If you’re looking for a laid-back getaway with a mix of beautiful mountain and beach scenery, great local food and drinks, and good vibes all around, look no further than magical Golden Bay.
Situated on the northwest end of Abel Tasman National Park, Golden Bay is the lesser-known (and therefore less crowded) part of this stunning region.
The sandy beaches here are truly golden, and the colour of the sea looks Caribbean-esque on a sunny day. Whether you feel like swimming, kayaking, visiting a waterfall, or exploring freshwater springs, you’re never far away from the water. On top of this, the alpine wonderland of Kahurangi National Park backs the inland portion of the bay, providing endless hiking opportunities. The amount of ecological diversity in the region is seriously mind-boggling!
While there are an endless amount of places to explore in this area, below are some of our favourite spots in Golden Bay.
There aren’t many motels or hotels in Golden Bay, so we recommend checking out places on Airbnb. We’ve stayed in this place in Ligar Bay and it was fantastic.
This holiday park is right on the beach, and while it gets packed around Christmas/New Years, the off-season is quite mellow. You can pitch a tent or park your campervan in one of their campsites, or book a cabin if you prefer. The shared kitchen and bathrooms are clean and tidy, and the beach is literally right there. This is a great budget-friendly option in the area.
If you’re after more of a scenic, rustic campsite, this DOC-run campground can’t be beat. It’s right on the beach and is simply stunning. Keep in mind that it’s quite popular, though, so be sure to book ahead and be prepared for some crowds if you’re there in summer.
EAT + DRINK //
This brewery/food establishment is an absolute must-do in the area! They brew a delicious variety of beers and ciders using local ingredients (including fresh spring water from the area) and serve up great pub food, including New Zealand green-lipped mussels, which are procured close nearby and are just divine. On Saturdays they often have a band playing, and their outdoor area becomes quite magical with a bonfire and fairy lights.
On the way to Totaranui Beach lies this hidden gem of a cafe. Their small, brightly coloured sign lured us in after a hike at Wainui falls—we quickly abandoned our plan of crackers and cheese for lunch once we were tempted by the promise of pizza and beer.
Toto’s is perched at the top of a hill in a lush setting overlooking Wainui Bay. We felt like we were in Costa Rica as we sipped our ciders and ate our pizza at a palm-frond covered bar with a view of the ocean. They have delicious pizzas (highly recommend the ‘Wainui Blue’ with blue cheese, salami and peppers) and icy-cold beverages to enjoy under some Golden Bay sunshine.
To top it all off, they have lawn games to play before and after you have your pizza. They also use their own hydro power and solar panels for energy – such a neat spot!
Time to walk: 45 minutes to one hour
Type of trail: out-and-back
A gentle, meandering trail through jungly forest leads to the best waterfall in Golden Bay. You’ll walk alongside a beautiful, tannin-stained creek under a canopy of ferns, beech trees and nikau palms.
This trail is so pleasant that you won’t want it to end! It takes roughly 20-30 minutes to get to the falls on the out-and-back path; if you miss a photo op along the way, you can simply snap one on the way back.
Time to walk: 20 minutes to get to the beach; as long as you want for exploring the beach
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Type of trail: out-and-back
Situated at the end of Golden Bay is one of our most favourite beaches on earth, Wharariki Beach. With its windswept sand dunes, epic rock formations and remote, rugged setting, it’s a place you can spend hours exploring.
Even the walk to get to the beach is a delight in itself. From the parking lot, it’s about a 20 minute walk—you’ll make your way over rolling hills of green pastures, usually with some skittish sheep warily eyeing you from a distance. You’ll next walk through a small forested section until you finally see a peak of the ocean through grass-covered sand dunes. Make your way up and over the sand dunes until you reach the open beach—which is absolutely awe-inspiring.
Wharariki Beach is beautiful any time of year, but from late summer through autumn a special phenomenon occurs: seal pups! Tons of adorable baby seals come out to play in the tide pools here, and it’s seriously the cutest thing ever. While it’s important to give them space (and not block their path to the ocean), you can get close enough to watch them right in front of you. They glide through the pools, wrestle each other, and move across the sand like a slip-n-slide. We can watch them for hours.
Make sure to go to the beach at low tide if you want to watch the seal pups, as this is when the tide pools emerge. If low tide happens to be at sunset, even better—Wharariki Beach is THE place to be when the sun goes down.
We’d also suggest walking along the beach to both ends, and exploring the caves and cool rock formations you’ll find along the way. Just come prepared as it can get quite windy at the beach and the weather can change quickly. One thing you can’t prepare yourself for is Wharariki’s beauty—no matter how many times we visit, we’re always blown away by this incredible place.
Time to walk: 15 minutes
Type of trail: loop
Another must-do in the area, “Pupu Springs” produce some of the clearest water in the world. These freshwater springs are best viewed on a sunny day to maximise the clear, bright blue colour that will leave you mesmerised. They’re sacred springs so swimming in and drinking from the water isn’t permitted.
