“Farewell” said Captain Cook in 1770, and the name stuck

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Oceania » New Zealand » South Island » Nelson Region » Golden Bay
March 17th 2011
Published: March 24th 2011
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March 16th - 17th 2011

We seem to have formed a habit or custom over the years that each year someone has a birthday or an anniversary or some important date somewhere different or special. Whether we are overseas (I had a great birthday in a hurricane in Cuba one year) or in New Zealand, we make an effort to ensure that day is one to remember. Sometimes its just a tour somewhere interesting, but it becomes that persons special time. Often we would do the tour or visit the place anyway, but it always seems better when its a treat for someone or something. And I'm sure we're not the only ones who do this. I'm sure now we are a family, we'll be setting up more habits or customs around special days.

Yesterday was one of those special days but we had to transfer the treat to today. It was Samara's “half-birthday”. You only get one half-birthday in your lifetime, the same as you only turn 1 or 21 once. OK, maybe not 21, people turn 21 many times in their lifetimes! While Samara seemed to have fun on this trip, this tour was really for us, and we would have gone anyway. But that doesn't take away the fact that we have been blessed by her presence for 6 months now, and while the first few weeks were hard, and we are still learning about being parents (and that wont stop), she has been a remarkably easy baby to travel with. All routines are completely out the window and will have to be re-learned when we get home, but as long as we feed her and let her sleep when necessary, all we get are smiles and laughter and chatter from her (OK and the occasional cry when really tired after a busy day). One lady even told us after this tour that initially her and her friend were upset that they would be sharing a tour with a baby (thinking screaming and fussing) but they were really impressed by how well she behaved, all they heard from her was happy squealing. But enough raving about our cheeky monkey, sorry I mean little princess, lets tell you about the tour.

We booked ourselves a 4 hour trip along Farewell Spit. A tour is the only way you can get more than 4km along, the only way you can see the gannet colony and the lighthouse. We went with Farewell Spit Eco Tours and found them to be pretty good. The guide was certainly knowledgeable, though some of his jokes fell a bit flat! We were told by the person in the office when we booked that we had to bring the car seat for Samara and that the driver will know how to fit in in the bus. However when we turned up the next morning at Puponga the driver / guide looked at us a bit blankly and rummaged in the front for a cheap ratchet strap (and not even a real one at that) to hold the car seat in place. The car seat didn't even fit on the seat properly, the driver suggested putting it on sideways, but we managed to squeeze it in the right way. Samara had some lovely people behind her (she faces backwards in this seat) to keep her entertained when she wasn't dozing or looking out the window. Once we were settled in, we took off up the spit in our chunky 4WD bus.

Farewell Spit is NZ's longest sand spit, stretching for about 35km from Fossil Point, where we went yesterday, across the entrance of Golden Bay. It is formed entirely of sand derived from the erosion of granites, schists and other rocks on the West Coast which then drifts northwards by coastal drift and gradually fills Golden Bay. The guide said that it was basically part of the Southern Alps from many many years ago. The spit itself is about 800m wide, though it widens into sand and mud flats on its inner side at low tide that stretch about 6.5km into Golden Bay. The shifting dunes on the spit are up to 20m high and there are patches of low scrub and native and imported grasses.

The spit is a nature reserve and one of the country's most important wading bird habitats, and has the designation “Wetland of International Importance”. Over 100 species of birds have been recorded here. We didn't see that many! There is a colony of gannets here and its an important feeding place for godwits. These little birds spend the northern summer in Siberia and Alaska breeding, then fly south for the winter, having a second summer in Golden Bay. For such little birds, they have remarkable flying power. They used to stop over in the Yellow Sea to feed, but the Chinese, not being known for their environmental care and awareness, undertook a massive reclamation project and destroyed their habitat there. Now the godwits seem to fly direct from Alaska to here (or at least the ones with radio transmitters attached to them do). We also saw oystercatchers, gulls and seals.

We drove along the seaward side of the spit, stopping now and then at dunes or to see birds, until we reached the lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1870, though its been updated many times since. In those days much of the spit was not visible to ships at high tide, so one early keeper, a Mr Harwood, brought back saddle bags of soil from each trip off the spit for supplies and gradually built up the land round the lighthouse. He then planted macrocarpas and pines, which became almost as valuable as the light.

There are three old cottages by the lighthouse and we stopped at one of them for our lunch. We could climb the lighthouse – it has an open lattice 'body' – but we couldn’t go in the lamp room at the top.

From the lighthouse we drove a little further along the beach where we could look at the gannet colony through binoculars. We didn't book the gannet tour so didn't do a lot else there, but we could see the juveniles lined up practising flapping their wings ready for their upcoming trip across to Australia. They'll spend the next 4-5 years in Australia before coming back here to breed themselves. After the gannets we went back down the beach to a large sand dune, and climbed that, then on to Fossil Point. We found more fossils than we did yesterday, but we went further along the beach. And then it was back across the spit to the inner side and back to the van. The tide was right out and the guide told us about the whale strandings that occur most years. It is mainly pilot whales that strand there, and various theories were offered as to why they beach themselves. The curve of the bay can act as a natural trap, or something is interfering with their sonar, or or or. The DOC office in Takaka has newspaper articles from over 100 years ago talking about pilot whale, or black fish, strandings, so its nothing new, but the frequency appears to be increasing.

We spent another night with Sarah and her son Dante (Couch Surfing) just outside Puponga. Samara had a great time showing off her bouncing skills in her Jolly Jumper, but Dante (age 5) was a little miffed that she wouldn't play snakes and ladders with him!

The next morning we went past Puponga to the end of the road at Wharariki Beach. We walked over the fields and dunes to the beach, then all along the beach and back. The only other people we met were on the track, so it felt like we had this vast wilderness to ourselves. We walked along the sand, explored the caves, looked for seals (didn't find any) and enjoyed the peace and awesome scenery.

We did see some seals at Cape Farewell, the northern most point of the South Island. Along with more impressive views of farmland and rugged, rocky coastline. Many people think that the South Island is all south of the North Island, but in fact here we were at about the same latitude as Foxton or Levin, a reasonable way up the North Island. Picton is apparently a bit further north than Wellington!

Anyway, as Captain Cook said in 1770, we will say now “farewell”, but we'll add “for now” as we will be blogging more about our South Island trip soon. I'm not sure if Cook added “till next time” or not.

Additional photos below
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Cape FarewellCape Farewell
Cape Farewell

the most northerly point on the South Island

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