So Long, Farewell Spit

Last
weekend we visited the ‘Top of the South’, in particular Golden Bay and
Farewell Spit. For those who do not know (probably most of our readers!),
Farewell Spit is a 25-kilometre sandbank jutting out to the east from the north
end of the South Island, and Golden Bay is the arc of coastline enclosed by it.
We had booked flights to Nelson, car hire, and a 6.5 hour tour of the spit by
four-wheel-drive coach leaving at 3.00 on Saturday from Collingwood, at the
north end of Golden Bay. The first challenge was that Air New Zealand cancelled
our flight, but we managed to get on a slightly earlier one and reached Nelson
OK.

From
Nelson it’s about 140 kilometres to Collingwood, including going up and down
Takaka Hill, allegedly the highest road in New Zealand. We arrived in
Collingwood about 2.00, in good time for our 3.00 tour to Farewell Spit. The
weather had turned dreadful – strong wind and horizontal drizzle. We checked
into the motel and went to the tour office, to find that they’d cancelled the
tour because of the weather. We decided to backtrack to Takaka and see some of
the sights there, and as soon as we left Collingwood the weather improved dramatically!

In
Takaka, the main township of Golden Bay, we saw a couple of interesting places.
We first visited Pupu Springs, with vast quantities of clear water bubbling up
from underground, and a pleasant walkway winding through the pools, streams and
forest. Then we drove to Pohara and the Grove, a small but very interesting
scenic reserve. The path takes you between towering limestone cliffs carved
into weird shapes and eventually through a narrow cleft where you get an
amazing view over the surrounding country as far as the sea. We also went for a
drive along the coast road, and ended up in a nice pub called the Penguin to
slake our thirst. We returned to Collingwood, where the weather was still foul,
and had a meal in the one and only eating/drinking establishment there. This
was OK, and we had a nice time chatting to some of the locals.

On
Sunday we got up fairly early and discovered the weather was at least dry. We
decided to drive up to Farewell Spit and have a look. We drove up there and walked
down to the spit and along it for a couple of miles or so. Underfoot were
millions of crushed seashells, to the left were tall dunes, and to the right
tidal flats with a few wading birds. We took a path across the spit which
brought us out on the north (outer) side of the sandbank. Here the wind was
blowing strongly and it was mostly fine sand, sculpted into interesting
patterns by the constant wind. We walked along to Fossil Point, where there are
some curiously carved cliffs and rocks which come down to the sea. We didn’t
see any fossils, but we did see a couple of seals. On the way back to the
visitor centre, across open farmland, the sun came out and temporarily the
scenery looked a lot like Derbyshire.

From
there we took a gravel road 6 kilometres westwards to a car park, from where it
was a 20 minute walk over the hills and the dunes to Wharariki Beach. On the
way we saw a couple of young seals cavorting in the brown river below us which
flowed into the sea. On reaching the beach we were nearly blown away by the
wind, which seems to be a constant feature of that coast. We walked along in
order to get a view of the Archway Islands, just offshore, which are carved
into interesting natural arches by the sea. Later a short walk brought us to
Farewell Point, the most northerly part of the South Island, also carved into
an arch.

On
the way back to Nelson, just after Takaka Hill, we followed a road along the
valley bottom to the Riwaka Resurgence. This is where an underground river
emerges from the hill to form the Riwaka Stream, and made quite a nice short
walk. We got back to Nelson airport by 7.00 for our 7.45 flight, which left on
time, and we were back home about 8.50. Altogether we decided we enjoyed our ‘homemade’
tour of Farewell Spit as much or more than the one we missed, so it all worked out.

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