Time to walk: 1.5-2 hours
Type of trail: loop
With the springs being the main draw in this area (with good reason: they’re beautiful), far less people take the road to the right and up to the hydro walkway. As a sign there reads, this walk showcases a perfect harmony between human ingenuity and nature.
The best way to start the hike is to get the harder part over with first; some sections are steep and wouldn’t be as fun to walk down. Go counter-clockwise, beginning with the “zig-zag” trail, where you’ll ascend for 15-20 minutes up a steep, root-laden path with no stairs.
After the climb, you’ll reach a ridge where flows the gentle waterway that gives the track its name—this is by far the most entertaining section of the hike!
Follow the often-narrow boardwalk along the waterway with a handrail to guide your balance—there’s occasionally a steep dropoff to your left. You’ll feel like you’re walking along the treetops up here. The walkway is quite unique and adds a bit of excitement compared to regular trail. At the highest point of the trail, you’ll reach the river where the water is siphoned off to generate the powerhouse far below.
You’ll take a long, gently-winding gravel road as you descend to the valley and powerhouse below. Make sure to enjoy the viewpoints along the way and don’t forget to stop by the powerhouse near the trail’s end to complete the story of how this feat of engineering brought the first lights to Golden Bay without impacting the surrounding environment in a negative way.
This hike can be enjoyable in all weather and is a great option when the sun isn’t shining. Wear water resistant shoes with traction and pack a picnic to enjoy at one of the many scenic tables along the walk.
Time to walk: 20-30 minutes
Type of trail: loop
A visit to Golden Bay wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Grove. This walk is quick and easy, and follows a path under jungly forest with plenty of greenery and birdlife to enjoy.
Time to walk: 1-3 hours depending on how far you go
Type of trail: out-and-back
From Totaranui beach and campground, you can take off on some nice hikes that are far less crowded than the ones from Abel Tasman’s main entrance.
Start at Totaranui and head north. A walk to Anapai Bay takes roughly 30 minutes through the forest, and you can continue on from there for another 30 minutes or so if you want to go to Mutton Bay. Whether you choose to walk to the closer or farther beach, you’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous, secluded cove at the end of your walk—bring a picnic to enjoy, and if it’s a nice day you can snack, swim, nap and repeat to your heart’s content.
Kayaking at Tata Beach
Kayaking is one of the best things to do in Golden Bay—the waters tend to be calm and clear and you can paddle along to see wildlife and relax on secluded beaches. It’s an experience not to be missed!
One of the best places in the area for kayaking is Tata Beach. We have our own kayaks that we like to take out here, but you can rent them right at Tata Beach from Golden Bay Kayaks. If you want to go on a guided tour you can do that, but they also let you just rent a kayak and go out on your own—it’s so much fun! We like to bring a picnic in a waterproof bag and kayak to a beach cove to enjoy lunch at.
Places we’d like to check out but haven’t yet…
Situated at the very tippy top of the South Island, Farewell Spit offers numerous walks with beautiful views.
A 45-minute steep walk (one way) leads to this cave, which is meant to have epic stalactites.
This is one of the lesser-travelled Great Walks, and takes between 4-6 days. It’s on our list of things to do one day.
ALONG THE WAY //
One of the best parts about visiting Golden Bay is the drive in and out of the area—you’ll want to stop every 10 minutes to check out a gorgeous view or roadside produce stand. This countryside is filled with orchards and hop farms and it just feels bountiful everywhere you look.
A few of our favourite pit stops include the following:
This family-friendly place serves up some awesome brunch, and has great gardens and strange but wonderful tame eels in their onsite river—quite a site to see.
An excellent brewery that’s takeaway-centric; sample a few brews, pick your favourite, then grab a bottle to take along to your next destination. If you happen to be visiting during fresh hop season (autumn), you must try one of their fresh hop varieties!
These freshwater springs gurgle up from beneath Takaka hill, and they feel more moody and mysterious than Pupu Springs in Golden Bay. The walk to get there is in the forest and simply gorgeous. Walk along the path for about 5-10 minutes until you get to the springs, ensuring to stop and admire the clear river along the way. Walk back out the same way.
The drive in to Golden Bay is ripe with produce stands offering locally-grown fruit and vegetables dependent on the season. Bring cash for the stands that operate on an honesty system. Our favourite fruit stand is at the base of Takaka Hill, just before you reach the turnoff for Riwaka Resurgence. If you stop here, you must try the “Tropical Moon” nashi pear—it is absolutely divine.
While any time of year is a good time to visit Golden Bay, our favourite season here is Autumn; this is when the baby seals are out at Wharariki Beach, and when fresh hop season is in full swing… you’ll also find fewer crowds in the off-season.
Whatever the time of year is, though, we think Golden Bay will make an excellent stop on your trip to New Zealand if you’d like to get off the beaten track. It’s off the main tourist path and is filled with so many wonderful places to explore and relax in. It’s one of our “happy places” in this beautiful country and we hope it becomes one of yours, too.