True or False: In Golden Bay I kissed a baby seal, slept in a shed, got lost in a Labyrinth, and met Gandalf.

Published: September 2nd 2015
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Golden Bay is a little piece of heaven tucked away in the northwest corner of the South Island. To get there, you have to drive through the Nelson Region, past Motueka and the Abel Tasman National Park. You huff and puff over the Takaka Hill elevation 790 Meters (almost 2,600 ft). Just when you think your old goat can't make it anymore, you feel a lightness overcome you. Whether it be exhaustion from the climb or the view spread out before you, you force yourself to pull over and get out of the car.

You've made it to the top. Beams of raw sunlight spread out in parallel lines before you. Cumulous clouds shift and swell slightly as if dangling from the strings of a mobile in the sky, almost close enough to touch, yet so far away. Your eyes follow plump green hills as they roll in waves like an outbound tide being swallowed by the Tasman sea in the distance. Zig zag fence lines, scattered barns, and paddocks of sheep stare at you as if from the frame of a watercolor painting.

Your trace the switchbacks of the road descending into the valley and excitement brews in your gut. Whether consciously or subconsciously, you realize that all of the lists and to-do's, the modern-made responsibilities, and socially confined structures that have consumed your thoughts, are now void. When you get back in the car, you fully embrace your ethereal state and let the weight of your burdens slide back down the other side of the hill.

Cape Farewell

Driving through Golden Bay, you pass through Takaka and Collingwood. At the end of the road right before you come to the Tasman Sea, there is a spit that curves like the beak of a Kiwi bird, cupping the outer rim of the bay. Farewell Spit, unlike the Homer Spit in Alaska, has not been developed. Rather, there is a network of trails leading all the way to a lighthouse at the end. The tourist activities, such as souvenir shopping, bookings, and snacking are all confined the to the small visitor center and cafe that overlook the bay and edge of the spit.

I did not spend much time at the visitor center, nor did I hike out to the end of the spit. I turned my car around and took a right, following the road west towards Wharariki Beach. The pavement broke into a gravel road that wore into a dirt road. As the sun made its evening decent the Pukekos began their evening scavenger hunt in passing paddocks. The sky exploded, bruised with vibrant purples and blues. At a fork in the road, I paused to watch a truck with herding dogs in the bed come to a stop. Once released, the dogs bound in through an open fence. I sat and watched as hundreds of small cotton balls swarmed in panic and then molded together to create one giant white cloud.

Further down, several horses made their way across the road. I pulled right into the Wharariki Holiday Park where a small cabin doubled as an office and a backpacker lodge. I booked in a bed for the night and had the shed-esk accommodation all to myself.

The cabin felt like a woodshed that had been converted into a living space. The patchwork windows and doors were slapped over leftover lumber used to complete the structure. Wooden floorboards creaked under three sets of bunked beds and a queen bed. With an old recliner on the porch and the stars nestling into the sky beyond the hills, it was utter perfection. I got the wood stove roaring and the room nice and toasty. I felt the weight of the backcountry silence cover me like a warm blanket and snuggled up on the love seat with a book.

In the morning, I packed up and left what felt like my own private resort.

A filled my day pack with water, my camera, and a light snack and left my car in the carpark. Just a few meters from where I had spent the night, a small wooden staircase breached electric and barbed wire fencing, marking the start of the trail. I crossed through private paddocks. The trail slithered along the green of a hillside, and I saw the Mirkwood spread out below me. I felt mighty as sheep scattered in sheer fear at the sight of me.

Wharariki Beach

I passed over several more wooden staircases, and came to a sign. It announced:

Seal pups on Wharariki Beach. There are a group of seals that use pools on the beach to play in. They are fascinating to watch. Please respect their home..."

I took a deep, heavy breath in. My heart ached to see baby seals, but I forced myself to stay calm. What are the odds they would be there? My heart had been defeated before by false advertising in the States. I was not going to be a victim of the same demise here.

I continued as the earth-carved trail withered into sand and dunes started to rise around me. Broom trees waved their feathery limbs in the tall grasses as I passed.

The sky felt like a clear crystal globe encircling me, cool to the touch but vibrantly illuminated with light. I took my shoes off and walked barefoot in the soft, warm sand. Soon the trail burst open onto a vast wind rippled beach. The ocean sunk in the distance, in the low tide.

I saw large rocks jutting from the distant, incoming tide. These were the Archway Islands, not quite yet visible from my angle on the shore. I abandoned my jersey and shoes on a long peice of driftwood 100 meters from the shoreline and headed left, meeting the ocean at a different viewpoint. I watched the angels of the rock faces shift into their giant archways, carved (I assume) by the unbreakable relationship time has with the ocean.

