Farewell Spit Eco Tours (Ride the Red Bus)

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November 22nd 2016
Published: November 27th 2016
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We made ourselves a bit of breakfast in our room then repacked our overnight bag and loaded it back into the car. We moved the car to the spot where we had been told we could leave it until after our tour and then walked across the street to the office of Farewell Spit Eco Tours. Not one, but two red busses were pulled up out the front.

We settled our account and were told that we would be in the first bus. We loaded up and then Elaine asked if anyone needed the loo before we got underway. Damn, I was fine until she put the thought in my head. Fortunately I wasn't the only one who decided to 'go' before we departed!

The red busses headed off towards Puponga where we picked up the rest of the passengers for today's outing. They had two busses on today because they had a large group of Rotary exchange students and their chaperones who had booked this tour because they couldn't go whale watching down at Kaikoura. Most of the students were in the other bus with four in our bus. With both busses now fully loaded we headed out onto the beach on the Golden Bay side of the spit.

A short drive along the beach and we turned into the scrub to take the track over to the Tasman Sea side of Farewell Spit. Coming out on the beach on the northern side of the spit we headed for Fossil Point that forms the western end of Farewell Spit. Fossil Point is named for the small marine fossils that can be found in the sandstone at the base of the cliffs. There were also NZ fur seals about so, before we were let off the bus, we were told to stay 10 metres away from the seals and to make sure that we didn't stand between the seals and the ocean. We were told that the seals would 'run' straight over us if they decided to make a break for the sea and we were in the way!

The busses left us at the end of the point so that we could walk along the beach. Paddy used the beach and a piece of driftwood to explain how Farewell Spit is formed. The gist of it was that the rivers erode the mountains on the west coast and the grist is carried out into the Tasman Sea. The current in the Tasman Sea is cold and flows north. This current meets with a warm ocean current that flows south down the east coast of Australia. The two currents collide off Cape Farewell which causes the sand to be deposited along a 30km stretch to the north-west of Golden Bay and this sand spit extending from Cape Farewell is known as Farewell Spit.

And how did the cape come to be named Cape Farewell? After circumnavigating and charting New Zealand in 1770 Captain Cook had determined that New Zealand was not the tip of a great southern continent. Still searching for Terra Australis Incognita Captain Cook set his course west from the cape that Abel Tasman had discovered in 1642. He decided to name it Cape Farewell as the Endeavour and her crew bid farewell to New Zealand and sailed off into the great unknown.

With the tide receding the two red busses took off in an easterly direction along the spit. As we drove along the spit Elaine pointed out more fur seals, pied oystercatchers and godwits. The godwits are migratory birds that fly all the way from the Arctic and Siberia each year to spend the Southern Hemisphere summer on Farewell Spit. Elaine said that, not surprisingly, the godwits are pretty skinny when they arrive and they spend the summer fattening themselves up for the return journey home.

Our next stop was at the Farewell Spit lighthouse. Now fully automated, the lighthouse used to be manned by a principal lighthouse keeper and two assistant lighthouse keepers. The lighthouse and three dwellings nestle in a forested oasis out near the end of the spit. The lighthouse keepers' dwellings are used as Department of Conservation accommodation and as a visitors' centre by Farewell Spit Eco Tours. We spent an hour at the lighthouse enjoying a morning tea break.

We were very, very lucky that there was a Maritime New Zealand engineer carrying out routine maintenance today and he allowed the members of our group to climb the lighthouse in groups of five. Given the choice between a cuppa and a biscuit or climb up a structure we were always going to choose to climb the lighthouse! As luck would have it, it only took half of our allotted time for everyone to climb the lighthouse so there was still time for a truly awful cup of coffee and a biscuit. Bernie took the last muffin! Admittedly that was because I thought the muffin had sultanas in it, but it was, in fact, a cranberry muffin. My mistake!

With the weather and the tide in our favour we continued out to the very end of the spit from where we were able to see the small sand island off the tip of the spit where there is an Australasian Gannet colony. Gannets usually make their colonies on cliffs; this is the only colony in New Zealand that is at sea level. Although the birds were a long way away they are very curious and lots of birds came flying over us to check us out. With our cameras on motor drive to catch the birds in flight we took hundreds of photos of gannets!

The tides wait for no-one so it was time for the tour to start heading back to Collingwood. On the way we stopped in the central section of the spit that features large sand-sculpted dunes. Those who wanted to had the opportunity to climb the front of the dunes in order to run, slip, slide down the steeper backs of the dunes. In consideration of my dodgy hip-flexor tendon I decided not to go clambering about on sand dunes. Bernie took the opportunity though to gain a different perspective of the spit. The back of the dune slopes down to a freshwater lagoon. Only one of the exchange students ended up in it unable to pull up in time from her uncontrolled descent of the steep dune face!

Back in Puponga we dropped off the students before Elaine's group was taken out to Cape Farewell and Pillar Point. The wind hadn't been too bad out on the spit, but it was howling over the top of the cape. We climbed up to Pillar Point and as we came down Elaine was hopping about excitedly - she was pretty sure she had seen whales off shore. We all clustered along the railing with binoculars and camera zoom lenses trained on the ocean. They were quite a long way out to see so we caught but a glimpse of the whales and managed only one photo that looked anything like a whale. A bit of back and a dorsal fin only.

We were back in Collingwood just after 2.00pm and certainly got our money's worth out of today's tour. The weather was glorious and when Bernie was speaking to Paddy he was told that there were more seals and more birds about today than there has been for weeks. Not to mention getting to see inside the lighthouse which was a completely unexpected and unscheduled bonus.

On our way back to Richmond we stopped again at Takaka to stretch our legs ... and buy ice creams. The Wholemeal Cafe had a board out advertising real fruit ice creams and smoothies. You choose the flavour of your ice-cream and then you choose what fruit you want to have in it. They put it all in the wide end of a cone shaped contraption and then press it down and out of the end of it comes sort of semi soft serve real fruit ice cream into your cone or cup or choice. Delicious!

Cards: It was Robin's night again at 'Jo'. The visitors won the Bolivia which evened up the scorecard at three games each.

Steps 7,574 (5.45km)

Additional photos below
Photos: 19, Displayed: 19


Farewell Spit Lighthouse Farewell Spit Lighthouse
Farewell Spit Lighthouse

Freshly painted earlier this year
Godwits in flightGodwits in flight
Godwits in flight

Elaine is driving the bus at 40kph to keep up with the godwits!
A whale's back and dorsal finA whale's back and dorsal fin
A whale's back and dorsal fin

Elaine was practically positive that it was too big to be a dolphin ... so it MUST be a whale, right?

27th November 2016

Worthwhile side trip
Looks like a very enjoyable and worthwhile tour with those bonus experiences on top. Love the photos as always. I guess the hard part is choosing which ones to add to the blog when you have taken so many. The lighthouse is very unusual but makes for an interesting pic. Looking forward to the next instalment of your adventure! Xx

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