Farewell Spit

Farewell Spit

In which Miles returns to the northwest corner of New Zealand, the area around Wharariki Beach and Cape Farewell, to walk the accessible part of Farewell Spit.

To view the full gallery of 29 pictures on imgur, click here.

The picturesque coastline of Golden Bay in Puponga again demanded a stop on the way to Farewell Spit.

Coast of Golden Bay in Puponga
Coast of Golden Bay in Puponga

Farewell Spit is a unique geographical feature.  It is the longest sand spit in  New Zealand, extending from the Cape Farewell area for 26km into Cook Strait above sea level, and another 6 km below.  It continues to grow, and I’ve read that it will one day enclose Golden Bay.

NASA satellite image of Farewell Spit
NASA satellite image of Farewell Spit

The spit runs in from west to east, and is made from fine golden sand – as Cape Farewell to the west of the spit is mostly composed of late Cretaceousquartzsandstones, i.e. silica but with traces of other heavy minerals, garnet, ilmenite, magnetite and pyroxene. The erosion of the cliffs into fine sand carried on the sea currents creates Farewell spit further east.[1]

The northern side of the dunes are steeper and unstable being constantly exposed to the prevailing winds which average over 25 km/h. The southern side which faces Golden Bay is more stable and largely covered with vegetation. The tide here can recede as much as seven kilometres exposing some 80 square kilometres of mud flats; a rich feeding ground for the many sea birds in the area but also a trap for the frequently stranded whales.
read more on Wikipedia

Access to most of Farewell Spit is restricted for environmental reasons.  This brochure shows (on page 6) the part that visitors are able to walk (as well as the other walking tracks in the area).  To see the rest of Farewell Spit you must join the Farewell Spit Eco Tour.  I took this tour in 2006, but I declined paying $150 to do it again this year.  The tour takes a bus designed for sand.  Walking the spit is a somewhat different experience.

Farewell Spit Inner Beach
Farewell Spit Inner Beach

Triangle Flat Car Park is right next to the Inner Beach of Farewell Spit.  Inner Beach is on the Golden Bay side of Farewell Spit.  Inner Beach is made of broken sea shells near the water, and sand higher up.  It is fairly uniform in width, and looks about the same as far as you can see in both directions, except that there is a mountain backdrop to the west.

Farewell Spit Inner Beach
Farewell Spit Inner Beach

There are far more black swans on the Inner Beach than any other bird. Occasionally one will fan its wings, showing its white feathers.

Black swans from Farewell Spit Inner Beach
Black swans from Farewell Spit Inner Beach

After some time, and hundreds of black swans, you reach the end of the portion of Farewell Spit that is accessible to  visitors.

Black swans and oystercatchers from Farewell Spit Inner Beach
Black swans and oystercatchers from Farewell Spit Inner Beach

At a certain point a sign indicates that visitors can go no further.  You can return along Inner Beach, or cross the spit to Ocean Beach.

Whale bone on Inner Beach
Whale bone on Inner Beach

The spit is much wider at this point that I expected.  The dunes visible in the distance, in the photo below, are only about half-way across.

Crossing Farewell Spit
Crossing Farewell Spit

This may be the most interesting part of the walk.  I was inspired to shoot panoramas at several points as the landscape changed along the way.

Crossing Farewell Spit
Crossing Farewell Spit
Crossing Farewell Spit
Crossing Farewell Spit
Crossing Farewell Spit
Crossing Farewell Spit
Crossing Farewell Spit
Crossing Farewell Spit

After crossing the last dunes you arrive at the endless white sands of Ocean Beach.

Farewell Spit Ocean Beach
Farewell Spit Ocean Beach

Now I began walking a very different looking beach in the opposite direction.  Again I stuck close to the edge of the water in order to walk on the firmest possible surface.

At some point I remembered having left something outside of my car.  I started wondering how I’d be able to tell where to cross back over to the other side of the spit.  After some time I came across some Germans lying in the sun.  The last people I had encountered had gone ahead of me on the crossing from Inner Beach to Ocean Beach.  It was strange to see people sunning as if it were any beach, so far away from anything.  They said that they had not followed a path, but had simply struck out across the dunes from Inner Beach.  I decided to do the same, but set out at an 45 degree angle to the water.

I found that there were a greater variety of birds on the Ocean Beach side of the spit, and that they were found in greatest numbers a short distance away from the water.

Crossing back to Inner Beach
Crossing back to Inner Beach
Crossing back to Inner Beach
Crossing back to Inner Beach

Along the way I encountered some fairly heavy bush, but was able to push through.  There are thistles, but I managed to avoid any damage from those.  It was tough climbing the sand dunes; each step involved sliding about half a step back down the hill.  When I arrived at the top, I saw that there was a great deal of heavy bush between me and Inner Beach.  I could see that I could get around the dense vegetation by walking along the top of the dunes for some distance away from the carpark.

Crossing back to Inner Beach
Crossing back to Inner Beach
Crossing back to Inner Beach
Crossing back to Inner Beach

From the top of the dunes I could see that the tide had gone out dramatically since I had left Inner Beach.

Farewell Spit Inner Beach
Farewell Spit Inner Beach
Farewell Spit Inner Beach
Farewell Spit Inner Beach

On the walk back to the carpark I met two girls from Taiwan and one from Hong Kong.  We walked back together and shared stories of our travels in New Zealand.  They had seen two little blue penguins and a bunch of yellow-eyed penguins, after several unsuccessful trips to the beaches further south, and had swum with dolphins in Kaikoura.

To put it as another Taiwanese girl had (“the best is meet the wild animals!”) I set for myself the goals of meeting little blue penguins and yellow-eyed penguins and dolphins!

The item I was worried about was where I had left it.

To view the full gallery of 29 pictures on imgur, click here.