Farewell Spit

One of the more unusual landscapes in New Zealand, Farewell Spit is a 9,000 hectare, 26km long sand spit at the top of Golden Bay, which is home to a wide variety of wildlife, giant sand dunes, and an historic lighthouse.

The only way to visit the whole of the spit is through Farewell Spit Tours, who since 1946 have been guiding visitors. Our guide and driver Murray had been leading tours for thirty years, he was super knowledgeable and enthusiastic about this unique place.

Setting off from Collingwood the coastline was scenic from the start.

First stop was Cape Farewell, the most northerly point of the South Island. These are some pretty impressive quartz sandstone cliffs, below which we briefly spotted Hector Dolphins.

A predator proof fence was being built across the cape to create a safe breeding place for seabirds. Apparently it needs extending even further down the cliff face to stop mice from climbing around it.

Close to the cape is Old Man Rock.

We then headed to Farewell Spit, part of which is accessible to the public, but the walking tracks and road access soon stops.

It didn’t take long for us to get stuck in the sand, a regular occurrence even with modified vehicles. The sand conditions change every day, providing variety for the guides, and exercise for the tour group giving the bus a push.

There were plenty of stops for photos, with sand formations underfoot and dunes in the hazy distance.

We first headed west to Fossil Point where the high tide mark was clear at the base of the rocks.

The place gets its name from the number of fossils that have been discovered there. It was also home to the first of many New Zealand fur seals seen on the spit.

The colours have been adjusted but I still rather like this photo of the sand.

There was plenty of wildlife as we drove east down the spit. In summer it’s home to around 40,000 birds, including godwits from the Arctic Circle, shags, black swans, Canada Geese, and resident Pied Oystercatchers. A pair of Oystercatchers have a 1km patch which they fiercely protect. When one of the pair die the remaining Oystercatcher is chased away by younger couples and if lucky finds somewhere else to live and feed.

There were plenty more seals as well, relaxing in the sand or heading toward the sea.

The combination of sand and water, and the play of light offered many different views of the landscape.

At the end of the site is the 130 year old lighthouse. The top part is original but the supporting frame below was replaced due to erosion. When built the lighthouse was completely isolated and trees were planted to provide shelter. They have grown surprisingly well on a wind swept spot of sand.

There is a new automated lighthouse now so the numerous buildings are unoccupied other than one as a cafe type spot for the tour groups. Outside are the bones of a minke whale found on the spit in the mid 1990s. Farewell Spit and Golden Bay is a common place for whale strandings, the fast changing tides and curved shape can seemingly confuse them.

Heading back to the mainland this dead puffer fish was an unexpected sight.

The wind creates some fantastic natural sculptures in the sand.

Below is the same photo, the original and one tweaked, quite a different atmosphere…

There are giant sand dunes that people enjoy running down. They’re a bit too solid for sliding, giant steps and jumps work better.

Final few photos from a great day out exploring this unique place.

Author: jontycrane

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