Before we left Port Tarakohe we had checked out the departure times for the Farewell Spit tour as it’s tide dependent we wanted to ensure that we could depart at a reasonable hour. With the weather forecast for Friday not good (they ended up cancelling it) and us having plans for Saturday, Thursday was the day we had chosen for the tour.
Arriving in Collingwood to book the tour we discovered the office closed for a couple of hours but just as we where about to walk away one of the staff walked through a door at the back spotted us and let us in. Although he couldn’t process the booking he did tell us all about the tour and proceeded to tell us that we should head today to the beach at Wharaiki as the tour didn’t go there. The office lady would then call us on her return.
When we where in the top of the South earlier this year we never made it as far as Farewell Spit. We reached the end of the sealed road at Puponga and I chickened out being worried about the ability of my front wheel drive motorhome to cope with rough roads and hills having been stuck late last year. Since then though we have been down some fairly extreme roads without issue so now I laugh at danger (just kidding) but was no longer worried about driving here.
At Puponga you can either turn left for the Wharaiki or right to Farewell Spit so we turned left onto 6 kms of good quality metal road. What was I worried about, this was almost a State Highway compared to the road into some places. Reaching the carpark it was nice to find a large space suitable for the motorhome, then from there it’s a 20 minute walk to the beach.
It’s also good to know that DOC has a good diversity policy with the Weka’s replaced in this area with the Peacock’s who came to make sure we had parked correctly. Although I am not sure about the use of non native birds in these senior roles.
The walk through the farm park is well defined and quite a pleasant stroll on what was a glorious sunny day but I can imagine that with the wind blowing it would be quite exposed and not so nice.
We learnt the following day that this is not a West Coast Beach because of the bend at the top of the South Island this area of the coast is protected from the Tasman Sea swells so although it’s a remote beach that obviously experiences some rough weather it’s not as bad as those areas further down the coast except for the fact it was a white sand beach it certainly reminded me of the West Coast beaches in Auckland. Also it would appear that no South Island beach is complete without a driftwood structure of some sort.
Of the many places we have been to see Seals in the South Island we have never been as close as we could get here you really could have touched one if you wanted to. However I wanted to respect their distance as requested in the sign and stood back on the rocks to take this video. Just so cute enjoying the shallow pool and surfing in the tidal surges.
With the tide on it’s way in we would have missed out on all of this if we had been maybe 15 minutes later so very glad we got there when we did.
This beach is famous for it’s spectacular coastline and I know that my photos don’t do it justice on what was a great day to visit with such nice weather.
With the towering cliffs comes erosion and with that you can in the right circumstances get caves which is what’s happened here at Wharariki with these ones stretching right through to the sea on the otherside.
When Sarah was inside this one we suddenly heard this huge roaring sound as a wave came crashing through the cave with Sarah beating a hasty retreat. It would have been good to have been there at low tide to be able to walk through safely.
From there it was a pleasant slog through the soft sand back to the motorhome to find phone signal so we could organise the tour to Farewell Spit the following day.
We had decided that we would stay at The Old School Cafe a Park Over Property (6001) about 15 kms North of Collingwood as we drove there the lady from the tour office called us about the booking. Turns out that they don’t take credit card details on the phone so we had to drive into Collingwood to complete the booking and then back out to the Cafe for the night.
The Old School Cafe is really well set up in the grounds of the Cafe with power available at $10 for the night regardless for how many people are staying in the van so bargain prices with the beach just across the road. With the nice white sand rather than mudflats that are prevalent in this area it was a very nice place to take a stroll.
Here like a lot of the coastal area there are signs of the damage caused by cyclone Gita with erosion along the banks between the houses and the beach. When you see the normal waves which are hardly more than a ripple it’s hard to comprehend how much bigger they must have been during the storm.
The whole area is an important nesting, breeding and feeding area for numerous coastal birds so it was interesting to come across this info board that outlined which birds are in the area and where in the world some of them have come from.
The following morning was to be an early start, what a joke this would have been a few months ago when I would have already been at work for an hour! it’s amazing how life changes when you are travelling in the motorhome. There’s not much traffic on the road in this remote part of New Zealand at that time of the morning but it wouldn’t have been hard to spot the bus painted the bright red it was.
The bus was fairly empty with only 9 people on the tour so plenty of space on the bus to sit wherever we wanted. Like the tour we did to the Milford Sounds we chose to sit at the rear with plenty of space to stretch out.
Murray the driver has been working for the company since 1990 and was an absolute fountain of knowledge keeping up a running commentary for most of the 6 hours of the trip. The company itself has been conducting the tours since 1946 and is the only company with a licence to operate in this nature reserve. The general public are only allowed 4 kms into the reserve leaving the other 26 kms protected so the nature reserve can thrive.