I walked up to the slowly incoming tide and let the waves lap at my toes with their icy tongue. I felt fully alive in that moment, a moment that lasted over the course of the next several hours. My feet were rooted and intimately connected to this place. My skin felt as if it blended in with the weightless saltiness of the air. My hair felt entertained with the grasses swaying on the towering rocksides and dunes behind me. My heart beated to the same internal rythem as the incoming tide.

I walked what felt like forever, on a beach where time revealed itself to be only a construct of man's need for structure.

There were a few other people on the beach. A couple stopped to ask me to take a picture of them with the arches, and I passed a lone man consumed with silent contentment. As the beach transformed into a castle made of shell covered boulders and arches, I passed a group of teens.

"Any sign of the baby seals?!" I asked with strong anticipation.

"Not that we have seen,"they echoed with an emptiness similar to the one I felt.

I crossed into the maze of boulders. The second archway formed like a frame to the sea and found a cave facing the water like a sideways cup, filling to the brim at high tide. I weaved around a large wall of stones to find a small hidden beach, untouched by human footprints. I made my way over and around large rocks, past more beaches, until a hillside of stone marked the end of the passable sand.

By now the tide was coming in rather quickly, and I realized I should head back if I wanted to beat the incoming waves to the boulders and rock faces I had previously passed. I ran by the seagulls and jumped in the puddles left by the incoming tide. I came to a curve where the tide had swallowed shore. I waited for the ocean to take its deep breath in and then ran across before it exhaled its watery breath across my path.

When I was safely back inland, I explored some of the other caverns. I sang harmony with the emptiness of their tombs and admired the living sea creatures dwelling on their surfaces.

My stomach growled. As I reached for my light snack of fruit and carrots, I realized I should have brought something more substantial. After this, I would have to hike back to the car for real food, and I never wanted to leave.

I decided I should meander down to the other end of the beach. A large rock caught my eye. It seemed to be its own self-sustaining Island amid the ocean. As I approached, I half expected the whole surface to rise from the earth, exposing the shell of a giant tortoise slumbering beneath. Several people moved along its base, and I felt a sudden urge to climb and explore it.

A couple had gathered on a sandy patch half swallowed by the ride. From the corner of my eye, I watched the man scramble in awkward movements, like an unsure puppy meeting a lizard for the first time.

As I took a closer look, I saw that he was scrambling…away from a baby seal.

My heart leapt 10 meters.

I went over to a large rock overlooking a wading pool. Baby seals swam and played and jumped in the calm pool. They hoped along the rocks and over the sand like a fish out of the water. The parent seals watched from the other side of the pool, barking the occasional warning.

The man and woman eventually left. I just sat there on the rock enthralled by the innocence, the beauty, the playfulness and my closeness to it.

As I walked around taking photos, one particularly curious guy made a run at me. Caught off guard, I squealed and tried to get out of his path. He, however, thought we were playing a game of tag. Disappointed to have lost, he stopped and starred at me with the biggest eyes filled with all of the cuteness in the world.

When I couldn't contain my growling stomach anymore, I said goodbye to my new friends and thanked them for the joy they brought to my life. I made my way back to my shoes and together we set off over the dessert rippled sand, much smaller now that the tide was coming in strong.

On my walk back, I held on to the peacefulness, the timelessness and the oneness that captured me on Wharariki Beach.

Back at the carpark, I grabbed a granola bar and a banana out of my car. I looked on at the DOC notice board and map of trails lining the beach I had just come from. I was still riding the high of my encounter with the baby seals and the maze of arches along the beaches, not ready to leave yet.

When I turned around to get into my car, I almost peed myself as I watched an adult male Peacock attempting the enter the open driver side door. He didn't seem half as surprised at me, and he approached as if begging for a snack of some sort. We hung out in the sun for a while together. Me snacking and him looking on longingly. Not knowing what peacocks ate, I refrained from feeding him. Soon I said my goodbyes and headed back down the coast.

Anahata Yoga Retreat Center

Outside of Takaka there is an ashram and yoga retreat center called Anahata. I called ahead to see if they wanted a massage therapist for the weekend and went up with my folding massage table in tow.

The drive was another beauty, winding uphill as the sun set. I crossed through several gates, getting out of my car to both open and then close them behind me. Sheep stared at me as I passed, some running from the road as they heard me coming around the bend.

I arrived just after the evening meditation and waited in my car as to not disrupt. After I joined the guests and yogis for dinner.

When I was not giving massages, I was invited to participated in the activities of the ashram. We woke up at 6:00 am for a morning meditation and Hatha yoga practice. After, we had breakfast and then participated in Karma Yoga, which is the yoga of action and involves cleaning and contributing to the running of the ashram.

Before lunch, we had a 30 minute Satyananda Yoga Nidra session. In Yoga Nidra, you hold a single pose for thirty minutes while being lead through a guided mediation. Sounds painful right? What pose could you possibly stand to be in for 30 minutes. That's right. The corpse pose. It was 30 minutes of pure bliss.

