There’s something very satisfying about arriving at the end of a road, and when it’s SH60, you get the extra reward of finding yourself in charming little Collingwood, says Pamela Wade.
Located a two-hour drive westwards from Nelson that includes negotiating Tākaka Hill’s 257 corners, you might be surprised that Collingwood’s population verges on 300 people — but it used to be even bigger.
The clue is in the district’s name: Golden Bay. The 1856 gold rush here was short, but so lively and productive that the town was briefly the second-biggest in the country and even mooted as the nation’s capital. Gold was followed by exploitations of flax, coal and timber, but today Collingwood is more focused on sustainability: farming, tourism and businesses such as the admirable HealthPost, a supplier of online wellness products, who co-fund a predator-proof eco-sanctuary in the area.
What is there to see in town?
Despite the town having suffered a series of major fires throughout its history, most recently in 1967, there are still some lovely heritage buildings to admire, like the cute old Courthouse, now an inviting café (“we don’t need a court, but we do need coffee” is the local thinking). You can learn all about the dramatic fires, and much more, at the very accessible little museum on the main street, where there’s a wide and eclectic collection of items on display, from whale eardrums to a bent propeller memorial to airmen lost in the war. Right next door in the Aorere Centre is more local history, much of it photographic. Up on the hill, pretty little St Cuthbert’s church is the oldest building, dating from 1873. There’s a heritage trail of plaques along Tasman Street, telling the town’s stories.
Take a trip
Hard to miss on the main street is Farewell Spit Eco Tours, which is a must-do. You can drive out to the base of this strikingly long sandy arm that encloses Mohua/Golden Bay, but you’re not allowed to walk far onto it because of the birdlife there. To do it properly, getting to the lighthouse 27km away near the tip, you have to be on the guided bus tour, and it’s well worth it for the fun and interesting commentary along the way. You’ll learn about the 90 species of birds that live here, see many of them, and hear stories about the many quirky lighthouse-keepers isolated here till the light was automated in 1984. The tour includes a stop at accurately-named Fossil Point at the base of the spit, and a detour to a spectacular lookout from the South Island’s most northernmost point, Cape Farewell, down over smoothly sculpted striped cliffs to a picturesque archway.
Another unmissable outing is to Wharariki Beach. This involves a pleasant walk from the campsite at Pūponga across farmland and through bush to the beach. Here, at low tide, you can walk along to a fur seal colony, poke into caves but mostly just marvel at the view of the irresistibly photogenic Archway Islands just offshore.
Back at the campsite, you’ll find the Archway Café with coffee, cake and peacocks. If that stroll has you wanting more, there are plenty of walks in the area, most notably the Heaphy Track, at 70km the longest Great Walk, through to the West Coast. Elsewhere in Kahurangi National Park, and along the coast, there are shorter options, for instance the 7km Scotts Beach Track, which gives you a taste of the Heaphy without the sandflies. Or, to get help from some extra legs, you could go out with Cape Farewell Horse Treks.
If old machines are your thing, stop in at the Rockville Machinery and Settlers Museum, 15 minutes’ drive from Collingwood. In the former dairy factory are vintage tractors, a blacksmith’s forge, an old jail and much more. On their Steam-Up Days, at Easter, Labour Weekend and Christmas, you can see many of them in action, and enjoy scones baked in the pioneer kitchen.
There’s another trip back in time to enjoy further along this road, at the picturesque Langford Store and Post Office. Established in 1924, it hasn’t changed at all, and is crammed full of antiques and collectibles.
Where to eat
As well as those already mentioned, in town there’s the Collingwood Tavern, which has little atmosphere but a wide choice on the menu, friendly service and lots of locals. A favourite with locals and visitors alike is picturesque local icon the Mussel Inn, 12km back down the road. Settle in here for great food and a wide range of even better beers, many made on the premises.
More Information where to stay:
The Collingwood Holiday Park collingwoodholidaypark.co.nz is at the end of Tasman Street right at the tip of the peninsula, with stunning views out across Golden Bay, and everything in town just a short walk away. If you want something more bucolic, trail out to the Wharariki Beach Holiday Park: whararikibeachholidaypark.co.nz
Or, in the other direction back towards Rockville, there’s the Golden Bay Holiday Park: goldenbayholidaypark.co.nz
What to do:
For more on the area, visit goldenbaynz.co.nz
Collingwood Tavern, tinkystavern.co.nz
Mussel Inn, musselinn.co.nz
Cape Farewell Horse Treks