4 Weeks in The Golden Bay

As I sit writing this on the beach, my heart is full. We have just spent a month in the Golden Bay, and it was just as wonderful as everyone said it would be…

Taken at The Golden Bay Lookout

When we left Vistara, we had gotten a job at the Anatoki Salmon farm in Takaka – part of the Golden Bay. The only way in (and out) of the Golden Bay is over the Takaka Hill, this hill is about 800 metres above sea level and the view of the coast is so breathtaking. Half the time you drive over you are well above the clouds and the hour drive turns into two trying to avoid the edge.

Getting over the hill might cause some motion sickness with all its twists and turns, but it is so very worth it. When we arrived we had no plan of where to stay, so we set up shop in the library and started calling around places to see if we could work in exchange for accommodation at the campsites and hostels. It was pretty easy to find a place for us, who were asking for one hour of work a day for a spot to park up and have access to showers etc. It also had a pretty beautiful view.

A few days later we started work at the salmon farm. On the drive there I had no idea what to expect, I knew I was going to do some kind of hospitality job but that was about it. It is owned by a Dutch family, and they breed and farm thousands of salmon. The idea is that you can go and fish for your own salmon (or 15 as some people do) and then Anatoki will smoke it in whichever flavour you like, they will also sashimi it or fillet it.

Anatoki Salmon Farm

Me and Lior were working in the cafe there, I was doing mostly barista/FOH work and Lior the same but with some more kitchen time – going to work isn’t so bad when you get to take your girlfriend with you, and when she’s the best barista in the world who I learn so many of my coffee skills from. I also got to feed the pigs and fill up their mud bath. As well as, having the experience of fishing for the very first time (and probably the last.)

Happy pigs

The job itself was pretty chill, we know hospitality like the back of our hands, but it was the people who made it so special. Once you stay somewhere longer than an average vacation time you get the privilege of getting to really know it, especially if you find yourself friends with some locals. The salmon farm were pretty open to the fact that the vaccine mandate and passports might not be the best move for society, and I found myself surrounded by some like-minded people.

Summer well and truly arrived in Takaka and at the end of the day in hospitality it’s pretty easy to find yourself having a drink as a team and letting off some steam. We found ourselves having an after work beer and then heading to the nearest swimming hole or beach to all go for a cooling swim – I am so happy about the amount of times I have been in the sea this summer!

We have particularly loved Tâta beach, Patons Rock and – my now favourite beach in all of new Zealand – Wharariki. The thing about New Zealand is that nature is so present everywhere you go. You can feel it in some places when the trees feel like they have been here for so long and witnessed so much, you are never further than 120km’s from the ocean and you can pretty much count on there ALWAYS being a hill to hike. So Wharariki beach required a 30 minute walk over a farm before you emerged onto the beautiful sand dunes. There was also a seal colony there, so we had the pleasure of watching a few play around in the shallow ocean.

The walk to Wharariki
Wharariki beach

Another couple – Jade and Marshall – who were working at the salmon farm also stayed at the same campsite as us, so we started to hang out and spend evenings cooking together, getting to know each other. I never felt any pressure to be anyone different, we were all just having fun together, sharing ourselves and our beers. The other day during a conversation someone said “you only meet people you really like when you are being your true self”, and it’s true. When people around me feel safe to be silly and awkward and say the wrong thing, I feel more connected to them and safer to be silly and awkward and say the wrong thing.

We spent New Years on the beach under the most beautiful sunset, as we sat there in front of our fire and the sun went down I looked from one end of the beach to the other and there were just fires spotted all the way along the beach. I’m not usually one for New Years, but this was a good one. I embraced the wholesomeness and hugged all of my friends that night.

New Years Eve

We all worked most days at the salmon farm, spending the morning waking up early to go for a quick dip in the ocean before making our coffee and heading to work. Then as soon as the shift would finish we would drive back to the same spot and jump straight back in the water. It became our routine for those few weeks in Takaka, don’t underestimate the power of a morning ocean swim (although it might make you want to go to work even less).

The first morning of 2022

In the evening Marshall would convince us all to play frizbee – which always turned out to be so much fun and I’d even say I was good at it now. We would swim and eat and drink and chat and always stay for the sunset. Marshall also asked us to come meet his mum, where we spent the evening having beers and laughing. It is so humbling to be invited to meet someone’s people/person. And Lior whipped out her stick n poke kit to leave her mark on Jade.

