Glorious Golden Bay

Friday of last week we headed out from Richmond, bound for Over the Hill – to Takaka and Golden Bay. It had been a few years since we’d been to Motueka and longer since we’d been Over the Hill. The first surprise was the Mapua bypass. Mapua and Ruby Bay and more besides are now all bypassed, for better or for worse. The road zooms through the hills, and so did we. And on to the Takaka Hill. I’d forgotten the details and we’ve tackled lots of interesting hills and roads with Suzi towing the car. But the Takaka Hill remains right up there with the best/worst. Right from the bottom it is steep and winding. And it goes on like that forever, or so it seems. The upper part is not so steep but still torturous. The relief at the  top is soon replaced by surprise to see the nature of the descent – steep and winding. There is a 15 kmph bend there somewhere, and you don’t see many of those any more.

Eventually we reached the valley floor at Upper Takaka, and headed on down valley, through Takaka and on to Pohara Beach. We are allowed to park up at the boat club at the harbour. Which is wonderful. It is a big harbour – formerly with a cement works and cement boats. Now for fishing and mussel boats and the squadrons of little (and bigger) speed boats that go in and out each day and head off somewhere for something. There  is also a water shuttle boat taking people into the top end of the Abel Tasman National Park. Saturday morning entertainment was walking over and watching the departure at 10am. There was a bunch of young things heading off for an adventure somewhere with boxes and bags of camping gear and food and drink. It took them many trips from their two vehicles on and off the jetty to get everything loaded. Plus there were daytrippers, and others who looked more like regulars. And latecomers. Golden Bay is not so concerned about time and the timetable is more a guideline than a policy. But eventually they all headed off.

And so did we, we headed north in the car, a short distance to Tata Beach. By this stage the sun was out and everyone was swimming.  It is a narrow beach but we found somewhere to sit and enjoy the day. And had a swim. I can’t say the water was warm, but at least the day was. Plus there was some suggestions about jellyfish. Further along kids were running around with lumps of jellyfish, so presumably they were not the stinging sort. I wasn’t very enthusiastic but Wyn was brave so I had to be as well. After a late picnic lunch we drove on north-east. A sign had already said that access to Totaranui was closed. This was news to us but explained some of the water shuttle activity. A sign at Tata Beach warned of road dangers, and only later did we discover that this was  only the second day the road was open to non-residents since the floods back in December. 

The damage to the road is extensive, with multiple one-way sections where 20-30% of the road has slipped away. Considering the number of these slips, it seems very lucky that one didn’t claim the whole road. It was a slow and sobering trip over to Wainui Bay. The devastation here was even more extensive. There were numerous slips where sections of hillside had just failed, many in open country but many in bushed areas as well. At Wainui Bay we realised that there were a bunch of cars parked indicating the start of a walk to Wainui Falls. So we parked up and headed up the valley. This entailed crossing a large area of washed out gravel and sand. It was further up this that we realised we were walking beside the top six inches of a gate, and the line we’d been beside was the top of a fenceline. Where the track headed up the river it was roped off with “Danger Do Not Enter” tape so we turned back. We later learned from the Takaka i-Site that the track had been reopened. It seems someone forgot to remove the “Do Not Enter” tape!

Sunday was another nice day and after our usual slow start we decided to get on our bikes. This entailed finding seats and lubing chains and digging out the bike shorts and many other procrastinations. But eventually we were on our bikes and back around the road towards Pohara Beach. Then there was a cycleway which went along by the beach and on to the next estuary, Motupipi I think. The cycleway ended at a road with no explanation of whether it was the end or what happened next. So we milled around for a bit, and found the Clifton cemetery – the oldest in Golden Bay apparently. It was a strange cemetery, I’ve never seen so many graves of people who had “Fallen asleep”.  Maybe there had been bad water in them parts in the olden days. Whatever, if I’d been a kid back then I’d have been frightened of going to bed because clearly falling asleep could be very permanent.

