Guide's Perspective - Molesworth Station, Abel Tasman & Golden Bay
MoaTours Kiwi Guide Richard is a fifth generation South Islander and knows this part of the country better than anyone. Tag along for the ride as we share his travel diary from his most recent trip through the iconic mainland spots of Molesworth Station, Abel Tasman, Golden Bay, Hanmer Springs and Farewell Spit.
Richard and friends travelled on our 7 day Molesworth Station, Abel Tasman & Golden Bay tour.
Kia Ora from MoaTours Kiwi Guide Richard
I was happy to be asked by MoaTours if I would drive the Molesworth Station, Abel Tasman & Golden Bay tour last March starting from my home base, Christchurch, and finishing in Nelson. I'm originally a farm boy from Mt Somers where 150 years ago this year my great grandparents started farming in the high country of Ashburton Gorge so any mention of places like Molesworth to take a group to explore really appeals to me, plus the bonus of Golden Bay and Abel Tasman National Park, how could I say no?
Here's my diary from the trip, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did...
Day 1 - Christchurch - Hawarden - Hanmer Springs
I met everyone off their flights and with much excitement our journey began northwards to the Waipara vineyards, Weka Pass and Culverden then following the Waiau River before turning towards Hanmer.
We were on our way to lunch with Penny Zino in her expansive Flaxmere Garden and Farm in Hawarden, a six star garden of International Significance. Penny is a wonderful host and enjoys sharing her passion for gardening as we walked with her around the stunning 3.2 hectare garden she began from a bare paddock over 50 years ago. The vistas through terraced woodlands towards the alps are lovely and the walkways meander around native plantings, roses, rhododendrons and ponds.
No one wants to leave but it’s time to continue on our way to Hanmer travelling cross country to the main road and coming out just before the historic Hurunui Pub and Balmoral Forest. We arrive in Hanmer Springs around 4.00pm in time for a quick orientation of the town and, most importantly, to show everyone where the hot pools are, just a few minutes’ walk from where we are staying for the next two nights. There’s time for everyone to relax for a few hours, most head for the hot pools but some enjoy a short walk on one of the many forest paths nearby. We won't mention the shops!
Day 2 - Molesworth Station
After an early breakfast we were ready for a big day in Big Country travelling through New Zealand’s largest farm, “The Molesworth”, at 180,787 hectares it’s about the size of Stewart Island/Rakiura. Owned by the Crown, leased and farmed by Landcorp and managed by DOC, the station is made up of four blocks - Molesworth, Tarndale, St Helens and Dillon. The station once ran 95,000 sheep but when rabbits were introduced it quickly became severely eroded and uneconomical driving the first farmers off the land. Now up to 10,000 cattle are farmed successfully on the property.
We are lucky enough to be taken on our own private tour in a four wheel drive coach guided by Rick Stirling of Trailway Safaris Molesworth Tours which Rick founded 40 years. We are also fortunate to be the only people allowed into Molesworth on this particular day as, due to very dry conditions, it was closed to the general public. (The Molesworth is normally open to the public in the summer months.)
Coming over Jacks Pass the views are amazing looking back to Hanmer, out towards the rugged mountains behind Blenheim and the Seaward Kaikoura ranges which has the highest mountain, Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku, 2,885m, outside of the Alps. We stopped at the Acheron Accommodation House built of cobb in 1863 as an overnight carriage stop between Nelson and Christchurch. While we checked it out Rick was laying out morning tea of homemade scones and cake.
Following the Awatere River we eventually arrived above the station’s homestead and farmyards. A truck was slowly making its way up the hill towards us, as it drew closer to everyone’s surprise on the back were several farm horses standing there enjoying the ride on a truck with normal sides, we'd never seen that before! It was just one of many experiences on this great day in an isolated region not a lot of New Zealanders get a chance to see and that evening another relaxing soak in the hot pools capped it off.
Day 3 - Hamner Springs - Lewis Pass - Murchison - Nelson
Today our main aim was simply to take our time making our way up to Nelson taking in the scenery and points of interest on the way. Leaving Hanmer Springs we drove up Highway 72 passing Boyle Village, home to a few weekend cottages and an outdoor education centre. A lot of trampers use this point to start or finish the popular St James Walkway.
We were surrounded by mountains as we got closer to the top of the Pass and into the native beech forest. Dropping down the Lewis we come into more mature native forest typical of the West Coast and at the bottom we called into Maruia Springs Lodge to have a break and look at the facilities which include private, natural hot pools overlooking the Maruia River and further along the road we stopped again at the spectacular Maruia Falls.
