Top of the South

Although we had enjoyed our time in Nelson neither of us are really people of the town or city and enjoy much more being at a nice quiet beach so with this in mind we decided to move on from Nelson and head over the Takaka Hill towards Farewell Spit. Thinking that we would probably drive most of the way there on day one and then make our way slowly back down. It’s funny how plans change.

The Takaka Hill for those who have not experienced it is like nothing I have driven in NZ at the bottom of the hill the sign says windy road next 25kms and like a lot of people I thought I’ve seen this sort of sign before nothing to be to concerned about, Oh dear not this time. Even though the new camper has 180 horses driving the front wheels it’s still a big beast and getting it lumbering round the corners at sufficient speed to keep the vehicles behind me was an impossible task. Thankfully there are plenty of “slow”lanes and areas where we could pull over so I don’t think I would have had to many frustrated motorists behind me.

The views from the areas designated for stopping were amazing but for some reason I did not take that many shots (maybe on the way back). The trip down the otherside was just as steep with a couple of corners that we were really glad nothing was coming the other way.

Driving along the flats once we had finished the 25kms of windy hilly road Sarah and I started to talk about places to stay and I mentioned about the NZMCA camp just out of Takaka at Port Tarakohe so we decided to head that way and have a look. I had read about this camp in one of Shellie Evans Blogs (more about this later).


We arrived at the camp and made the decision that we would stay, It’s funny how deceiving these camps are nothing much to look at on first glance but once you start exploring the area you realise that actually they are very well positioned each with their own unique offering. The camp at Port Tarakohe started life as the Golden Cement works and you can still see the concrete towers on the hill where they used to store the lime.  (on the hill above the blue tent in this shot) When Golden Bay pulled out from the site they donated the whole harbour and surrounding area to the local Council who now administer the land along with the local boating club.


Having found a good position for the camper and settled we started a conversation with the couple parked next door about were to head for a swim. Their suggestion was to head over the hill and swim at the second bay we came to. Good advice since the first bay is completely sealed off to protect the local penguin colony with most access points fenced off and steep cliffs down to the beach at other points.

Between the first and second bays is a small hill with a memorial on top to Able Tasman complete with a viewing platform that gives a very good view of the whole coastal area as well as they bay below. With the tide almost at it’s lowest point the water had receded a long way on what was a very flat shallow beach but once we got down to the water it was just what the doctor and my sore feet had ordered with very tepid water, most relaxing. You can see why it’s called Golden Bay as the sand appears to have little flecks of gold reflecting in the sunlight, made me wish it was real and we had a gold pan.


Back at the camp we decided to walk to the end of the breakwater to get some photos of the camp as we walked we noticed a large yellow barge being pushed into place alongside the wharf by a very powerful tug. This brought back memories of Shellie’s post that I had forgotten, They are moving massive amounts of rocks from this wharf by barge across the strait to Wellington to be used in building Transmission Gully and work starts at 6am. Thankfully Monday was a public holiday in the Nelson region so no noise Monday morning.

One of the campers that we spoke to had mentioned the Stingrays that cruise the breakwaters in the evenings and when I was out for my evening stroll I saw some of the biggest rays I have ever seen. I know it does not look like it in the photo but this ray would have been 1.5 metres across. It was absolutely amazing to see probably 25 -30 rays as I walked from one end of the breakwater to the other and that was just the ones I could see.  But the whole reason of the walk was to try and spot one of the local penguins and these proved elusive or I was just there too early in the evening. We where however woken at about 3am by some infernal screeching from what i could only assume was the Weka pictured outside our door later in the morning.

We woke Monday to another glorious day (we have been so lucky) and decided that before it got to hot we would get out the E Bikes and set out for an explore. Riding towards the small township of Pohara and the beach we discovered a bike trail that followed the beach through an area of bush it turned out to be a very pleasant ride if rather short ending without notice at the local golf club and a sign saying no bikes. Taking off in the other direction we discovered the local historic graveyard and this rather watery grave (obviously a sailors).


Later that afternoon, back on the bikes we headed for Tata Beach (3 bays over from the camp) as we had been told that this was an all tide swimming beach. This proved to be a very nice swimming beach and I would have stayed in the water much longer however I spotted a blue jellyfish with stingers floating right next to me  and I could not get out of the water fast enough.

That evening in a wasted attempt to find the penguins I again set off along the breakwater and again without success but I did come across a rock with these fossilised sea shells and that was a good consolation prize.

As I said at the start of this blog you make assumptions of a place based on first impressions but we have discovered that the NZMCA camps we have been to all have something to offer if you just get out and explore a bit. I realise I haven’t even spoken about the limestone formations around the campsite.

Tuesday morning 6am and they started loading the boulders onto the barge although as we were set back a bit we ended up being sheltered from the worst of the noise and thankful that we weren’t to close to the wharf area. We decided that we would head the rest of the way towards Farewell Spit but wanted to make a short stop off at “The Grove” an area that overlooks Pohara and the golf course from a viewing platform inside the limestone rocks. A short steep walk gets you to the split between two formations where they have built the platform. Well worth it with the sun streaming through the bush on the walk up and down very pretty as well.

Heading up towards Farewell Spit we reached the end of the sealed road but with the wind now gusting ferociously I did not feel comfortable continuing on as the road was narrowing and the van really getting blown around. So we turned around and headed towards the POP Fernbrea Farms (#6006) just out of Collingwood. After again heading in the wrong direction we ended up in a paddock at the wrong end of the farm and jumped on our bikes to try to find the correct place. The real problem is the signage at the farm is so faded it’s really hard to find but well worth it when you do.

Although you cannot see the sea from the park area you are only 20 steps from the beach and with only one other van when we arrived the beach was deserted. A bit later Dave and Nita turned up in their van and we had a great chat about some of the places they had visited at the top of the south during the time they had been on the road. Turns out Dave is the Chairman of the Eastern Bays area committee of the NZMCA and a wealth of knowledge. With a full moon rising over the beach in the evening it was a great end to another fantastic day in the South Island.
If you would like to see all the places we have visited click here

If you would like to see the ratings of the places we have stayed click here

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7 thoughts on “Top of the South

  1. Hi neighbours. Nice to have met you – Tarakohe – and sorry you didn’t make it to Wharariki Beach up near the spit.
    Sea up over the road between Tarakohe and Puhara this morning so cut off for a while, and probably again at next very high tide !

    1. Lovely to meet you guys as well we made it as far as where the seal ends and drove back this morning from a POP north of Collingwood so saw all the flooding. Collingwood was all blocked off with police turning round traffic

  2. Loved the read as refreshed memories of last summer
    Your right a true experience over the hills and out to Collingwood
    We then took an organised trip out to the lighthouse on farewell spit

  3. Lovely to read your post and visualise you in the South Island. So sorry to hear that you didn’t see any penguins, but I’m sure that you’ll see lots later. Margaret, Dad and I got as far as the bottom of the fearsome Takaka Hill, and had lunch at the cafe right on the water there, but I haven’t been to Golden Bay, nor tackled that dreadful road (thank goodness). Betty and Dick spoke about how narrow the road was going out to Farewell Spit, so I’m not too surprised that you chickened out – I think that was wise. I thought the van would be a bit too big. Great photos – really give a feeling for all the places you’ve been.
    Lots of love

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