This is only the second tour like this we have ever been on with the first the trip to Milford Sound so it was going to be hard for me not to draw comparisons between the two. I think the biggest difference was going to be that there are just not as many places for the bus to stop as there aren’t that many points of interest along the way.
First stop for the bus is at Triangle Flat this is really just so Murray could open the gate and let the bus onto the Spit but it’s also a chance for a quick comfort stop for those who need it as well as the opportunity to inspect the experimental whale rescue cradle that sits close to the gate a reminder that the Spit is the whale stranding capital of the world. This is because in some places the tide can recede 10 kms so the tidal flow is enormous easily stranding the unsuspecting whales.
Turning left at the gate we proceeded along the inside of the spit for around 3kms and then it was onto the shortest crossing I have ever made from one side of New Zealand to the other as we drove to the other side of the spit to continue the journey to the lighthouse. It was at this point that we questioned our decision to sit at the back of the bus as it negotiated a heavily rutted road with huge mud puddles throwing the bus from side to side as we moved forward.
Once on the outer side of the spit and away from the dangers of quicksand that plague the inner side Murray first took the bus back to the start of the spit a place called Fossil Point where he gave us a bit of a lecture about the rock formations and local geography. A quick search of the rocks looking for fossils came up empty but it was here that we came across the first of a number of dead seal pups. Murray told us that this year is particularly bad for pup deaths and he wondered if the mothers are struggling to get adequate food themselves with some of the mothers looking really skinny. Makes me glad we saw the healthy pups the day prior.
Then back into the bus and up the Spit we went. It’s just over 30kms from the entrance gate to the lighthouse in a direct line but there is plenty to see as we drove down the beach with Murray keeping up a running commentary of the sights including driving through some quicksand, which sounds really scary but according to Murray as long as he keeps the bus moving it’s no problem. The quicksand leaves trails in the beach that fill with water whereas the normal sand doesn’t, so as we went round and round the trails got deeper and deeper very interesting.
There was a real haze in the air this day making it difficult to see any distance but Murray assured us that on a clear day you can see Mt Taranaki from here. It’s actually further North than Wellington so the distance is not that great.
We came across a couple of seals some of whom just sat there and stared at these people intruding in their space others ran off in terror. I never realised that they could run so fast. There is also some driftwood along the beach as you expect including this tree that’s been there since 2014 according to our knowledgeable driver.
The destination of the tour is this lighthouse which is the only lighthouse in New Zealand without a surrounding base and just a steel structure this is because the wind is so strong here that if it was a solid structure it would become the base of a sand dune in no time and end up being buried so the open structure allows the sand to blow right through.
The lighthouse was restored in 2016 I guess that’s why it looks so fresh in the photos. In the days prior to this you could climb the lighthouse as part of the tour but regretfully this is no longer an option, health and safety concerns I guess.
In the days of lighthouse keepers there where 3 houses at the end of the Spit so unlike a lot of places with only the one family at least it would not be so lonely. The tour that we are on started in 1946 when people hopped on the old 4WD vehicle taking supplies and mail to the families rather than them heading into town then when the lighthouse was automated the tours continued.
It was in the third of these houses that the company serves coffee or tea and muffins and biscuits whilst giving you around 40 minutes to explore the area. Checking out the history that’s displayed in the house. It was here that I read all about the travelling Gnomes, they certainly are well traveled.
As a nature reserve DOC are allowing the native plants to regenerate throughout the Spit but have allowed the Macrocarpa to remain standing to provide light shade to the houses inside the Spit. Although when these trees fall down they will not be replanted.
On the way back down the Spit we stopped at one of the dunes where Murray explained the process of formation including the steep drop off on the leeward side where some off enjoyed a rather rapid descent.
The photo on the top right is Lenny a visitor from Argentina who is travelling on his own on a 1 year tourist visa. Lenny set up his Go Pro at the top then took a flying leap over the edge. He had such fun that ran back up the hill and did it again. Lenny is by profession a Chocolatere and has worked in a couple of places here making chocolate. A really nice guy.
Final stop on the tour was Cape Farewell the most Northerly point of the South Island a place where as you can see from the photos provides some fairly dramatic photo opportunities from high up the cliff.
From here it was time to head back with us to be dropped back at the motorhome along the way. We both thought the tour was really interesting and Murray made the tour a lot more informative than it might have been. However we both thought the tour was a little expensive @$155 per person compared to what we had paid for the Milford Sound tour. It turned out that Lenny had brought a seat on the tour through an online site at $111 maybe we should have done a bit more research first.
Final rating 7.5 out of 10
The next blog will be about our return to a rather sodden NZMCA camp at Motueka to help with the tree plantings and be there for the grand opening.