1YoT: Golden Bay

As mentioned in our last post, Inna and I could have spent weeks at Tongariro. However, today we had ferry reservations to go to the southern island. So that’s where we went!

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New Zealand made one last attempt to keep us on the northern island. Thankfully, the people here are super-nice; we had three cars pull over within five minutes. One even went to an auto shop and borrowed a battery starter. We were up and going again in no time.

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Yay ferry! This was actually the first car ferry Inna had ever been on, although I had been on a couple during my time in Seattle.

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It was a windy path out of Wellington, but it was beautiful.

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Beautiful!

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Our ferry landed in Picton, where we hit the road again. 

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Logging had an effect on the scenery around these parts, but thankfully there wasn’t too much of it; most of the forest was pristine and beautiful.

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Our first stop on New Zealand’s southern island: Golden Bay. Golden Bay is known for its beaches and sand bars; it has the best beaches on New Zealand’s southern island, and the second best beaches in all of New Zealand, after the tropical beaches at the north end of the north island. Pictured above is Kaiteriteri Beach, a small-town beach not far from the entrance to Golden Bay.

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Kaiteriteri is known for its warm, clear water and golden sand, both of which were stunning. We hadn’t planned to go swimming here, but when we saw the beach and felt the water, we just had to go in!

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We found this sandbar on the way to Kaiteriteri. This is actually one of the less amazing sandbars in Golden Bay, if you can believe that.

From Kaiteriteri we continued into the heart of the Golden Bay. To get there, we had to cross Takaka Hill, a windy and spectacular 2600-foot-elevation-gain drive.

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Here are two views from Takaka Hill. The top photo is of Kahurangi National Park, the bottom photo is of the Takaka Valley, and in addition to these destinations this road also passes Abel Tasman National Park. It truly was a spectacular drive.

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The Takaka Pass is also the second Lord of the Rings location we visited on our trip. I don’t know about you, but the above photo (minus the power lines) just screams Middle Earth to me, even though it was primarily cave scenes that were filmed around here.

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After arriving in Takaka Valley, we found a campsite and camped for the night. The next morning we found this guy strutting around, acting like he owned the place. 

From our campsite we visited Wharariki Beach, by far the most spectacular beach I’ve ever visited. Part of its spectacularness is due to its seclusion, the beach is a mile from the nearest dirt road and more than four miles from the nearest paved road.  

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Getting here required work, but this beach was worth it. Never have I seen so much white sand, and there was almost no one here; it was just the beach and us.

Not only was the sand gorgeous, it was also super soft, making it fun to run around and play in.

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A little closer to the coast and you can see: there’s no one here. This gorgeous beach was ours.

Okay, so maybe not only ours. There were also a couple seals in this lagoon. Actually, only one seal was in the lagoon, others tried to join but the one pictured above kept fighting them off (the others were male, and whoever owned this lagoon would get to mate with the females when they eventually came).

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This beach is so secluded, and located in such a far corner of the world, I’m guessing you’ve never heard of it (we hadn’t until we visited). But there’s a good chance you’ve seen it before, since its most famous feature, the arch rock pictured above, is in one of the Windows 10 background photos.

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Maybe you can see it better from this angle? Also, that’s Inna in front, to give some perspective.

If all the above weren’t enough, Wharariki Beach also features small caves that you can walk through and use to escape the sun.

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Oh, and don’t forget, we’re still in Lord of the Rings territory. These locations, just inland from the beach, aren’t actual Lord of the Rings locations, but they sure look like Middle Earth to me.

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Wharariki Beach is an amazing beach but alas it was not perfect. The one drawback of this beach: it was windy. Looking on the bright side however, the wind is why this beach has such beautiful sand dunes, and it is also responsible for the cool effect in the photograph above.

If it weren’t for the wind, Inna and I could have spent the rest of our day at this beach. Unfortunately, the wind did drive us away, and knowing we wouldn’t find another beach as spectacular as this one, we decided to leave Golden Bay head to our next southern island destination.

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Even on our way out, Golden Bay still had more to offer. Most famously, Golden Bay is home to the Farewell Spit, one of the largest sand spits in the world. Farewell Spit runs for 16 miles plus an additional 3.5 underwater, but despite being so large the area is difficult to visit, as it is protected as a wildlife reserve and there are no roads in. Because of this, Inna and I didn’t visit the spit itself, instead we went to the sandbar just south of the spit, the sandbar that connects the spit to the New Zealand coast. The Farewell Spit completely dwarfs this sandbar, which is unbelievable because (as you can see in this picture) this sandbar was huge.

After visiting the Farewell Spit sandbar, we finally left Golden Bay. Up next: lots of driving, for our next destination is Christchurch, the southern island’s largest city, located on the opposite side of the island from our current location. The Kaikoura earthquake forced us to take the long way to Christchurch, but this turned out to be another blessing in disguise, as this route took us through some of the most beautiful areas in the country.

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