The Ultimate Guide to Golden Bay

A brightly coloured cafe interior.

No trip to Nelson Tasman would be complete without a jaunt “Over the Hill” to Golden Bay.

A popular weekend destination for locals, the Bay is bordered by the Abel Tasman and Kahurangi National Parks. In between is a nature-lover's paradise, with plenty of scenic walks and tranquil beaches—a place where you can sit back, relax and do things in your own time.

With classic Kiwi small towns anchored by a passionate, artistic community, Golden Bay is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of life. And here’s your ultimate guide for what to do with a day (or five) in the area.

Words by: Claire Williamson
Photos by: Anna Briggs & Getty

Hit up Tākaka’s Commercial Street

Tākaka’s main thoroughfare is where you could easily spend a full day eating and browsing your way through the eateries and galleries lining both sides of the street.
Tables and chairs inside Wholemeal cafe.

The Wholemeal Café

Fuel up with an East Timor Leste coffee from The Wholemeal Café, housed in the colourful premises of the former Takaka Theatre. In addition to its vintage appeal, the cabinet items and menu cater to all dietary requirements, whether you’re after something sweet or savoury. Once sated, just pick a side of the street to start and wander as you please. If you’re lucky enough to be in town on a Saturday, make your first stop the Village Market Takaka, a cheerful community market with stalls of produce, artisan homegoods, fresh bread and pastries, and vintage items.

Take to the shops & galleries

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7110/60 Commercial Street, Tākaka

Then there’s the Wayward Rabbit, a tiny, tidy studio in The Wholemeal Café courtyard where milliner Rachele Rabbitts felts unique hats with a retro, almost steampunk flair and offers upcycled clothing she dyes with natural botanicals. A few doors down is  StoneArrow Jewellery, showcasing earrings, necklaces and rings made with recycled glass bottles, including the classic sky-blue Bombay Sapphire Gin. And at Monza Gallery or Art Vault Takaka (which is indeed a repurposed bank building, vault included!) you can peruse artwork from raranga weaving to sculpture and paintings created exclusively by local artists.

For a bit of local history, stop into the free Golden Bay Museum, which provides information on the industries that formed the backbone of the region and how towns like Tākaka, Collingwood and Bainham changed over time. As well, there is significant useful context on some of the historic buildings still standing throughout the region, together with an insight into many flora and fauna.

Dinner at The Dangerous Kitchen or Dada Manifesto

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46 Commercial Street, Tākaka

iWhen it’s once again time to eat, the pizzas from The Dangerous Kitchen or a loaded burger from Roots Bar will be calling your name. For dessert, duck into the award-winning Choco Loco to put together a box of deluxe, mouthwatering truffles—think zesty Lime Zinger, Salted Cara Melt or tingly Pepperberry. Or, if you’re looking for a special-occasion-worthy meal, book in for dinner at the speakeasy-style ‘Dada Manifesto’, where they serve up slick cocktails and small plates.

Find your perfect beach

When it comes to Golden Bay sand, you’re absolutely spoilt for choice.
Inside a cave at Wharariki Beach on a sunny day.

Wharariki Beach

One of the most photographed places—and for good reason—is Wharariki Beach, just west of Farewell Spit. From the car park, trek through hilly pasture until you hit the sculpted white sand dunes where you can meander along the beach and admire the iconic rock formations, including the two archway islands of Windows 10 screensaver fame. If you’ve timed the tide right, you’ll be able to walk out and peer through the gaps. Seals often splash in the shallows or come up to sun on the beach, but while the water may look inviting, the surf is rough, and swimming is not permitted. 

Photo by: Getty Images

White flowers and a sandy beach in Golden Bay on a sunny day.

Tata Beach

For taking a dip, try the more sheltered cove of Tata Beach where you can swim, boat or kick-start a guided kayak trip around the cove and into the top of Abel Tasman National Park. However, if you’re looking for something more sedate, go for a sunset stroll along Parapara Beach—named after the native “bird catcher” tree—where you’ll find an easy walk along smooth golden sand.

Photo by: Getty Images

Have a wee nip

While Golden Bay doesn’t have the same endless acreage of vineyards as Nelson or Marlborough, the region does have its fair share of boutique breweries and distilleries.
Two glasses of gin martinis toasting.

Dancing Sands Distillery

Gin lovers, in particular, have plenty to choose from in Golden Bay. In Tākaka, just off Commercial Street, there’s the Dancing Sands Distillery cellar door, where you can sample their range of flavourful spirits, from their Sun-Kissed strawberry and rhubarb to Wasabi and even Kiwi classic Sauvignon Blanc gins. Their bottles have undergone a slick redesign and are now made from New Zealand recycled glass.

Kiwi Spirit Distillery

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430 Abel Tasman Drive, Golden Bay, Motupipi

Out in Motupipi, you’ll also find Kiwi Spirit Distillery. This family-run operation has a warm and inviting cellar door, with bar stools at the counter inside and courtyard communal tables under a green roof of wisteria vines. Their complimentary tasting will guide you through the distillery’s award-winning range of gin, liqueurs and spirits. Build your own cheese and charcuterie platter and make a light meal of the occasion. It’s also worth shelling out for a double-shot of Kiwi Spirit’s signature TeKiwi 100% Blue Agave Tequilana, made from agave grown in a hothouse behind the distillery. 

The Mussel Inn

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1259 State Highway 60, Onekaka

For those who prefer beer, The Mussel Inn in Onekaka offers a rotating range of craft beers, ciders and non-alcoholics made at their eponymous brewery next to their farmhouse-style eatery, many with amusing names like the Captain Cooker Manuka Beer, Pale Whale Ale or Lemming Aid (aka “lemonade”).

