New Zealands longest sandspit stretches
from Fossil Point, 1.6km east of Puponga,
for 35km across the entrance to GOLDEN BAY, the breakwater for a
safe anchorage for shipping in all weather.
The spit is formed entirely from sand, derived
from the erosion of granites, schists and other rocks on the West
Coast, which is transported northwards by coastal drift and is gradually
filling GOLDEN BAY from the north. The spit is about 800m wide,
and is built of shifting sand dunes up to 20m high (it is often
possible to watch the wind "curling" the top of a live
dune), patches of low scrub, marram grass and lupins, raupo swamps,
and sand and mud flats 6.5 km wide that are laid bare on the south
side at low tide.
The Spit is one of New Zealands most important
wading-bird habitats. Although over 100 species of birds have been
recorded, the most numerous species are the godwit and knot. Towards
the end of March the bar-tailed godwit (Maori - kuaka) which have
been in New Zealand since mid-September, begin to move north, and
then after some days of mounting excitement leave in flocks from
Farewell Spit and other points around our coasts for their return
journey to their northern summer breeding grounds of Arctic tundra
in Siberia and Alaska. A few birds winter-over here, do not breed,
but assume the colourful chestnut breeding plumage, discarding their
summer feathering of light brown above and white beneath.
Their long flexible beaks probe for small crustaceans,
worms, molluscs, etc. in the tidal flats at low tide.
Both Cape Farewell and Farewell Spit were noted
by Tasman in 1642 and named by Cook when he left New Zealand in
1770. The first lighthouse on this unusually interesting site was
finished in 1870. In those days, much of the spit was invisible
to ships at high tide, so one keeper, Mr Harwood, brought back two
saddle bags of soil on each of his trips for supplies. The macrocarpas
and pines he planted form an oasis which is conspicuous seaward
and is almost as valuable as the light itself.
The light is 29.5m above sea-level and its one
flash every 15 seconds is visible for 24km. Despite all precautions,
the Spit has claimed a number of wrecks (the last major one was
the Helena in 1885), and its dunes soon swallowed the evidence.
Farewell Spit is a Nature Reserve and access
is restricted. Free public walking access is permitted at the base
of the Spit, for a distance of 2.5km down the inner beach, or 4km
down the outer beach. Access beyond here is restricted to bus trips
to the Lighthouse, fishermen who must obtain a permit to fish from
the outer beach, and scientific groups working on approved projects.
The Spit is administrated by the Department of
Conservation. One indication of the Spits importance as a
Reserve is the fact that it is one of only three areas in New Zealand
to be designated a Wetland of International Importance.