Tōtaranui has to be seen to be believed. © Shellie Evans

Loved by the locals: Golden Bay


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A boutique movie theatre, iconic cafés unique geology and some of New Zealand's best beaches – discover a local's top picks for things to see and do in Nelson's Golden Bay.

1. The Village Theatre, Commercial St, Tākaka

Putting the impersonal multiplex of your hometown to shame, this ad-free, non-profit community theatre is run by a charitable trust. Established in 1986, the 100-seat cinema was founded on donations of money, time, and hard work, and today doubles as a playhouse, meeting space and concert hall as well as a purveyor of arthouse film and Hollywood blockbuster alike. The seats come from an old theatre in Christchurch and there are also comfy couches, floor cushions, rugs, beanbags and good old intermission with cake and tea in a proper cup. 

2. Awaroa and Tōtaranui, Abel Tasman National Park

These beaches are sensationally beautiful, with white and golden sands that really do have to be seen to be believed.

Aquamarine water regularly carves the sandspits into new parabolas, and with deep green native bush fringing the inlets, they’re stunning year-round – and in the offseason, deserted.

Tōtaranui has road access, but you’ll have to hike over low-tide sands to get to Awaroa. It was the beauty of this place – twinned with an eagerness to keep some rich foreigner’s filthy hands off it, no doubt – that tempted 40,000 New Zealanders to donate $2 million to buy an Awaroa beach recently. Locally, it’s considered to be a bit of a silly move, considering future sea level rise and the lack of conservation value; and despite its beauty, the beach is, in fact, one of dozens of similar places in this area, which is just another reason to visit. 

3. The Mussel Inn, Onekakā

No trip to Golden Bay is complete without it. The atmosphere’s great and the beer from the onsite brewery is excellent. Nail your cellphone to the old telephone pole outside and try a Captain Cooker, flavoured with mānuka tips and based on the first beer to be brewed in New Zealand by the explorer himself. The Inn regularly hosts barnstorming musicians; the kids will enjoy roaming outside and a bowl of 'sossys'. Don’t be put off by the composting toilet, 'flushed' with handfuls of sawdust; in fact, spread the gospel. They’re a perfectly acceptable place to do your business and much more water-friendly. 

4. The Wholemeal Café, Commercial St, Tākaka

The Wholemeal has been running since 1977, beginning as a bulk food cooperative in an old farmhouse. It has moved on slightly from its hessian covered walls, but not by much, finding a new home in the old Tākaka Theatre building, which retains an airy feel with a huge interior, full of memorabilia.

The food is fresh and nutritious, much of it grown in their organic gardens – buy your own seedlings in an adjacent nursery.

Make sure you get something to drench with the Wholemeal’s famous green salad dressing and take one of their cookbooks home too. 

5. The Grove Scenic Reserve and Labyrinth Rocks

Golden Bay is known for being geologically interesting, attracting rock-climbers and cavers from all over the world, but these are some good examples closer to the ground. The Grove is a 20min walk that seemingly sends you to another hemisphere; towering, sculpted limestone blocks create narrow passageways, complete with spiky nikau and hanging tree roots, with a wonderful view from the top. Not far away, the extremely weird Labyrinth Rocks is 3km of natural maze-like pathway threading through some quite tall canyons, with a curious mix of adventurous toys hanging out on the shelves and coves – the kids will love finding them.

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