Exploring Golden

The main town near Golden Bay is Takaka, which has an astoundingly small population of 1,100. Another 28km (17 miles) north is Collingwood, which is even smaller. While in Takaka, you can peek in at the Golden Bay Museum & Gallery, Commercial Street (® and fax 03/525-9990), open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm. There are also several working artists in the area, and the free brochure Arts of Golden Bay, available from the visitor center (® 03/525-9136), details the locations and visiting hours of 11 of the best.

Golden Bay is rich in natural attractions, and one of the best known is Te Waikoropupu Springs ££, called Pupu Springs by the locals. Here you'll find rushing water claimed to be the clearest freshwater in the world. It's signposted just north of Takaka township.

Cave formations are also common; one of the most famous, Harwood's Hole, plummets an awesome 183m (600 ft.) straight down. The visitor center can supply you with details. There are three other cave systems worth investigating. Ngarua Caves, 20km (12 miles) from Motueka on Takaka Hill (® 03/5288093), are easily negotiated and feature stalactites aplenty and the skeletal remains of the extinct moa. Guided tours are given on the hour between 10am and 4pm from mid-September to June 7. Admission costs around NZ$12 (US$6.60). Te Anaroa & Rebecca Caves, Rockville, Golden Bay (® 03/524-8131; www.golden baycaves.com), have easy access and the best glowworms. They're very beautiful, but some of the rooflines are low and narrow, which may put you off if you're claustrophobic. Admission is around NZ$12 (US$6.60) for adults and NZ$6

(US$3.30) for children; call for tour times. Rawhiti Caves, also in Golden Bay (& 03/525-7177), cost around NZ$15 (US$8.25) for adults and NZ$7 (US$3.85) for children. It takes a 40-minute bush walk to reach the caves, where you're greeted with a huge entrance and a steep descent. You need to be agile for this outing, and it's not recommended for children under 5.

Local rock climbers know all about the many attributes of Payne's Ford Scenic Reserve, near Takaka. The limestone bluffs they favor dominate the area; a track through the reserve follows an old tramway line. You'll find excellent swimming holes in the nearby Takaka River.

All along the road from Takaka to Collingwood, you'll see signs pointing to the coast. Each beach is different, but much of the bay is shallow; swimming at high tide involves a lot less walking. Tata Beach is deeper.

Another 26km (16 miles) north of Collingwood is the base of Farewell Spit, a unique sand spit 35km (22 miles) long and 800m (about half a mile) wide. All along its length are sand dunes as high as seven- to eight-story buildings. The birdlife here is amazing, as it is a migratory stopover for several species. The Farewell Spit Nature Tour (& 03/524-8188; www.farewell-spit.co.nz) departs from the Collingwood Post Office building; times vary with the tidal conditions. It's a 61/2-hour trip that costs NZ$80 (US$44) adults, NZ$50 (US$28) children under 15 years. A full meal is included and you get a comprehensive commentary by a local driver.

Farewell Spit Tours f&jp, Tasman Street, Collingwood (& 0800/808-257 in NZ, or 03/524-8257; www.farewellspit.com), has a range of superb tours to Farewell Spit. Most popular is the Lighthouse trip, a 51/2-hour trip that costs around NZ$60 (US$33) for adults and NZ$35 (US$19) for children ages 5 to 15. There are also special bird-watching trips by arrangement that range from NZ$60 to $85 (US$33-$47) for adults. Bring binoculars and a camera.

Another great Golden Bay outing is the Scenic Mail Run (& 03/5248188; fax 03/524-8091), which leaves from the Collingwood Post Office at 10:30am Monday through Friday. The 51/2-hour trip costs around NZ$55 (US$30) and includes lunch.

For information on the Heaphy Track and Kahurangi National Park, see "Tramping" in chapter 3.

WHERE TO STAY

Sans Souci Inn £, 11 Richmond Road, Pohara Beach (& and fax 03/525-8663; www.sanssouciinn.co.nz), is an ideal beach stay near Takaka if you're into simplicity and style. The seven-unit grass-roofed inn, run by a young Swiss couple, is a divine hideaway with a Japanese feel. Mediterranean floor tiles, low futon-style beds, and scented Lawson cypress ceilings give it a unique character. Doubles are NZ$85 (US$47) and there is a restaurant on site.

Farther north, Collingwood Homestead , Elizabeth Street, Collingwood (& 03/524-8079; www.collingwoodhomestead.co.nz), is one of the best home stays in the region. It's hard to find fault with the personalized hospitality and four large bedrooms with brand new modern bathrooms. Rates are NZ$265 (US$146), which includes a wonderful breakfast.

WHERE TO EAT

It's easy to recommend the Wholemeal Cafe , 60 Commercial St., Takaka (& 03/525-9426). It has the best food in the area, and you can't help feeling it's horrendously healthy as well as delicious. It's also a great place to pick up picnic

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