Farewell Spit (Onetahua): the north-western feature of the South Island that resembles a Kiwi beak... *
* Especially if you rotate the map a bit away from North like this!
This massive sandspit is on the Auckland-Christchurch domestic flightpath and the only sight I'd had of it to date. I took this photo flying South for a ride in 2005.
This shows Tōtaranui Beach (left), Wainui Bay, Tākaka to Farewell Spit from a flight North in 2012. Remember thinking then about going back to explore it.
I booked a tour with Farewell Spit Tours because: "You can freely enjoy Puponga Farm Park and can walk a short distance along the base of Farewell Spit. There is no public access elsewhere on the Spit except by DOC permit or with a licensed tour operator | DOC.govt.nz".
Tides determine if & when their 4WD bus tours run. The day I booked departed at 12:00pm and you are out for 6-7 hours.
After check-in, an hour before departure, it was back for coffee+ at The Courthouse Café.
You're allocated a bus and guide but today, and think at minimum for safety, two buses departed together. There's a 20km road section, through Pākawau to Port Pūponga, before heading inland on the road towards the iconic Wharariki Beach. You may have already seen its Archway Islands; the default lock screen for Windows 10.
I didn't have time to go there; a reason (like I need one) to go back!
A short side road, then locked farm trail, leads up to overlook Cape Farewell.
Our guide, Pino and the bus. They were running the buses at half capacity (13 on ours) and 'masks required onboard' due to COVID requirements.
Spectacular Cape Farewell views on a perfect day. The predator proof fence wrapping over the headland protects the Wharariki Ecosanctuary.
Felt slightly surreal to see this in real life soon after seeing it on The Big Bike Film Night cinema screen. The January ‘Feature Series’ show cased a documentary on the inaugural 'Tour Te Waipounamu' which starts right here.
Thanks to a bit of luck, and clear air, we sighted several whales. Was hard to catch with the mobile phone but can just see a blowhole plume below the horizon on the right.
The bus backtracks to get onto Farewell Spit itself. We first visited the Golden Bay side; the sands and low tide make a vast feeding area for birds. The 5.1m tidal range means you'd have up to a ten-kilometre walk, each way, for a swim here...
The free access is only to this part, but both sides, of the spit.
A short drive takes you across to the outer, Tasman Sea, side of the spit.
Due to the dry weather soft sand meant, even with chunky tyres and 4WD, we had to disembark and walk while the empty buses sprinted over to avoid bogging. A tour several days before had not made it.
Once on firm sand it was back onboard.
Fossil Point, so named for the fossilised shells and creatures it contains, is actually the base of the outer curve of Farewell Spit.
A good place to talk about the processes that built the spit and some of the marine history
Pino arrived in Golden Bay over a decade ago as a tourist and stayed. Her enthusiasm, passion for, and knowledge of her adopted home was impressive.
Because of the unusually settled weather (both wind & seas) we saw young, like these Oyster Catchers, who are often left sheltering in the dunes.
The stable part of the spit is about 25km long, with another 5km of mobile sand on the end. It's built of eroded Southern Alp rock transported North by a strong coastal drift current.
Farewell Spit Lighthouse
The far point of the trip is the lighthouse complex. The need for a lighthouse was identified in 1856, but a wooden structure wasn't built until 1870. It didn't weather well, replaced by this 'new' lighthouse on a steel lattice construction in 1897.
Originally an oil burning lamp, it consumed eight gallons of oil per night, run by three men whose families lived on-site.
It was electrified in 1950, and automated in 1984. In 1990 the 1000-watt incandescent lamp was replaced by a 50-watt tungsten-halogen. In 2019 power was removed, was expensive to maintain, and the lamp changed to a solar powered 6x3 200-watt equivalent LED array.
An example of what once required a small village now done (better) with a few bits of silicon...
A lighthouse didn't help one ship, in 1917 a German mine sunk the S.S. Port Kembla off Farewell Spit.
The linked article's author, and Golden Bay local, Gerard Hindmarsh also did a great radio series. 'Outsiders' features peculiar tales from New Zealand history
It's a long way from the lighthouse to the inside coast of the spit.
The lighthouse keeper's house was preserved for use by tour companies who maintain it and contribute to conservation by trapping in the area. We got the history of the light with tea, (real!) coffee and a biscuit/muffin at the stop.
A whale skeleton from a spit stranding, but we didn't see any giant squid.
Back on the bus to head home.
There's considerable skill driving this beach. Pino was reading the sand ahead and choosing lines, sometimes far from straight, to avoid getting bogged.
About halfway we stopped for a dune walk, this is only allowed in a limited area.
Dunes to the horizon looking back over Golden Bay & Tākaka.
Pino keeping an eye on her 'flock' in case they strayed. She's also a DJ, Pino NZ Music, and plays festivals and venues around NZ. I saw this comment after the trip and could only agree:
Ryan Harris: Best tour guide in the history of tour guides - very informative, with a few additional life lessons learnt along the way. Do yourself a favour & get on the spit with Pino!
The combination of evening light, it was about five, sand and sea was wonderful.
Sculpted by wind and untouched by human feet at least.
Because my phone has plenty of space, I take most photos both landscape and portrait. It's surprising how often a 'portrait landscape' looks better.
Humans for scale...
Back towards Fossil Point.
We hoped out again so the bus could get across the soft sand.
Port Pūponga Inlet from the bus as it crossed the short causeway.
View, from the bus, back to Collingwood. It was an awesome trip, the time flew by thanks to so much to see and the well-spaced, stretch your legs, stops. I'd come a long way for this, and it was worth it.
Te Waikoropupū Springs
On the way back to Tākaka I stopped at Te Waikoropupū Springs, but had been to NZ's largest freshwater spring before. They looked more impressive then, were better lit by midday sun, but was still a nice peaceful walk.
Another late evening finish, dinner tonight was takeaway Thai Food from Tākaka. Thoughts about tomorrow led to an early night...