Afterward, I felt like I had awoken from the best nap of my life, despite never actually falling asleep. (Well, someone did fall asleep as the yoga room hummed with a steady snore towards the end!)

I took part in Mantra Yoga for the first time, and I felt the rhythm of the words spill over my tongue and through my body, grounding me. For an ancient fire ceremony, I sat in the yoga room around an altar of flowers, flax and incense arranged for the Havan. As a group, we recited a mantra 108 times, symbolically tossing spices into the flame after each round, as an offering.

On my last day there, I took a walk to the waterfall with Claire, an english girl about my age. Even though we had just met a few days before, our conversation opened up into a deep, beautiful one. I felt like I was with someone I had known my whole life in a place that I grew up in. Later we played around with some AcroYoga and exchanged massages. Again, time seemed to stand still.

In Takaka, I stayed at Annnie's Nirvana Lodge. During my on an off extended stay, the WWOOFers and staff at Nirvana Lodge became like my family. They were warm and welcoming and invited me to join them for tea time and also sushi night. It was the perfect place to lay low and catch up on my writing.

During my stay, I managed to cover most of my lodging costs by offering backpackers a discounted rate for massage. It was an incredible way to connect with other travelers and also cover some of my expenses.

I met other backpackers and we went for bike rides along the backroads to the caves. After hiking up the side of a lush hill, the open mouth of the cave greeted us with razor sharp teeth.

We went out to the Labyrinth and explored rock hallways and hidden crevices. I also visited the Te Waikoropupū Springs, commonly known as Pupū Springs. The spring is the largest cold water spring in the southern hemisphere and one of the clearest.

The Mauri regard this as one of the purest forms of water and believe it holds healing properties. The springs, in the past, were a place where ceremonial blessings were held to honor times of birth and death.

I went out to the Grove on my own. The Grove is a trail that leads through large boulders and native bush. The first ten minutes of the track were mind boggling. Vines and trees covered large boulders as if they were earth. Every few steps, a crevice, would open and a magical wonderland, similar to that of the movie the Labyrinth, opened up. Sweeping limbs and deep green brush contrasted against the large rock walls.

I had entered my childhood dreamscape. If this was in my backyard growing up, I can assure you I would never have gone home, and I surely would have never grown up. Being there alone, I half expected Ludo to come around the corner and give me a grunt and a sideways glance.

In town, I strolled around the small shops. The main street had a friendly, earthy vibe and is considered the equivalent of Ashville to the South Island, but on a much smaller scale. It was common to see Rastafarian buskers outside the supermarket, people barefoot in cafes, and a random stall set up selling handmade goods. Cafes catered to a vegan and vegetarian community, and there was even a small organic grocery. I took a few yoga classes at Bay Yoga and perused the two second-hand stores more than once during my time there.

In total I spent three weeks in Golden Bay. It was a beautiful time for me to regroup and have time to read, write and explore at a slower pace.

Overall, I considered those three weeks the perfect, rejuvenating personal retreat.

As for Gandalf, he is still on my list of people to meet while I am here.

Additional photos below
Photos: 35, Displayed: 33


2nd September 2015

pre read guess
Ok so I haven't read it yet but I'm gonna guess true!!! now off to read it...
2nd September 2015

Loved it
Hey Bekah! Great read! It was even calming to read about your peaceful trip. My heart traveled with you along the beach exploring and I was saying farewell to an invisible peacock I've never met ;) much more than that it is such a gift to have you share yourself and your adventures here. It helps is not feel so far apart <3 You know where to find me- I'm still not done exploring here....
4th September 2015

Sheep again!
Thanks for sharing the wander and wonder. Nice to know what you are up and down to.
5th September 2015

Wow, I am flabbergasted, what beautiful photographs, those colours make you fly, I want to spend one year in Golden Bay. Thanks for sharing.
6th September 2015
Which way?

A Magical Mystery Tour!
I love your prose--so beautiful and evocative of your magical places and adventures. Congrats on getting to play with a baby seal, try some new yoga and stay in Nirvana--your massage is a perfect traveling skill! The Grove's Labyrinth does indeed sound like a dreamscape--great photos too. Thanks for sharing!
6th September 2015

A Magical Mystery Tour
I love your prose--so beautiful and evocative of your magical places and adventures. Congrats on getting to play with a baby seal, try some new yoga and stay in Nirvana--your massage is a perfect traveling skill! The Grove's Labyrinth does indeed sound like a dreamscape--great photos too. Thanks for sharing!
8th September 2015

Raw Beauty
Well Bekah, we traveled to Hawaii 3 years in a row, visited 3 different islands, saw volcanoes, etc. but your photos show us some of the raw beauty that we didn't see in Hawaii. How fortunate you are to be experiencing all this and more... Love you!
10th September 2015

I am so proud of you and I'm glad you r having such a great time gandalf next time

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