Why a weekend to the northern end of Golden Bay, Nelson, is as dramatic as it is remote. Expect vast photogenic beaches, swimming, seal pups and very windswept hair. By Zoe Morris Trainor
Many visitors to the Nelson region avoid Takaka Hill on reputation. It’s a 791m helter skelter and the combined thought of motion sickness and needing to return the same way means they dismiss it without a second thought.
But failing to make that journey means missing out on, among other things, one of the country’s most spectacular beaches.
Wharariki Beach is a visual masterpiece. The gigantic scale is the first thing that strikes you after a 20-minute walk across the dunes from the car park. Dead ahead are the Archway Islands – colossal stacks 100m or so out to sea that look even more impressive from the western side of the beach with the angle revealing more arches with angry ocean crashing through.
Along the beach is a collection of caves, tunnels and rocks, framing the Archway Islands so perfectly it could keep a snap-happy photographer happy for hours.
Then there are the seal pups. One rock pool to the eastern side of the bay is a magnet for these playful animals at certain times of the year. Watch as they swoop, dive and dart, as if tempting you to join them.
The walks in the area are enough to keep you occupied for a weekend, but make sure you stand on Wharariki Beach in time for the sunset. On a clear evening, there can’t be too many better spots in the world.
Wharariki Farm Park Track/Green Hills Route
From Wharariki Beach car park, cross the stile and take the 4WD track on the left. It’s a 15-minute walk through rough west coast farmland to Dune Lake, a splash of blue rimmed with vibrant reeds and the tall stalks of harakeke flax.
A few minutes beyond the lake, a sign indicates a junction; either take the 15min track towards the beach on the right or, for the more energetic, continue on for the 3-4hr return Green Hill Track.
My own eagerness for water in the summer heat had me following the right hand turn down to the beach. Soon the track ducks into a tunnel of thick bush, descends several metres of steep white rock, and then opens up onto Wharariki Beach itself.
When first stepping onto Wharariki Beach you can expect to feel very small. With its towering pillars of rock, miles of sweeping dunes and endless turbulent ocean, one cannot help but feel pleasurably insignificant.
Once you are all beached out head over the sand dunes towards the eastern end of the beach, where you will rejoin the track. From here it’s just 20min across farmland to the car park.
Be aware that the walk across the beach is only possible at half-tide or lower.
Access: Wharariki Beach car park, Wharariki Road
Puponga Hill Top Walk
The public may not be allowed to walk most of the length of Farewell Spit, but luckily the walk from the spit to Wharariki Beach is utterly rewarding.
It isn’t easy – rarely is it flat – but give yourself plenty of time and you can sit virtually anywhere along the route and marvel at the stretch of coastline within eyesight. It’s forever changing and with Wharariki Beach as a grand finale, it won’t disappoint.
The track begins at the cattle stop just before the visitor centre in Puponga. Follow the line of marker poles up the steep slope to the ridge of Old Man Range, avoiding cowpats and patches of prickly gorse.
There are some steep slogs at this point but the reward is stunning views of Farewell Spit and the Tasman Sea once some height has been gained.
The sound of cicadas can be deafening at certain times of year and don’t be surprised if you’re hit on the head once or twice by these clumsy creatures! The walk follows the ridge up to Pillar Point lighthouse, a solar powered structure with stunning panoramic views, before winding its way back down to sea level. As you descend, you pass the impressive cliffs of Cape Farewell, the northernmost point of the South Island.
After 3-4 hours you arrive at the eastern end of Wharariki Beach, a welcome site to those itching to take off their socks and shoes. There is a certain infectious energy to this beach and before long you’re likely to feel the urge to run, cartwheel, and even take those bizarre jumping photos that we all find irritating to watch but yet all enjoy doing.
Follow the 20-minute track at the eastern end of the beach to Wharariki Beach car park. The track is not a loop walk, thus some thought should be given to how you will return to your car in Puponga. Hitching is the most economical way back. Alternatively, Wharariki Beach Holiday Park often provides a ride – an unofficial service they run for $10 a head.
Access: Farewell Spit car park