North of the Takaka Hill

Many visitors to the Nelson region don’t make it over Takaka Hill up to Golden Bay, the northern tip of the South Island, but it is well worth a visit!! (Particularly if you are looking to go somewhere a little off the beaten track, and away from the mainstream of tourists at a busy time of year). State Highway 60 winds over and around the Takaka Hill, and there are some great photo stops along the way, with stunning views back over the plains towards Nelson.

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I also made a lovely stop at the Te Waikoropupu Springs (known as the pupu springs by the locals!), which is about an hour and a half north of Motueka. There is a beautiful bushwalk to the largest spring in New Zealand, with some of the clearest water in the world. The waters are sacred to the Maori, and it is forbidden to swim or otherwise touch the water, but it is nonetheless a very peaceful place to stop and stretch your legs.

It is a short drive from Te Waikoropupu to Collingwood, where I checked in to my room at Zatori. Zatori stands on a hilltop overlooking the Collingwood Estuary and village, halfway between Takaka township and the Farewell Spit. The beautiful setting of this retreat is totally private, with stunning views over the gorgeous Aorere River mouth out to the mountains of Kahurangi National Park and the ocean beyond. There are paddle boards, kayaks and bikes available if you want to further explore the area without having to get back in your car. As my room wasn’t quite ready (I had arrived an hour earlier than expected!) Tracey brought me a pot of tea and I sat out on the deck admiring the view, and wishing I could just sit there for the rest of the day. My room was beautiful, with large sliding windows which I could open on to a deck, with views out over the gardens and the sea beyond. A lovely retreat.

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I had a delicious lunch at the Courthouse Cafe in Collingwood, before heading out to explore Cape Farewell, and Farewell Spit.

Farewell Spit, at the northern tip of the South Island is New Zealand’s longest sand spit (35km) and a nature reserve. It is an internationally-renowned bird sanctuary with over 90 bird species recorded in the area. Every spring, thousands of wading birds arrive from the northern hemisphere. Other birds range from black swans and gannets to bar tailed godwits, knots, curlews, whimbrels and turnstones. Penguins also breed in the area.

Wharariki Beach is stunning. The crashing waves, huge cliffs, and sanddunes will blow you away. The caves, islands and arches of Wharariki Beach, where seals breed, are among the most dramatic in the country. There is a local horse trekking company with special concessions from the Department of Conservation to ride horses along Wharariki Beach – a unique way to explore this stunning part of New Zealand.

There are also lots of great walks you can do in this area, of various difficulty grades, across lush farmland, and with spectacular views of the rugged coastline. Make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes! You can walk from Wharariki Beach to Cape Farewell (which is about a 3 hour walk). Part of this path crosses the beach, and you will need to make sure it is low tide when you set out, otherwise this part of the walk will be under water. After crossing a small creek and walking through farmland, and along cliffs with amazing views, you will eventually come to Cape Farewell.

Cape Farewell is the most northerly point on the South Island and is located just west of Farewell Spit. First mapped by Abel Tasman, it was named by British explorer James Cook in 1770 – it was the last land seen by his crew as they departed on the ship’s homeward voyage. Due to its remote location, it is one of the less visited of New Zealand’s major capes.  From here, the clifftop walk (3 hours one-way along the heights of the coast east of the Cape) joins the area with the beginning of Farewell Spit.

I had a magnificent 3 course dinner at Zatori that evening, and the lovely atmosphere in the stylish lounge area (complete with open fire) was the perfect setting for a delightful evening with delicious food and friendly locals. Tracey also recommended the perfect wines from the area to accompany the meal. A wonderful end to a wonderful weekend in Golden Bay.

A weekend in Nelson

I spent a delightful weekend in Nelson in May. As my plane landed at the small local airport, and I climbed down the stairs onto the runway, I looked around at the early morning light, the open skies, and the distant mountains, and felt that I had arrived somewhere special. After picking up my car from Hardy Rental Cars (very good friendly service) I headed into Nelson township, to visit the Nelson Market, which is held on Saturday mornings. It was a beautiful crisp sunny autumn day, and I had a very enjoyable stroll through the various market stalls – admiring everything from regional goods, fresh, seasonal and organic produce as well as handcrafted items from local artisans, and stalls selling mouth-watering freshly prepared food and coffee.

