Travel Notes: Golden Bay & Abel Tasman National Park

New Zealand is known for places like the Milford Sound and for the adventure-seeking hub of Queenstown, but our experience has been that where New Zealand really shines is in its dramatic, rugged coastline, islands, crystal-clear water, and scenic bays.  I'll be honest - I was feeling a bit of travel fatigue as we left Christchurch.  We spent two rainy days in Hamner Springs en route to the Golden Bay and I was tired of driving, moving around, not having any personal space, and not feeling refreshed by any recent outdoor adventures.  

And then we arrived in Motueka at our truly awesome airbnb.  It is perched above the town and was private and quiet, but we were only 10 minutes from Marahau (the departure point for trips into Abel Tasman), Kaiteriteri (a lovely resort town with a swimmable beach and a playground), and Motueka (a cute, bustling town for groceries, etc.), plus close enough to make reaching the Golden Bay by car an easy day trip.  This is the view from the deck, the living room, and the master bedroom.

It's easier to work out with that awesome view, but not when a toddler sits on your back!

It's easier to work out with that awesome view, but not when a toddler sits on your back!

There is so much to see and do on the north shore of the South Island of New Zealand and I wish we'd had more time here.  

Abel Tasman National Park runs the coastline from Marahau to the beginning of Golden Bay and the Abel Tasman Coastal Track was perfect for hiking.  We caught a water taxi in Marahau, which dropped us in Anchorage and we hiked back to Marahau, stopping along the way for a swim at Stilwell Bay.  

Stilwell Bay

Stilwell Bay

The water taxis will drop you at various points in the park so if you are sans children, you could get dropped at the end and trail run all the way back in a (long) day.  We saw a family who had one parent kayak out to the first drop off point and the other parent took the boat with the kids and met the kayaking parent there and then they swapped; in summary, there are plenty of ways to explore, with or without kids.  We finished our hike with a bite to eat at The Fat Tui, which I recommend other than that we didn't enjoy their "specialty", which was a burger made from mussels.   

On the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, just above Anchorage

On the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, just above Anchorage

We also wanted to see the Golden Bay and take Blythe kayaking.  Kayak rental shops in Marahau would not allow you to take children under 6, but Golden Bay Kayaks will let you take children of any age provided the water is calm.  They also have a friendly dog, Ella, and an onsite espresso "hut".  

I thought Blythe would last about 10 minutes in her middle seat, but she happily stayed there the whole day.  We did have to paddle after her snack cup and her apple after she tossed them overboard.

I thought Blythe would last about 10 minutes in her middle seat, but she happily stayed there the whole day.  We did have to paddle after her snack cup and her apple after she tossed them overboard.

Blythe had a life vest and we felt safe the whole time we were kayaking with her -- and she even sat in the middle in her own seat!  You can also put a child between your legs in the front of the kayak.   The road over Tataka Hill to the Golden Bay is not for the faint of heart (so very curvy) and Blythe got carsick for the first time.  The kayak shop told us this is a regular occurrence (thankfully, we avoided it on the way home).  If you have time, there are some nice hikes on the way over to break up the trip and the windy roads - I'd recommend a quick walk out to Hawks Lookout.  

The view from Hawks Lookout.

The view from Hawks Lookout.

The Golden Bay itself lived up to all of our expectations.  We paddled amongst rocky outcroppings, through a rock arch, over a mussel farm, and around several large rocks where two fur seals were playing and a blue penguin was swimming.  Seeing a penguin was on my New Zealand bucket list and I was beginning to think it wouldn't happen.  It was the cutest little animal swimming around like it was so busy (so busy that none of my photos of it turned out well - you'll have to take my word for it that we saw one).  We were all giddy after that.

New Zealand fur seals, which we were told are actually what we call sea lions.

New Zealand fur seals, which we were told are actually what we call sea lions.

The rare family photo captured by some American tourists.

The rare family photo captured by some American tourists.

The beaches we stopped at were empty but for the occasional kayak that floated by and the water was a comfortable temperature. Following our kayaking, we poked around the town of Takaka, enjoyed a beer and late lunch at Roots Bar, and made our way home.  If we came back to this area, I might spend a night or two out in the Golden Bay, but driving over Takaka Hill is something I only wanted to do once.

I can't recommend this part of New Zealand enough.  The coastline is stunning, the water is a turquoise, and the towns are charming. There is farmland surrounding the towns, including fields and fields of hops.  We stopped in at Hop Federation Brewery, which has a taproom in Riwaka.  

Conveniently, there is a Thomas Brothers "real fruit ice cream" shop across the street.  They take soft serve and blend real fruit (hence the name) into the ice cream while you are standing there.  The machine they use looks like a giant drill bit and the end result is delicious (and somehow makes the ice cream seem healthy because there is REAL FRUIT in it).  

On Saturday, you can check out the Motueka Sunday Market where you find not only produce and food trucks, but also antiques, knick-knacks, crafts, and used books (we stocked up on a few for Blythe - Angelina and the Princess, Winnie the Pooh, and Peter Rabbit in case you were wondering what she is reading these days).

Beep beep!  Riding a vintage car in Motueka. Blythe liked the car until it actually started moving.

Beep beep!  Riding a vintage car in Motueka. Blythe liked the car until it actually started moving.

Our time in this area of New Zealand was too short and I hope we'll make it back here again.