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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrExtending from the top of the South Island, Farewell Spit is New Zealand’s longest sand spit and a stunning nature reserve. The spit stretches for over 25 kilometers above sea level, and another 6 kilometers underwater. The area is home to beautiful wildlife and amazing vistas across the Tasman Sea.
The spit runs eastward from Cape Farewell, the South Island’s northernmost point, and forms the northern side of Golden Bay.
The Maori name for the spit is ‘Onetahua’, which means “heaped up sand”.
HistoryThere is evidence that Maori people (the local indigenous people of New Zealand) occupied the Farewell Spit area. Puponga Point was once the site of a pa (a Maori fortified settlement/fort), and is one of the many archaeological sites in the area. Puponga Farm Park operates today as a working farm.
Abel Tasman was the first European explorer to arrive in the area in 1642. He named the spit ‘Sand Duining Hoeck’. Later in 1770, English explorer, Captain Cook gave the name ‘Cape Farewell’ to the area. It was the last land he sighted as he left New Zealand for Australia at the end of his first voyage.
In 1870, the first lighthouse was built in the area to help prevent shipwrecks, which were occurring frequently in the proximity. One of the lighthouse keepers planted a windbreak of Macrocarpa Pines, which remain standing to this day. The pines protect the station from the shifting sands, and provide a daylight landmark for passing ships. The lighthouse became automatic in 1984.
The wooden ship, Queen Bee, ran aground off Farewell Spit in 1877, and the SS Port Kembla was sunk in 1917 by a mine, which had been laid by a German ship, some 17 kilometers off the spit.
GeologyThe spit is made up of fine golden sand. The land to the west of the spit is largely made up of late cretaceous quartz sandstones, comprised of silica and traces of other heavy minerals, such as garnet, ilmenite, magnetite, and pyroxene. The fine sand is created by the erosion of the cliffs, and is carried by the sea currents to the east, further extending the spit.
In early European times, the sand dunes were partly covered in grass and forest, and sheep and cattle were grazed. Most of the vegetation has been lost, and the sand dunes are now mostly bare, apart from patches of scrub, Marram Grass, and Lupins.
The two sides of the spit are very different. The northern side has steep, unstable dunes, which are exposed to strong winds from the Tasman Sea. The southern side faces Golden Bay, and is more stable. It is largely covered with vegetation. The tide on the southern side can recede up to seven kilometers, exposing some 80 square kilometers of mud flats and providing a rich feeding ground for many sea birds.
Species endemic to the siteFarewell Spit has been an internationally-renowned bird sanctuary and wetland site since the 1930s. It is home to over 90 recorded bird species. Each spring, Bar-Tailed Godwits, Knots, Curlews, Whimbrels, and Turnstones fly around 12,000 kilometers every northern hemisphere autumn to spend the southern hemisphere summer at the spit. The area is also a breeding ground for penguins and home to a gannet colony.
Wharariki Beach is a breeding ground for seals, as well as playing host to a range of diverse vegetation, including some rare plants. Part of the spit forms the Ramsar Wetland site, covering over 11,000 hectares. The site is managed by the Department of Conservation as a nature reserve.
Unfortunately, Farewell Spit also experiences frequent whale strandings, usually by Long-Finned Pilot Whales. Some experts suggest the strandings are in part due to the unique topography of Farewell Spit. The spit has shallow beach shelves, which are difficult for whales to detect with their sonar, and the unique hooked shape of the spit makes it difficult for whales to get out.
How to Get There and What to DoTo get to Farewell Spit from Takaka , follow State Highway 60 north for about 50 kilometers. The journey is 20 kilometers from Collingwood. There is no public transport available to get to Puponga.
Two operators are approved by the Department of Conservation to run nature tours to Farewell Spit Lighthouse: Farewell Spit Eco Tours and Farewell Spit Experience.
Horse trekking is a popular way to take in the beauty of the area, and treks are run by Cape Farewell Horse Treks.
Mountain biking is permitted from Wharariki Road to Pillar Point Lighthouse, and also on the Wharariki Farm Park track.
Dogs are not permitted in the area, and access is by foot only past the car park of Puponga Farm Park.
Because the area can be exposed to strong sea breezes, bring warm clothes and a windproof jacket.
Private accommodation is available at nearby Puponga, or at the nearby towns of Pakawau, Collingwood, and Takaka.
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Author: Amanda. Last updated: Oct 26, 2014