New Zealand’s South Island, less populated and more rugged than the North Island, has higher and steeper mountains, fjords and glaciers instead of the civilized green valleys and mostly extinct volcanoes of the North Island. The southernmost part of the South Island has four seasons (this side of the equator south is cold, north is warm!), but in Golden Bay, farther north than the southernmost tip of the North Island, it rarely freezes. In winter, the snow-capped Kahurangi Wilderness surrounds it on three sides, yet the valley is bathed in sun. On the fourth side is the Tasman Sea and the western entrance to the Cook Strait. Golden Bay is framed on the west by Farewell Spit and on the east by the Abel Tasman National Park.
The valley that is called Golden Bay is bookended by Farewell Spit and the Abel Tasman National Park, and backended by the Kahurangi Wilderness, New Zealand’s second largest national park. All three places hold their special charms. Farewell Spit, stretching 26 km into the Tasman Sea, is the longest spit in New Zealand and a way station for many species of long distance migrating birds. Abel Tasman Park is renowned for its golden beaches, sculputred granite cliffs and world famous coastal hiking track. Kahurangi National Park is a vast mountain range of largely untracked wilderness. Through it runs some of New Zealand’s more notable tracks, including the Heaphy and Wangapeka Tracks.
Golden Bay’s shire town is Takaka (pronounced “TAH-kah-kah”), whose population swells from a little over 1,000 in winter to 5,000 or more in the summer holidaying season (December through January). Takaka is a happy, funky, intact community known for its thriving artist community and “different” way of doing things. The nearest supplier city, Nelson, pop 50,000, is two hour’s drive away. Nelson is about the size, feel and climate of San Luis Obispo, California.
The local geology is fascinating and complex, and explains some of the unique features of the house and environs (see Eileen McSaveney and Simon Nathan, ‘Geology – overview – New Zealand – a geological jigsaw puzzle‘). The New Zealand land mass was once the bottom of a huge sea, and much of Golden Bay is limestone, from the calcium deposits of ancient sea animals. The northwest tip of the South Island has geological similarity to the southern fjord region of the south island (Fjordland) because, as the Pacific plate moved northwest, grinding against the Australasian plate, it moved a chunk of southern South Island up, pushing it against the northwest corner of the South Island where Golden Bay is located. As a result, the surrounding Kahurangi Mountains and the Golden Bay valley are a series of ridges where the original land was uplifted as it was squashed against the rest of the South Island. The house sits on one of these ridges, made up of limestone and seams of low grade coal, sand and clay. Caves and grottoes abound on the hill.
The nearby Te Waikorupupu (or just “Pupu”) Springs, the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand and the largest cold water springs in the Southern Hemisphere, contain some of the clearest water ever measured because it is filtered through miles and miles of this underground limestone.