Evening tattoos (don’t try this at home kids)

Both of them are such beautiful souls who I am so grateful to have met. We all just clicked and had a blast together. It’s really nice having friends who reciprocate the same energy, who feed you and you feed them, who will always play frisbee together and share genuine laughs. I will miss them both so much.

Jade, Marshall and Lior at our dinner spot

We had only one bad day in Takaka. We packed the car up ready for a drive to the beach and just as we hit the 100k highway, the boot flies open and our water container crashes onto the road. Of course its destroyed so we head straight to the hardware store. Luckily, they have some large water tanks (it’s a pretty essential van item), and we grab the 24 litre and fill it up at the spring water stop in town. We get over it pretty quickly since the sun is shining and we have the day off – it’s brushed off as a glitch. After a couple of hours laying horizontally on the sand at Tâta, I decide to jump to the car to grab us a couple of cold ones. As I try to pull out the kitchen drawer I realize that it is stuck, once I focus some more attention on it I realise that everything is wet.

It turns out, the water container is no where near as reliable as the previous one we had and laying it on its side probably wasn’t the best idea. The whole back side of the car was soaked. Have I mentioned that the whole framework of the inside is made of wood? And sliding drawers? Anyway, the wood expanded and the drawer was impossible to pull out with only one person. It was a few days of drying the wood out, and my trust in the water container is gone, but it was a valuable reminder of the power of the elements.

A few minutes after finding the flood

In contrast, one of my favourite days of the summer happened less than a week ago. Our friend Anna was having her birthday and invited us on a river float. Anna is a Takaka local through and through and you could tell it in the follow through of this river float. There were about 10 of us there, geared up with inflatable donuts, we had Sam on a kayak with the eskies safely secured and even an inflatable one. We started at one end of the Takaka river and spent four hours floating in our inflatables down the river. There were fall ins, there were some really fun rapids, lots of beers and sunbathing breaks and the most beautiful clear river. It was definitely one to remember, and the people we were with make the memories even more special.

One of those people was our friend Matt. Matt genuinely inspired me to be a yes person. One thing I try and do (especially after the new year) is to say yes to things when they are presented to me. This is something that is so easy to slip out of, but Matt brought the idea back to me. We met him in Nelson less than a week before the river float through our friend Jade. During that first meeting he said he would come to Takaka to hang out with us, he grabbed us a bunch of floaties from over the hill just for the event, as there is no store to buy them from here, and spent two days hanging out with us at the beach and on the river. As a traveller you have to be willing to meet new people, it’s actually the best part of it all, but I rarely go alone to hang out with a group of people I don’t know. He brought so much energy, conversation and joy to that river day and it just shows what happens if you just say ‘why the f**k not, I’ll go hang out with this stranger for the day”.

There were no phones on the river float, but this is us feeling pretty happy and child-like tired after a big day on floaties

Four weeks can go in quickly, yet still feel like a lifetime. As our time at the salmon farm ended, we said goodbye to all the people that we met there – including the three kids who would spend the first 3 hours of my day running around the cafe asking me and Lior to play games with them and tell them how I became a fairy and her a mermaid. It’s always hard to say goodbye, it would be so easy to stay here for the summer but we set out with a goal to travel and it is so much nice to leave on such a high.

Once we ended our last day, we headed to Pakawau Beach to spend Dhara’s birthday with her in a beautiful caravan. We did Kirtan meditation and ate together catching up. It felt like a full circle moment.

Pakawau beach

The Golden Bay has brought me friends for life, a true Kiwi summer explerience and so much happiness. It has been pure bliss to spend time with people by the ocean, and I can definitely say that in four weeks I made some friends for life. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the South Island has to offer, but I am so enjoying getting back to myself through the act of authenticity and the ocean.

There are definitely days where my anxiety is higher than normal, or me and Lior have a tiff. Sometimes I just can’t be bothered with the admin of the van and not having a kitchen. What I am learning and remembering is that this is all human nature, to look around and know that the good times outweigh the bad. And when a bad time happens, to breathe and remember that it’s all going to be okay if you take the lesson and let go of the problem.

The more time I spend travelling in the van, the more I realise that saying yes to things takes you on way more adventures than saying no does.

Next stop: Hokitika.

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