Nelson to Takaka Road Trip

Takaha Hill

A wise man once said that when you drive over the Takaka Hill, you leave all your troubles behind. In Takaka, the gateway to Golden Bay, this certainly seems to be true, for here life moves to a relaxed and friendly beat, and its locals, many of whom are creative artisans, endorse strong environmental principles. In nearby Collingwood, where there are “no strangers only friends never met”, the end of the road draws nigh. Here where the mountainous Wakamarama and Burnett Ranges roll down to meet the blue-green horseshoe of Golden Bay, the world’s longest spit of sand curves into Cook Strait like an overgrown talon. Farewell Spit is one of NZ’s most important bird sanctuaries; here amongst the shifting dunes and indigenous grasses, over 90 species of native and migratory birds make their home. We spend three days exploring this unique ‘cul-de-sac’. We visit local artists and shop in boutique stores, hike in the Abel Tasman National Park, fish for salmon, visit the world’s clearest springs, gorge ourselves silly on ‘Rosy Glow’ chocolates, and take a four wheel drive tour up Farewell Spit to spy on native and migratory birds.

As we pass through the small beachside settlements of Tasman Bay and on to Motueka, it’s clear to Bob and I that creative folk – artists, potters, sculptors, weavers, carvers, photographers and poets – abound in these parts. We pass several small boutiques, galleries and studios displaying unique wares, as well as simple roadside stalls where excess homegrown produce is sold.

Orchards of apples and hops sweep by as we begin the steep drive up Takaka Hill, passing Ngarua Caves to reach the top where we’re offered fabulous views of the Anatoki Range and flat coastal plains below.

We take a drive by Takaka’s collection of quirky cafes, then hike through the craggy limestone outcrops of the Grove Scenic Reserve in Clifton, where native trees and ferns cling precariously to the top.

At the Wainui Falls, a 30 minute hike brings us to a swing bridge with an impressive view of the thundering water. We enjoy a cup of thermos coffee on a large boulder in the sun then hike back down the trail to continue our drive through dense forest to the ochre-tinted sands of Totaranui in the Abel Tasman National Park.

“Let’s go somewhere quiet to picnic,” suggests Bob, in contemplative mood after the waterfall experience.

Information on all the hikes – which range from 20-minutes to five days – is provided in the Dept. of Conservation office. We choose the one-hour Coast Track to Anapai Bay which journeys over the headland and when we arrive we have the beach all to ourselves. After a refreshing dip in the warm ocean, we eat our tasty salami-based picnic and laze in the sun before returning to Totaranui, where - much to Bob’s delight - I suggest we go salmon fishing.

We drive back to Takaka then head to Anatoki Salmon, a fresh water salmon farm located in a sheltered valley beside the Anatoki River.

You can buy direct from the farm, or fish to your heart’s content, paying only for your catch. As we only need one fish we share the rod but it’s Bob who pulls in a beautiful 3.4 kilo fish which is then efficiently weighed, gutted and gilled, and placed on ice in a polystyrene container for easy transportation. There’s a BBQ and smoking facilities onsite but we opt instead to head straight to our accommodation at Sans Souci Inn, an eco-friendly lodge near the beach. When we arrive our friendly hosts, Vera and Reto Balzer whisk our salmon into their manuka smoker.

After settling into our rooms we explore the inn, it’s housed in a long, circular mudbrick building with clay tiles, turf insulated ceilings, and spotless, sweet-scented composting toilets, then we join other guests and relax in a cobbled courtyard amid lush, tropical plantings. After a delicious dinner of delectable smoked salmon, we find that Sans Souci’s eco-friendly ways are quite a talking point amongst guests, many of whom are outdoorsy types and keen environmentalists. Bob, intrigued by the inn’s unique bathrooms, quizzes Reto about the composting process until late in the evening – discovering, amongst other facts, that it takes around two years to produce a safe, organic fertiliser.

"Well then," I hear Bob saying to Reto as I slip quietly off to my room, "Why on earth aren’t we all composting?"