We lunched in Murchison at Rivers Café and everyone had a grin and a fossick through a couple of secondhand shops and even I found a little item from “Rust & Dust”! Arriving in Nelson we took a tiki tour along the waterfront and Tahunanui Beach, then a zigzag through town, before we arrived at Trailways Hotel which is right in town so there was time for a wander before dinner.
Day 4 - Nelson - Kaiteriteri - Abel Tasman National Park - Mapua - Nelson
After breakfast we collected our picnic lunches before heading off to Kaiteriteri Beach to meet our boat to take us out for the day along the coastline of Abel Tasman National Park. Hikers were waiting on the beach to catch the various boats offering a drop off and pick up service at many of the bays to access this well known “Great Walk” track. All the beaches have beautiful golden sands and the only way to get to them is by boat, on foot or sea kayak. Our cruise went all the way up to Totaranui just on the edge of Golden Bay and along the way we saw Split Apple Rock, seals and a few dolphins.
Turning for home the weather changed and the bay chopped up a little so we had a bouncier ride back to Kaiteriteri and some interesting pick-ups from the beaches as the boat goes bow first into the beach to lower its walking ladder. On the way back to town I suggested we pop into Mapua Village for a coffee and did I mention there are some shops there?
Day 5 - Nelson - Takaka - Pohara Beach
Leaving Nelson for Motueka we passed orchards where lately I've noticed a lot more hops are being grown, they disappeared for a long time, perhaps as a result of the micro breweries popping up all over the country. Or maybe it’s the German influence too as Motueka and Takaka have one of the largest German populations in New Zealand.
The Takaka Hill is always a great drive with fantastic views back across Motueka towards Nelson, out to the Abel Tasman and the coastline of that other northern island away in the distance. When you get to the top and look down the valley towards Takaka it’s even more spectacular to see the road we are about to zigzag down. Like a lot of formally isolated areas, where the land was once cheaper, this region in the 1970s attracted alternative lifestylers and there are still a lot of interesting folk there today.
We took a gentle 20 minute walk to Te Waikoropupu Springs (Pupu Springs, locally) that funnel some of the world’s clearest fresh water at 14,000 litres per second, taking up to 10 years to filter through the surrounding rock. We arrived at Anotoki Salmon Farm cafe, set in native forest, and went for a wander to see the salmon farm ponds fed by a fresh stream then relaxed into a nice spot overlooking the ponds. I can let you guess what most had for lunch! Ligar Bay was our next stop to enjoy the views from the Abel Tasman Monument before we settled into Pohara Beach, our home for two nights, where everyone enjoyed some free time to stroll the beach.
Day 6 - Pohara Beach – Collingwood – Farewell Spit Tour – Pohara Beach
It’s a scenic 40 minute drive from Pohara to Collingwood where we checked out the main street, at least a couple of hundred yards long, had coffee and visited the interesting little museum beside Farewell Spit Eco Tours, our hosts on the four wheel drive tour.
Driving over the sand hills and along the beach with our local guide was great fun and there was bird life everywhere. The Spit is much longer than you may think - the lighthouse is about three quarters of the way towards the tip and we popped in for lunch in the lighthouse keeper’s cottage. What a lonely job it would have been in the early days. Heading back down the beach we walked up a sandhill then drove as far south as we could to Fossil Point and Cape Farewell where a couple of seals were lazing about.
On the way back to Pohara, after all that windblown sand, some folk were looking a little on the dry side so a stop at the Mussel Inn to try one of their many house brews was the perfect solution - Pale Whale Ale, Lemming Aid lemonade, Golden Goose Lager, Freckled Frog Feijoa wine, Apple Roughy cider…we were spoilt for choice.
Day 7 - Pohara Beach - Nelson - Home
On our final morning in Takaka we joined the locals buying fresh produce, arts and crafts at the Saturday market. Leaving Golden Bay we headed back up the Takaka Valley to the top of the hill for lunch at the Woolshed Café surrounded by dramatic limestone outcrops. Before long our off-the-beaten-track week was over and, as we said our farewells at Nelson Airport, we happily reflected on just what a fine time it had been.
Now it's your turn - check out our Molesworth Station, Abel Tasman & Golden Bay tour
We hope you enjoyed Richard's stories about exploring these iconic spots in the South Island. This part of the country certainly is epic and without doubt "off the beaten track" but it can take a bit of planning to get there and navigating some country roads. If you'd like a fun filled adventure with a group of like minded souls with someone else taking care of all the planning and driving take a look at our 7 day Molesworth Station, Abel Tasman & Golden Bay tour now.