Two Days in Golden Bay

After starting work at Tasman Bay hostel in Nelson, I wanted to take full advantage of my day off. I booked a couple nights at Gazebo Backpackers — a clothing-optional hostel in Takaka, a hippie town two hours north of Nelson in Golden Bay. What’s the worst that can happen at a place that calls itself clothing-optional?

The drive to Takaka involved many winding roads and a very large hill, which residents of Takaka apparently call the Big Hill. I stopped at Hawkes Lookout Point to catch a nice view and shake out my legs.

A bit later I found myself driving down the main road of Takaka, which houses just over 1,000 people and some tourists. Its reputation precedes it — the Golden Bay Area is known for its sunny weather and laid-back residents. I wandered to the Gazebo hostel, which is basically just a house with a big front yard and a lot of bikes.

I rang a doorbell and was greeted by Paul, a Canadian-American in his sixties who was wearing an open button-down shirt — and only that. Nudity is what I’d signed up for, and nudity is what I got.

Friendly and exceedingly normal, Paul showed me around the hostel and introduced me to a few other fully clothed guests. Paul explained that sunny days are usually the “nudey” days, while most guests stay clothed as the weather gets cloudy or cold. The hostel stays open from December to April, after which Paul closes up for the winter season. It only has room for about 10-12 people in all, so it’s a family atmosphere.

Perennially hungry and craving a beer, I walked into town to grab a burger from Roots Bar, choosing their goat burger — a decision I was so, so happy I’d made. Their chunky chips are also a “cut” above the rest. Hehe.

Since I was feeling indecisive, the bartender let me sample at least five brews before I landed on the Pale Whale Ale, brewed by a famous eatery outside of town called the Mussel Inn. It was the perfect IPA for a sunny evening. I sat out on the porch and heard an old Kiwi couple telling some Czech guys how Americans never travel here. I just sipped my beer and smiled.

After enjoying a couple hours of people watching (and listening), I walked back down to Gazebo. I met Zak, a dude from Vermont who works as a park ranger in Yosemite and is traveling NZ for a couple months, and Melissa, an American software designer (like me!) who’s working remotely as she travels. I also met Sacha and Hannah, two woofers at Gazebo. Sacha works at the Mussel Inn and brought back a lager that was most definitely meant to make fun of the lovely Garage Project.

I also met Kike (pronounced kee-kay), a teacher from Spain who was biking around NZ in the process of getting a work visa here. The conversation was all-around wonderful (and once again, fully clothed), but I needed to get some sleep for the night.

The next morning I walked down to the Wholemeal Cafe to grab a coffee and a snack — a savory beetroot and feta tart. I actually got it from their day-old section so it was a few dollars less. 😉

Back at the hostel, I told Paul I wanted to drive an hour north to Wharariki Beach and Cape Farewell, two apparently gorgeous areas of Golden Bay. Paul hand-drew me a map of Wharariki Beach as if we lived in 1891, insisting that I walk through the caves at low tide for an incredible experience. Zak and Kike tagged along and we set out for a day of exploration.

The roads near Wharariki completely turn into gravel, and I ended up losing a hubcap in the process. We threw the hubcap in the back — that’s a problem for Future Molly to solve.

Finally making it to the Wharariki car park, we stopped at the Archway Cafe to get an espresso boost and a snack before our beach adventure. Aiden, the barista, had heaps of recommendations for me if I ever wanted to work in the Golden Bay Area in the long term. I can’t say I wasn’t tempted.

We walked for 15 minutes through grassy hills, wondering when the beach would appear but enjoying the sweet NZ views nonetheless.

Finally, we saw the sand dunes from Paul’s map — and the full horizon of Wharariki Beach. What a dream! Zak immediately began to play in the dunes, and Kike and I followed suit.

Following the map, we veered to the far right to find the three cave inlets Paul had told us about. It was almost low tide time, around 3pm. We peeked around a few crevices and even caught sight of a bull seal, which I initially thought was a small child. Do not go near the bull seal.

I even got out my *real* camera to catch some of the smaller cave details.

Finally, the tide was low enough to walk through the first cave we’d encountered — the one Paul told us we could walk almost all the way through. He warned that it would get really dark for a few seconds but just around the bend would appear a brilliant glow of light coming from the other side of the cavern, out to the open ocean.

Zak, ever the adventurer, went first while Kike and I followed suit. We were the only ones in the cavern, surrounded by the almost menacing sound of the tide rushing in and out from the other side. In the dark Zak disappeared in front of me and everything went black — till a few seconds later I saw the light, entering a giant cavern. I think I felt my spirit leave my body.

As Kike would go on to say, “It felt like time and space disappeared.” We couldn’t go all the way through the cave to the ocean, as the tide was still too strong this time of year, but it was enough to stand in the cave for a few minutes in awe.

After our come-to-Jesus cave moment, we continued to walk along Wharariki Beach, which I believe is literally featured as a Windows screensaver and thus why it’s a pretty popular destination for those who want to make the trip out here. I made Zak take a few touristy photos of me in front of the hole in the rock.

I did take a few photos of Wharariki on the Fuji, just for kicks. And for alliteration.

After basking in the light mist of the beach, we walked back up through the sand dunes and the hills to the car park, driving the short distance to look out at Cape Farewell. It’s a gorgeous view and a prime influencer photo op.

After so many adventures, the three of us were getting hungry once more. We drove back toward Takaka to the infamous Mussel Inn, where I ordered a beer and a heaping bowl of mussel chowder. A blessed experience for my stomach.

Well-fed, we drove back to the hostel and picked up some wine and cheese to finish up the evening. Rachel, Paul’s very chill dog, was passed out on the couch when we got back. Good plan, doggo.

After experiencing a highlight of my time in New Zealand, I was excited to get some sleep and head back to Nelson the next morning to finish out another couple weeks of work at Tasman Bay Backpackers.

Cheers to caves, beaches and handmade maps!

4 thoughts on “Two Days in Golden Bay

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