Golden Bay is bordered by two beautiful National Parks. The Kahurangi with it’s mountains and Abel Tasman with its golden beaches.
Kahurangi National Park
In May 1996, the Prime Minister officially opened Kahurangi National Park at a ceremony in the Cobb Valley. Kahurangi National Park, at 452,000 ha, is the second largest park in New Zealand.
The stone commemorating the event can be found among the outcrops of rock at the head of the Cobb Reservoir. Kahurangi is the next largest National Park after Fiordland.
It is a great empty land of high mountains, steep limestone escarpments and dark valleys. It stretches from the base of Farewell Spit in the north to Murchison in the south, and from the Heaphy River in the west to Tapawera in the east. A portion of the park, the ‘Wilderness Area’ is untracked and will remain so, with no concessions to human access or comfort.
Kahurangi is home to many endemic species of plants; it has the largest range of flora of any of the New Zealand National Parks, hosting many South Island and North Island species. It is home to several species of the endangered giant land snail powelliphanta, and has a thriving population of the great spotted kiwi.
No matter where you go in Golden Bay, you are never far from Kahurangi; The Cobb Valley is the most popular access into the Park, followed by the world famous Heaphy Track. Other entrances include the Kildevil Track, the Anatoki Track, the Parapara Peak Track, the Aorere Goldfields, Boulder Lake and many others.
Abel Tasman National Park
New Zealand’s smallest, sunniest, warmest, National Park. No part of the local coastline has seen more pages of history turned than this one, nor does any part play host to more visitors than this.
The Park’s coastline was used extensively by the Maori in early times as is evident from the number of sites to be seen today. Abel Tasman in 1642 was the first European to sight the coast; following D’Urville’s 1827 exploration, European settlement began. The first prominent settler was William Gibbs, farming at Totaranui in 1856. Soon there were boat builders, quarrymen, timber millers and more farmers, settled along the coast. Little evidence now remains of these activities and areas once cleared for farming are now reverting to forest.
Although the Park is the smallest in the country, covering 22,139 hectares and rising only to 1134 metres at Mt Evans, it contains many features worth exploring – like the sculptured landscape of Canaan, the dramatic marble gorges draining into the Takaka Valley and the gently curved beaches of golden sand, separated one from another by rocky granite headlands. Fine stands of native bush grow down almost to high tide mark. Birds such as shags, gannets, terns and blue penguins may be seen on coastal waters, while the large, open estuaries attract oystercatchers, stilts and herons.
Much of the Park is covered in beech forest but on more fertile sites the jungle-like rain forest is found, with its vines, perching plants and tree ferns. Golden Bay visitors may enter the Park on foot via Canaan and some keen mountain bikers may arrive in Takaka via the Rameka Track. Most however will travel via Takaka and Pohara to the northern entrances. Tracks start at Wainui Bay.
For those without transport, a low-tide crossing of this estuary cuts several kilometres off the trip from Takaka (watch for markers, cross near low tide). The main track heads for the historic hut at Whariwharangi, 1 1/2 hours away, but a shorter side track brings you to Taupo Point, an important Maori Pa site. From Whariwharangi a seemingly endless series of small beaches, rocky headlands (side track to Separation Point) and estuaries leads first to Totaranui.
Many holiday-makers and hikers may have driven on from Wainui Bay, over the granite hill to arrive directly at the large DOC camping ground here at Totaranui. A large grassed area on the foreshore provides ample space for tents and caravans. The nearby “Old Homestead” with its facilities block provides a good base for school groups and caters for up to 40 people. Kitset information for teachers is available. Domestic animals are not permitted, sorry.
You can spend a few days exploring the Park and coastline from Totaranui or you can continue on around the world famous coastal track. Another low-tide estuary crossing brings you to Awaroa, a tiny, sandy-beached enclave of private baches, a DOC hut and even an airstrip. The full coastal track, all the way to the southern exit at Marahau – via many pristine beaches at Tonga, Bark Bay, Torrent Bay, etc – usually takes 3 to 4 days. This intricate coastline is now one of New Zealand’s most popular kayaking adventure destinations.
For all Park visits, long or short, you should request more information from an Information or DoC office. Bookings are essential for camping and huts over holiday periods.
The Heaphy Track
in Kahurangi, is a 3 to 5-day walking experience that covers 78 kilometres of subtropical rainforest, tussock high country, river valley and coast. Every year more than 4000 walkers follow the route, which for hundreds of years was used by local tribes on their way to the pounamu (greenstone) resources of the west coast.
Kahurangi National Park
contains more than 1,200 native plant species (50% of all of New Zealand’s native plants and a massive 80% of all alpine species). This makes Kahurangi the most diverse botanical area in the country.
In the Maori language, Kahurangi means ‘treasured possession’.
The Abel Tasman National Park
was founded in 1942, and is the smallest of New Zealand’s national parks.
In 2008 an extra 7.9 sq km, including the formerly private land known as Hadfields Clearing, were added to the park.