Hop from gallery to gallery

As you drive across Golden Bay, you’ll often notice signs for tiny, tucked-away galleries off the main road, and it’s worth building extra time into your trip to stop at one or all of these hidden gems, where you’ll get a chance to meet the artists and learn more about the inspiration behind their work.
The darkly lit interior of Estuary Art Gallery in Golden Bay.

Golden Bay's Galleries

EarthSea Gallery and Studio is tucked in two hectares of native plantings and restored wetland off Pohara, and here artist Peter Green sells his dramatic landscape paintings and prints, many of which depict local landmarks. Sculpture705 Lollokiki is the joint studio of local artists Toy Murchie and Kas Muller. A trip to their gallery complex is like stepping into another world, with their eclectic wood and metal pieces tucked amongst sprawling greenery and winding paths, encouraging discovery. 

Closer to Parapara and Collingwood is Estuary Arts, where husband-and-wife duo Bruce Hamlin and Rosie Little have been making art inspired by the natural beauty of Golden Bay for over 30 years—think dramatic watercolours and oils of the fields and hills around the region and dreamy kiln-formed glass landscapes reminiscent of the water. If ceramics are more your thing, detour along Parapara Valley Road until you see the sign for Hans Bauer Anathoth Pottery. His studio-gallery is housed in a charming red cottage on a hilly lifestyle block and is full of his Asian-inflected pieces. Many utilise creative glazes in rich jewel-tones and dimpled textures created by firing pieces with styrofoam blocks to highlight the unique qualities of the clay.

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Fish for your supper

Anatoki Salmon Fishing & Café

No trip to Golden Bay is complete without a stop at Anatoki Salmon Fishing & Café. Grab some fishing gear and bait and head out to the water and drop a line for the farm-raised Chinook salmon (be careful: you pay by weight for each fish you land, so make sure you keep an eye on the kids!). Then bring your catch back to the counter by the café (which also serves a mean coffee), where you can have it served as sashimi, hot-smoked with a flavour of your choice, or vacuum-sealed to eat later. You literally cannot get any fresher than that!

Elsewhere on the property are little streams full of fat, long-fin eels, some of which are believed to be over 90 years old. You can buy eel bait and hand-feed them or just watch them slip and slide through the water. There are also a few other farm critters roaming around—keep an eye out for the kunekune and the turkeys.

Go adventuring

The Tākaka Hill and many of the surrounding areas are made of limestone, which over millennia, has developed into an astounding network of caves, sinkholes and other geological wonders.
A view of an estuary at dusk in Golden Bay.

Ngarua Caves & The Aorere Goldfields Track

On the Hill itself is the Ngarua Caves, a series of caves close to the summit. You can book a tour to see the various stalagmites and stalactites, as well as the preserved skeleton of several moa that would have (unfortunately) fallen into a sinkhole and gotten stuck. 

The Aorere Goldfields Track—one of many excellent walks in Nelson Tasman—also leads to another notable cave hearkening back to the region’s mining history. The trail follows an old miner’s track and water race until it reaches Stafford’s Cave, which can be climbed provided you have a high level of fitness, headtorch and sufficiently sturdy boots. If you just want to take a look at the so-called Ballroom without spelunking, the trail skirts the outside of the cave system to the large cavern’s entrance. Those looking for even more of a thrill can peer into the depths of Harwood’s Hole—the deepest vertical shaft in New Zealand.

Photo by: Getty Images

A body of water at Abel Tasman.

Abel Tasman Canyons & Labyrinth Rocks

For a more adrenaline-fuelled caving experience, look no further than the thrills offered by Abel Tasman Canyons. Their full-day guided packages will see you scrambling, jumping, sliding or maybe even abseiling down stunning mountain canyons flowing with fresh spring water. Bring swimming gear, closed-toed shoes and your sense of adventure. 

If heights or enclosed spaces aren’t your thing but you still want to get a sense of the geology, the free Labyrinth Rocks just outside of Tākaka is a charming, maze-like park where you can wander amongst the karst stone and admire the intriguing shapes the natural flow of water carves into the rock.

Photo by: Getty images

Sweet stays

Whether you’re looking for something cheap and cheerful, with easy water access, or something a bit more luxe, Golden Bay has it all.

Ratanui Lodge

In Pohara, Ratanui Lodge is an elegant beachside retreat. With just 10 rooms, it’s the perfect quiet accommodation for a couple looking to relax while still being within easy distance of the area’s many attractions. Impeccably decorated with local art—from the paintings on the walls to the ceramics and even bedside scented spray. Breakfast in the excellent on-site restaurant is included with your booking, and the food is so good you’ll want to make your reservation for dinner as well—or at least a pre-dinner drink off their cocktail menu, which stars many local gins.

Drift Off Grid Glamping

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1322 Abel Tasman Drive, Tata Beach

For a bit of eco-conscious glam, at Drift Off Grid Glamping, you can immerse yourself in nature while staying at a stylish tented accommodation. Drift Off Grid’s two tents—Kanukā and Korimako—offer complementary views, and both sport a super king bed, double shower, log fire and heated floors, together with vintage soaking baths imported from Europe. From your tent, it’s easy to hop into the provided electric buggy and trundle off to Tata Beach, Pōhara and more. Or you can relax closer to home with one of the add-ons of a massage, private yoga session or sound meditation journey.