A natural beauty stretching more than 30 kilometres into the Tasman Sea, Farewell Spit truly is a beauty to behold. The dramatic coastal cliffs lend a spectacular view of the island, its shoreline, and stunning landforms. The windblown sand creates remarkable patterns—from contoured ripples to crests—that become more picturesque as the colour changes during sunrise and sunset.
Farewell Spit is positioned at the northernmost tip of the Golden Bay, South Island. Running eastward from Cape Farewell, it is twenty-six kilometres above sea level whilst the remaining six kilometres are underwater. The spit, made from fine golden sand, is considered to be the longest sandspit in the entire country. The narrow sandbar is also known in Maori as Onetahua, which means ‘heaped up sand’.
But equally impressive is the spit’s climate, alluring birds and diverse wildlife. Travellers from all over the globe can immerse themselves in the exploration of both the open sea and the sheltered waters.
The spit, a bird sanctuary since the early 1930s, serves as home to thousands of birds and as a vital staging area for migratory shorebirds. An impressive total of 90 bird species has been recorded in this extraordinary ecosystem. These include herons, red-billed gull, wrybill, golden plover, black swan and whimbrels, among others. If you are lucky, you may have a close encounter with the birds inhabiting the spit. There is also a gannet colony which nests in colonies above the high tide line.
If, however, you are more fascinated with marine life forms, then you must head towards the crystal clear shores where seals and whale sightings, especially the Long-Finned Pilot Whales, are very common. Unfortunately, the area is also known for whale strandings that usually happen when whales become stuck in shallow waters.
Considered as a wetland of international importance, the spit is strictly protected by the New Zealand’s Department of Conservation. With great emphasis on preserving the seabird sanctuary and natural reserve, the department has only opened a small area that could be accessible to the visitors through organised tours.
As such, anyone who wants to visit will only be given access if they go through the two approved tour operators. Taking a trip organised local and friendly guides that are passionate and knowledge about the ecology of Farewell spit is your best bet in experiencing everything the place has to offer.
Venture into a journey of discovery in the seabird and wildlife reserves. At the base of the spit is the Fossil Point—a popular hauling out spot for New Zealand fur seals. Here, you can observe fossilised shells and worm casts emerge from mudstone found at the base of the cliffs. Nearby, you can see an abundance of sea life thriving in exposed rock pools.
Ascend the Farewell Spit lighthouse located thirty kilometres along the ocean beach. Take the opportunity to discover the Maori legends of the spit. Or have a peek at the spit’s local history. You may also view the wood carvings and enjoy some refreshments in the century-old lighthouse keepers’ cottage.
Remember to bring a pair of binoculars, arm your skin with sunscreen, and stay hydrated so you can enjoy your journey.
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Charles is a world traveler having lived in 44 states and 11 countries and traveled to dozens more. He and his wife spend time between London, Ireland, Canada, and the Philippines.