The Great Kiwi Roadtrip

Roadtrip 1

We may not be able to take up the full void left by departing international visitors, but we are giving it a good go

By Vaughan Wilson

New Zealanders are avid travellers, nomadic wanderers, peripatetic souls, initially born from numerous OEs and short jaunts to the South Pacific and Australia. Each year we spend around $10 billion on overseas travel. With Covid, this has all come to an abrupt end.

As an alternative, Kiwis have been spending their hard-earned money on all types of things, including new cars, second-hand cars; classic cars; and, oh yes, houses, spa pools, sports gear and clothing, electrical goods, and pretty much anything else. Kiwis are also exploring their country like never before. We are seeking fancy accommodation, camping, glamping, and all types in between. We are crossing items off our bucket lists such as intrepid hikes, extreme sports like bungy jumping, sipping glasses of fine wine overlooking valleys and vineyards, and dining in restaurants all over this beautiful country.

The following is the first in a series of destinations in New Zealand to be taken by a classic car. We will outline locations you can drive to and things you can do when you get there. First drive — Tākaka.


Roadtrip 2


The Tākaka valley is a short distance on State Highway (SH) 60 from Nelson, but allow up to two hours’ driving to get into the heart of the valley. The road from Nelson passes through Motueka and Riwaka and is very scenic. Storm damage from a few years ago has resulted in a one-lane section on the lower section of Tākaka Hill, governed by a red/green light system, making travelling times less than speedy.

Tākaka Hill itself is a joy to drive, and the corners, of which there are many, will challenge the racier driver after allowing for safety and the safety of others. On the way, there are at least two stops worthy of note. The first is Harwoods Hole, the deepest vertical shaft in New Zealand at 176m. It was formed as a water-enlarged sinkhole but is now dry. It drops to an underground river that emerges below and flows into Gorge Creek and then into the Tākaka River. To get there, follow a marked sign on your right near the top of Tākaka Hill onto an unsealed 11km side road to Canaan carpark where there is a campsite, toilet, water, and orientation sign.

The other is Ngārua Caves, sited just off the road on your right and just past the road to Harwoods Hole. This is a guided tour (adults, $25; children, $10) to a significant cave system, suitable for all ages and featuring a variety of stalagmites and stalactites and an excellent skeletal display of the extinct moa.

Entering the valley from an aerial position, you can’t help but gasp. It is quite honestly one of the prettiest valleys in New Zealand, stretching out to the ocean in the north and the Kahurangi National Park in the east. The small settlement of Upper Tākaka greets you as you alight to the valley floor, and a quick drive past native trees and farmland leads you to Tākaka township. 


Roadtrip 6


Given the modest size of Tākaka valley and the surrounding lands accessible by road, the area offers a massive number of interesting and spectacular things to see and explore. We took a scenic flight with Golden Bay Air, which flies to a number of locations but also offers a good selection of scenic excursions. We chose the Golden Bay Grand Tour, which combined all the sights into one flight, including the Kahurangi National Park and its peaks, along the West Coast, Farewell Spit, and the Abel Tasman National Park, before landing. 

The flight was on a beautiful summer’s day, and the view for the 75-minute duration was amazing. Truly a great way to see the area and get fantastic views of this amazing part of New Zealand. The staff had an in-depth knowledge of the area and its history too.

Farewell Spit unless you are on an organised tour. Seeing it from the air was fantastic, and you can easily see how it is growing each year with silt deposits from the West Coast. There are a number of tours that take much of the day on a bus route up the Spit to the lighthouse. 

However, there is a lovely drive from Tākaka township on SH60 to Collingwood and then on to Pūponga. On the coast is the Wharariki Beach and motor camp. This beautiful and wild beach with natural arches and offshore islets is accessible via a short walk and is well worth the effort. Nearby is Cape Farewell, an even shorter walk with breathtaking views from a viewing platform overlooking a huge cliff and perpetually angry seas.


Roadtrip 4


On the way back, stop in at the Mussel Inn, 12 minutes from Tākaka on the road to Collingwood. The Mussel Inn offers an eclectic mix of live music and food types, both indoor and in a rustic courtyard, and is perfect for all tastes.