In the afternoon, I visited the World of Wearable Art Museum. I wasn’t expecting to be so impressed. The skill and talent involved in creating these stunning costumes is incredible. Many of the costumes on display won awards in the World of Wearable Art Awards Show, a two hour performance held annually in Wellington in September. The Museum also has a vast collection of classic cars in wonderful condition too. You can easily while away an hour or three here!

The next morning I visited some of the lovely vineyards in the Nelson area. Nelson is one of the sunniest region in New Zealand, and has a mild climate that combines to create some wonderful wines. Grape vines have been cultivated in this area from the time of the mid-1800s by German settlers to New Zealand. Many wineries in the area also offer lovely cafes at the vineyard, so as well as tasting wines, you can indulge in a platter of something delicious to go with the wine as well. As it is quite a small region, you can visit several vineyards within a few hours.

Afterwards, I ended up at the Jellyfish Cafe at Mapua Wharf for a late lunch. What a beautiful place. I had a delicious meal of grilled calamari, salad and kumara chips, with a glass of a Nelson Sauvignon Blanc, while admiring the beautiful Waimea Estuary flowing past the cafe. I could easily have spent most of the afternoon there, soaking in the sea air and the sound of gulls flying past, but decided I needed a bit of activity to round off the day.

So, after my late lunch I went for a bike tour on Tasman’s Great Taste Trail with Nicky McBride, from Wheelie Fantastic. They have a great arrangement there – Nicky and her team are based directly at Mapua Wharf, and will drop you (and your bikes) anywhere in the area on the Taste Trail (depending on how far and how long you want to bike, and how challenging you want your ride to be). I decided that after my wine tastings and lunch I didn’t feel up to tackling hilly areas, and rather wanted some downhill and flat biking. You can choose whether you want to bike on your own or whether you would like one of their guides to bike with you and show you around. Nicky loaded our bikes up on the back of their van, and we were dropped off on the Trail. Nicky showed me some lovely parts of the country on the way back to Mapua, and some good spots to stop for a break or two (Jester House looked lovely!) There’s something for everyone there, whether you’re a really keen biker or just someone who feels like a leisurely bike ride to work off lunch and a glass or two of wine!!

Moana the Albatross

Albatrosses are the world’s largest seabirds, spending at least 85% of their lives at sea. Fourteen varieties of albatrosses breed in the New Zealand region – more than anywhere else in the world. Several are extremely rare, like the Chatham Islands mollymawk which breeds only on one tiny island in the Chathams. (See the DOC website: DOC:Albatrosses)

New Zealand’s albatrosses include two species of royal albatross, the largest of all the albatrosses. Given that these huge birds often live in very remote areas, it can be hard for most of us to see them.  If you make it to Dunedin, you should definitely visit the Royal Albatross Centre, located on the Otago Peninsula. Pukekura/Taiaroa Head is home to the world’s only mainland royal albatross breeding colony. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these magnificent birds in real life, and a unique opportunity to view royal albatross parents and chicks. At the Royal Albatross Centre, visitors can watch the seasonal behaviour of breeding albatross including courting, egg incubation, chicks and adolescent hijinks.

If you’re too far away to pop into the Royal Albatross Centre, you can watch the development of little Moana, an albatross chick hatched on the 21st of January 2016, via a live stream web camera, placed directly in front of Moana’s nest: Moana: Royal Cam

This is an amazing opportunity to watch a baby albatross grow and explore its surroundings. Initially, Moana’s parents took turns guarding and feeding her. She is now left alone for extended periods while both parents head to sea to search for food. As she gets older and bigger, the parents spend more time out at sea. You may tune in and see an empty nest, but usually Moana’s not too far away. She needs to stay near the nest in case her parents come back to feed her.