As a destination, Golden Bay has some very well-known attractions like the Abel Tasman National Park, Pupu Springs and Wharariki Beach; Whanganui Inlet is less well known but is well worth a visit nevertheless.
The drive from Takaka to Wharariki is pretty spectacular in itself, so perhaps people can be forgiven for not seeing, let alone exploring, the turn-off at Pakawau. If they followed this road, they’d find a large untouched estuary, wild Kahurangi coast shorelines and remote bush-clad ranges.
But the icing on the cake comes in the form of an easy half-day walk that takes you to the top of the highest point in the area.
Whanganui Inlet is huge at 2744ha. At high tide it is completely covered in water, but at low tide it drains completely, exposing vast tidal sand flats and channels. The amazing feature of this area is that the intertidal vegetation and habitat is virtually intact, free from any degradation, natural or human. It’s the least-modified estuary in New Zealand, and the resulting rich biodiversity enables marine and freshwater fish to thrive, as well as being a haven for a variety of birdlife.
The value of this natural environment was nationally recognised with the implementation of the Westhaven Marine Reserve in 1994 that covers 536ha in the south-western corner of the inlet. The reserve totally protects all plant and animals, with no fishing, hunting or shooting permitted, all of which benefits the fish, shellfish and birdlife that exist in the area.
The rest of the inlet has been classed as a wildlife management reserve, which means that fishing and game-bird hunting are allowed, but all other plants and animals are protected.