Just a few minutes from Tākaka, also on SH60, is the Te Waikoropupū Springs (often called ‘Pupu Springs’), which “are the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand, the largest cold water springs in the Southern Hemisphere and contain some of the clearest water ever measured” (to quote the Department of Conservation [DOC] website). It has a beautifully constructed loop walk to the springs through bush and over a clear stream. The springs themselves are simply beautiful, with clear, bright, crystal-blue water bubbling up from below.

Nearby is the 1.5-hour return walk through native bush to the Pupu hydroelectric power station. Opened in 1929 to provide electricity to the district, it has been completely renovated and is still generating power. The design utilises an old water race first constructed for gold collection. The pleasant walk and history signage are fantastic and well worth the excursion.

Golden Bay is blessed with countless beautiful beaches, many of which are in the Abel Tasman National Park. There are, of course, lots of beaches you can simply drive to, such as Tata Beach where we stayed, a short 15-minute drive from Tākaka township. A wonderful golden-sand beach which, at the time, was devoid of crowds. The water was refreshingly cold, and the views up and down the curved beach are postcard material. 

Tōtaranui is accessible via a 40-minute drive from Tākaka, beyond Tata Beach, over a small hill and past wonderful beaches and beautiful forests. On the way, stop off at a very ‘Kiwi’ coffee and pizza joint called ‘Totos’. It has wonderous views over Tata and other beaches and its elevated position provides an amazing way to spend a few hours.

Tōtaranui is not the end (or start) of the Abel Tasman Great Walk, but it is a popular starting or finishing point, with camping for up to 800 and a major DOC site and office. For those wanting a taste of the hike, you can begin walking from here and be collected by water taxi further south at points such as Awaroa Bay, and brought back to Tōtaranui or vice versa. Check times online for taxi options. 

Tōtaranui itself is a beautiful long beach with great swimming and views to headlands north and south. Take in the beauty and thank those who came before you for their foresight in getting this amazing landscape protected as a national park.

A short drive from Tata Beach heading towards Tōtaranui is the larger Wainui Bay, and halfway around its circumference is a sign for Wainui Falls. It is a 40-minute hike up a well-formed trail to a beautiful and large waterfall with a swimming area below. The walk is easy, and the falls are well worth the effort.


Roadtrip 5


On the way to Tata Beach is a small enclave called Clifton, around 10 minutes from Tākaka township. On the right is a street called Clifton Road leading to Rocklands Road. Here, you will find signage and a carpark for the Grove Scenic Reserve. A wonderful, short walk up a gentle hill leads you to amazing limestone rock formations and large rātā trees. The landscape is difficult to describe but is simply awe-inspiring with blocks of limestone the size of two-storey houses and very narrow passages to walk between. At the top, one of these narrow passages leads to a viewing platform anchored to the cliff overlooking the ocean.

Nearby on Scott Road is Labyrinth Rocks, a well laid out set of trails of narrow paths between large limestone formations. Families with small children will enjoy the small toys hidden between the rocks. This free attraction allows a safe exploration and discovery activity for the family that can take as long or short a time as desired.

Two additional attractions that also rate highly with visitors are the Paynes Ford Tramline Track found near the Tākaka township and, for the more adventurous, Rawhiti Cave (also known as ‘Manson Cave’). Described by DOC as possibly having the most diverse and extensive entrance and twilight-zone flora of any cave in New Zealand, this cave hike should satisfy those in your group with a craving for adventure.

To get to the cave, drive east towards Pōhara Beach, and at Motupipi turn right into Glenview Road and then left into Packard Road. From the carpark, cross the Dry River and follow the marked route up the valley for 30 minutes. The trail then turns sharply right and climbs steeply for a further 30 minutes. The last section of the track is steep and narrow, 

and reasonable fitness and tramping experience are required for this section. 

The Tākaka valley, township, beaches, and the surrounding area offer so many things to see and do, and this article just scratches the surface. So, jump in your classic car, head for SH60, and start seeing why this area is a playground for holiday makers, boaties, and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Happy motoring.


Story and images supplied by New Zealand Classic Car magazine.
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