After concluding that the cycleway had ended, we carried on along the road to Clifton and across the main road and on up to The Grove. This is a lovely little walk among house-size rocks and strange limestone formations which culminated in a track through a big cleft to a viewing platform over the surrounding farmland. Very different. A bit further up the road we spent our coffee money on fresh vegetables. Then it was a fun wizzzzzzz back down the road to the cemetery and the cycleway. And bless the day, a tail wind had sprung up to help us back past Pohara to our harbour. The wind dropped later, giving a gorgeous evening.

On Monday we packed up with our usual reluctance and hitched up the car and headed back to Takaka. A coffee at the Wholemeal Cafe gave a chance to try my laptop on the wireless network. It’d given up accessing the mobile data network the previous week and not it refused to admit any wireless networks existed as well. Clearly it is not well. Maybe in danger of “Falling Asleep”! Takaka is a lovely place. I think it might be a loop in the Space-Time Continuum where it is stuck on 1960s. Which is fun but I’m not sure I could live there permanently. What’s the bet the Values Party is alive and well and chilled out in Takaka? [Values Party – the political party of the 1980s that couldn’t reach a consensus about whether it wanted to be a political party.]

From Takaka we headed north west, to Collingwood, where we stopped for a walk around. In the street we met Rebecca from Outram who did the flowers for our wedding last year. It is surprising how few people we meet on our travels who we know – sometimes NZ seems like as big place. From Collingwood north-east towards Farewell Spit the roads get progressively narrower. You know you are heading to the end of somewhere. We were looking for a seaside former gravel pit to park up. The directions referred to a bridge over a stream but failed to mention that this was just past the unmarked track off the road. A few kilometers up the road we found somewhere to pull off the road and then it was a case of unhitching the car and removing the A-frame and driving back separately. Otherwise there was too much risk of damaging something making a sharp turn off the road. It was a great place to park/camp, right beside Golden Bay. The tide was in when we arrived but soon the bay retreated east – it goes out forever.

Yesterday was our day for exploring Farewell Spit. We baulked at doing the proper tours but must some day. The tours are the only way to get right along the sand spit to the lighthouse, about 30kms. We took the car to the Cafe/Information Centre where the biggest concern seems to be making sure people don’t use the toilet unless they buy a coffee first. Maybe they should have a sliding scale; buy a postcard and you can do number ones; buy a coffee and the toilet paper dispenser is activated; and if you want to do number twos you have to go for the coffee and scone combo. We took ourselves off to the paupers decaffeinated longdrops down the bottom (no pun intended) car park.

From there, we headed east along the sandspit on the inner beach, intending to take the first track across the spit to the outer beach. Except we missed the sign – which I blamed on the sign being inconspicuous. Certainly it is not far up the beach and I’m glad we missed it. Further up the beach we started to wonder if we’d missed the sign and whether we’d end up at the lighthouse. Finally there was a sign indicating a track across the sandspit (15 minutes) and also that access was denied beyond there. So we realised we’d come as far as the second crossing. There were even small lakes in the dunes heading across. The outer beach was windier and it was a head wind all the way back down. The beach stretched on forever and it seemed to take forever.

Eventually we reached a marker, marking something. Wyn was over beach walks by this stage so she waited in the lee of a sandhill while I zoomed on down to the very end of the beach and Fossil Point. Which I didn’t get the point of, not being sure where the fossils were. I found a couple of rocks with some shells in, then cut my losses and zoomed back. We followed the markers and eventually worked out we were on the cross track we meant to take first off, and not the next one we were aiming for coming back. The signage is not DOC’s best; a big orange circle does not impart all the information that some pedants require. I can see it is a track – just tell me which one please!

We headed back to a small settlement at Puponga where we had our late picnic lunch by a lovely estuary. Then it was up the road for a 5-minute walk to see Cape Farewell and a fairly spectacular bit of coastline. And a fairly spectacular bit of clifftop track which appears to be sited stupidly close to the clifftop. Not for me! Then we drove on to the walk to Wharariki Beach – a spectacular West Coast beach. We were about beached as by this stage so headed back to the car and the short drive back to our gravel pit. It is an extraordinary bit of the country and it’d be good to come back sometime to explore some more. There’s a Whanganui Inlet south of here for a start – one day.

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