep chewed hills and roaming horses to Wharariki beach, recognised as the main background desktop on the new Windows 10.
The walk to it was delightfully pleasant along the sheep paths, shooing them out the way as we went by. The scent in the air reminded me of my favourite smell in world, Fairbourne smell, a mixture of the sea, sweet sea grass, fresh air and sheep poo. I had a feeling of lightness and sadness in my heart, I was in a beautiful place but dreaming of somewhere else. I shook it off once we came upon the seal’s playing in the estuary below. I held my breath so as not to ruin the moment, thankfully forgetting to grab my camera until the very end when Chris came blundering through the bush, this private little show was to be enjoyed not photographed. There was something very childlike but romantic about the way they were playing, they mirrored each other perfectly as if they were dancing, it was fascinating to watch. Chris managed to miss most of it though, which was a shame as it was the highlight of the day.
Making it down onto the beach I realised that I had completely forgot to check the tidal times so we missed our photo opportunity, I don’t think it would have mattered too much though as we the wind was blowing sand into our eyes and rendering us blind. We had a brisk walk around, attempting to take in some sort of view, managing to spot a seal pup waiting on a small patch of sand for its mother. With not much else to do and beginning to feel more sand than human we decided to take the very long drive back over Takaka Hill to the brilliant Christian Camp in Kaiteriteri, if we hadn’t had kayaking booked for the next day we probably would have stayed a little longer on the stunningly magic coast of Golden Bay.