Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Golden Bay beach with the visitors centre on the hill

Ocean Beach and Sylvia; you allthink it's sunny over here

Fossil Point and Jeff

Fossil shells

Crossing the farm

Tide out at Golden Bay

Wharariki Beach

Wharariki Beach

Cape Farewell; the northern point on the South Island


Although I have not been impressed by the weather forecasters in New Zealand, the promise of constant rain today was a true one, so we drove 23 miles to a camp site by the beach at Pakawau, 6 miles north of Collingwood, and booked in for three nights. This site has electric power and we can work on the computer today; it is also convenient as a base to explore the northern most part of the South Island.

Sunday proved to be a very windy day and this kept much of the rain away. We drove to the Tourist Centre at Farewell Spit and left the man in charge trying to book us on to an Eco Tour along the Nature Reserve and Bird Sanctuary, whilst we went for a walk.

Millions of migratory birds spend time on the sheltered east side of the Spit and take advantage of the rich feeding available. On the exposed west side whales often beach. On one occasion over 300 whales were stranded and with lucky weather conditions only 17 were unable to be helped back into the water. The Spit stretches in a big right handed curve out into the Tasman Sea for over 16 miles, with a further 6 miles of sand not far under the surface of the sea. The west coast glaciers grind down the mountains and the rock particles wash down to the sea and northwards along the coast to the Spit. Once upon a time the Spit was joined to the North Island, and maybe someday will be again.

We walked about a mile along the Golden Bay side in dry weather and then crossed over by a sheltered path to the wild side, Ocean Beach, where the sand was being driven towards us by strong winds as we walked towards Fossil Point. The bottom half of the cliffs were made of mud stone and the top half was sand stone. Embedded in the large pieces of fallen cliff on the beach were sea shells which were millions of years old. It seemed strange to be touching them. By the cliff wall was a seal sunning herself. She obviously hadn’t seen the notice stating to be wary of quicksand near the cliff sides. We later learned that there was quicksand in spots all down the west side of the Spit and although you would only sink down a couple of feet, it can be very concerning, especially when the tide comes in.

Our walk back was across fields which are part of a 1021 hectare farm which reminded us of North Yorkshire. The farm is made up of three former farms bought in 1973, 81, and 87. The purpose of the purchases was to create a farm which would be managed with special care to protect its rare native plant life and areas of historic importance. Communities of native vegetation are fenced off, archaeological sites have special grazing regimes, lake levels are not altered, and swamps are not drained. Signposted tracks lead visitors to spectacular scenic viewpoints and places of interest and stiles have been built so there is no need to open gates or climb fences. It’s a great way to protect the Spit and control access to this area which is popular with the tourists; and the cows and sheep seemed to be happy with the arrangement.

Back at the tourist office we learned there had been no progress with tomorrows hoped for Eco Tour; but our man would keep on trying. The restaurant menu was very inviting and I had the ‘mussel chowder’ and Sylvia the fresh ‘Tomato and Capsicum’ soup; very tasty. The next journey was along a gravel road to a car park from which we could take the hill path for a half hour walk to Wharariki Beach. An attempt to walk further along the hill path to Cape Farewell was thwarted when we realised there was no way to the path other than by crossing the 12 foot wide stream; and I refused to take my socks off.

The beach and sand blows were a wild place on this day. The large hills of rocks which were the front line cliffs of yesteryear would soon be surrounded by the incoming tide. It was a very impressive place and would be a lovely beach to visit in good weather. We had missed the road to Cape Farewell car park on our way in, so once back at the van we set off to find out how we could have been so remiss. Eventually we came to what appeared to be a rough farm track but on exploring we found it lead to the Cape Farewell car park. Due to the rough state of the road we parked short and set off on the ten minute walk, and for the first time today we did not bother to take our waterproof coats.

I bet you are already ahead of this narrative, and you are right. As we neared the Cape, the most northerly part of the Southern Island of New Zealand, Sylvia drew my attention to some awful weather approaching us across the hills from inland. We rushed to the Cape, took the quickest set of photographs yet, said Farewell and ran back to the van in the rain. Yes we ran; I didn’t think we had it in us.

At the camp site we received a phone call to say we had been booked on the Farewell Spit Eco Tour and would be picked up at 9.45am in the morning. We would have to pay for our trip on Tuesday morning back at the Spit’s tourist office and restaurant, and most likely buy coffee and cake. Bugger.

New Zealand can be a very windy place. Tonight it is very wild, wet and windy, but our place on the camp site is snug. Tomorrow we will visit the only known gannet colony in the world that nests on a spit of sand near to human habitation, instead of on inhospitable rock cliffs.

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