For a town some pioneers suggested being New Zealand’s capital, it’s hard to imagine Collingwood as the centre of this country’s political universe.
Almost end of the road in the South Island – this seaside village nestles within Golden Bay – between Takaka and Puponga. Permanent population is around 236 and not tipped to swell any time soon – estimations for 250 by 2030!
It’s what Collingwood doesn’t have that weaves its magic: No crowds, rush hour, traffic lights or parking metres; let alone wardens. The main street is a zip at 250 paces – give or take a few for stride
and shoe size. For all its distance in this western corner, Collingwood is the centre of its own universe. Golden Bay is breathless relief from anything remotely akin to bustle. Here, you kick back, watch birds, smell the air and simply – be.
Collingwood’s biggest appeal, is being home to the only company permitted on Farewell Spit to the lighthouse. Farewell Spit Eco Tours has plied this sandbar for more than 70 years. It began as a postal service for the keepers. When people asked to hop on board; the ride evolved into a full-blown tourism venture.
Working around tides, seasons and weather, 4WD buses trek the 35-odd kilometres most days. It’s a journey of discovery; tours sought after the world over. As New Zealand’s longest natural sandbar and wetland of international significance; Farewell Spit – Onetahua – has a rich history; Maori and European. This desolate fish hook is fascinating.
But then so is Golden Bay. Collingwood is its oldest town – gold discovered in the area in 1857; though short-lived as a collier’s path to wealth. Coal was also mined – the last traces seen in jetty piles where coal was transferred to mooring ships. Dolomite is still mined in the hills opposite Collingwood; while cockles and mussels from Golden Bay are supplied to far-flung destinations. Abundant birdlife is nature’s constant thread.
Little remains of the original Collingwood – fire destroying most of the town’s wooden buildings. Some could say Collingwood had scant luck in its infancy – the demise of gold and coal, then fire: in 1883, 1897, 1904 1930 and as late as 1967. Collingwood’s church escaped and is the town’s oldest building at 144 years. The two-storey post office replaced the one burnt in 1904. The former courthouse – completed in 1901 – is another Collingwood landmark spared from fire. Restored and converted; it’s now a popular cafe.
With a mini museum to walk through time, Collingwood doesn’t take long to explore. After a walk to the historic cemetery; a hike to the look out; stroll to the boat ramp; or meander along the beach – that’s Collingwood covered. Come
nightfall, life livens up at Collingwood’s local – affectionately dubbed Tinky’s Tavern. With whitebait, cod and seafood chowder on the menu – it’s a good end to each day.
For a silkier taste – a visit must include Rosy Glow Chocolate. Handmade in a quaint beachfront villa for more than 25 years, using dark Swiss chocolate and local fruit; these luscious treats claim a vast fan club. Boxed delicacies are sent around the world.
Visitor books prove Collingwood’s magnetism. It’s the gateway to Cape Farewell, Wharariki Beach, Heaphy Track and Kahurangi National Park. With six degrees separation in the world, you’re bound to meet someone close. I came across Papamoa locals living not far from me at my mote– motorhoming around the South Island.
Do as little or as much as you choose in this golden circle. Once over the Takaka Hill, the sense of release is tantalising. How fortunate Collingwood didn’t become this country’s capital.
How to get there from Nelson Airport
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