If you take the SH60 north from Motueka, you drive steeply up a twisty road over Takaka Hill and down to Golden Bay. Although it's only a few hours drive from Abel Tasman, Golden Bay feels somewhat more remote. The backpacker tour buses only go as far as Abel Tasman, so you need your own wheels to explore further north.
When researching where to visit in New Zealand, I had originally missed Golden Bay off the itinerary. Then I came across a photo of Wharariki Beach - beautiful, windswept white sands with pounding waves - and Golden Bay was firmly on the list.
The trouble with driving in New Zealand, is that you want to stop all the time to admire the incredible scenery. We made it over Takaka Hill with only about four photo stops and popped into Payne's Ford so I could drool over some beautiful limestone sport routes and play at bouldering in sandals - somewhere to return to with climbing gear in tow.
Next stop was the Grove Scenic reserve, which felt straight out of a Tolkein book, with weird limestone formations and ancient, lichen and fern covered trees. After a bit of an explore, we drove to the Rawhiti cave. Actually getting to the cave involved a gentle walk by a dried up riverbed and a steep pull up to the cave entrance. Supposedly an hours walk - but we made it in 30 out-of-breath minutes. As you wheeze up the final stages of the track you suddenly spy the yawning mouth of the cave itself - a mouth full of teeth...
The stalactites here have developed through a combination of calcite deposit and plant growth, leading to the phytokarst phenomenon, where the stalactites 'grow' towards the sun. There are some nice warning signs suggesting you don't linger too long at the cave mouth, and the presence of thousands of daggers of rock above you does lend a rather ominous air.
We then headed further north, way up to the base of Farewell Spit, where 6km of dirt track landed us a short walk from Wharariki Beach. We donned flip flops and headed for the sea. The golden sands and calm blue seas of Abel Tasman were beautiful, but I loved this wild, untamed beach of endless sand and crashing waves. Sadly we only had a few hours, but you could spend days exploring it.
But we weren't the only inhabitants of the beach. New Zealand fur seals also use it as a playground and we were fortunate enough to see a group of baby seals playing in a rock pool. Tiny compared to the grey seals you get in the UK, they were playful and curious and very happy to be photographed. Eventually an adult came along to supervise the nursery, and the tide started coming in. Rather faster than anticipated as it turned out, and my camera bag nearly joined the seals in playtime.
After breathing in our fill of sea air, we headed back to the car and drove to our accommodation for the night - a beautiful eco-hostel with gardens leading down to a long stretch of private beach. It was the sort of place we could have quite happily stayed a week, but sadly we were moving on the next day. After a good meal and some proper ale at the Mussel Inn, we were lulled to sleep by the gentle sound of the sea.