Wheel alignment

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Trippin' to the Top of the South - pt 3

Golden Bay and Farewell Spit

The last time we were in Golden Bay was 2001 and the one regret on that occasion was being unable to visit a very special place, Farewell Spit.  It forms the very top of the south island and is a little over 26 km long at low tide. Formed by fine silica from the Southern Alps and washed round to Golden Bay by the tides, it's a haven for birds and other animal life.  Unless you're an employee of either the Department of Conservation or Maritime NZ, the only way members of the public can visit the spit is with a sole concession tour which is licenced by D.O.C under strict conditions.  On the map above, the spit resembles the head and beak of a Kiwi which I guess is totally appropriate!

Access is restricted to a few hours either side of low tide.  On the day we wanted to visit, this meant the alarm clock being set for 5am and a half hour drive from Pohara to the little village of Collingwood to get on the tour bus.  Boy, was it worth the early start!  It was pitch black until we reached the spit itself and we were treated to a magical sunrise - couldn't have scripted it better!

First light across the white sand and dunes

Sunrise and large chunk of tree washed up on the beach

The dunes are constantly moving due to the strong prevailing wind but there was hardly a breath of wind whilst we were there - another bonus! More about the dunes later.  Travelling up the beach and dodging patches of quicksand, there was an amazing amount of birdlife and sea lions, none of which seemed particularly perturbed by human presence.

Just chillin'

The white centre is a massive gannet colony

At the far end of the spit is the 30 metre tall lighthouse which is critical for keeping ships from running into the shallows.  It must have been a lonely existence for the original lighthouse keepers but it's been fully automated  since 1984.  A great time to stop for breakfast which consisted of a hot drink and a muffin.

Farewell Spit lighthouse - a lonely place

More arty farty stuff

Men's long drop - not exactly the Hilton!

Farewell Spit recently hit the international news with a mass beaching of over 200 whales which involved a huge rescue effort.  Sadly, many of the whales were beyond rescue by the time that help arrived.  Strandings have happened here since recorded time and it's thought that the shallow approach to the spit combined with shifting sands may confuse the echo location of the whales.

On the return leg, we got to explore one of the massive dunes.  Climbing it was hard going with the powder-like silica sand but well worth it because of the magnificent natural shapes fashioned by the wind.  The lonely beauty of the place was quite overwhelming - what a privilege to see it. Here is a selection of photos.

A long way up.....

Miles of nothing

Pristine powder

Leave nothing but a set of footprints....

The next major stop-off was Cape Farewell, the northernmost point of the south island, excluding the ever-shifting spit.  On the way, we stopped of at a beach with adjoining cliffs which were millions of years old.  The weather and tides had exposed the base of the cliff which at one point was a pebble river bed - fantastic!

Gravel river bed millions of years old

Ancient river bed perfectly preserved through the aeons

Photo-bombing Cape Farewell

Collingwood Post Office (only recently closed)

Back at Collingwood at the tour end, we had plenty of time to go exploring in the area thanks to the early start.  In the middle of nowhere, there was an old museum of agricultural equipment which was open but not a soul there other than us!  Among the exhibits (well, more like just chucked in a corner) was a moped which I'd never seen before.  Turns out it was a German-built Victoria from the mid-50's.  Perhaps it got there as a result of the strong German connections to the region mentioned in the previous post.  As a footnote, after the German factory closed, production was moved to India which continued to the early 1970's.  Shades of Royal Enfields!

1950's Victoria moped in surprisingly good condition!

Just down the road from the ramshackle museum were a pair of limestone structures straddling the road which looked like upturned shoes.  Unsurprisingly, they were called the Devil's Boots.  We weren't sure whether the rest of him was under the ground but didn't hang around to look.

One of the Devil's Boots

This was our last night in Golden Bay and it's amazing just how much we could pack into a few days. Sitting at an open air cafe at Pohara Beach eating dinner that evening, we were able to witness a magnificent sunset over Golden Bay and the distant ranges - says it all really!

Sunset at Pohara Beach

Hope you've enjoyed an introduction to the Nelson district and Golden Bay areas of the South Island of NZ.  Even a short trip is good for the soul and we returned home with our batteries completely recharged.  On a more philosophical note, pristine beauty like this is becoming increasingly rare on the planet and I hope that mankind has the wit to preserve it before it's too late.


  1. I remember the story of the beached whales going through the news. Very sad. What a stunning area this is, Geoff. I'd definitely visit should I ever have the chance to revisit NZ. Until then your vacation pictures will have to suffice.
    A Victoria moped? Haven't seen one in ages. One of the two wheeled brands that got killed off by the automotive industry a long time ago.

  2. Hi Sonja,
    It is indeed a glorious area. Because there is only one way in and out, a lot of people give it a miss when touring the south island. Their loss, but I guess the relative isolation keeps it from being spoiled. Cool that you know about Victoria mopeds! I don't know how reliable they were but the British equivalent, the BSA Dandy had a terrible reputation!

  3. What a beautiful place Geoff. And I think those tour bus people know what they are doing when they have you get up that early, what a perfect time to arrive and see the sunrise.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thanks Brandy. Access is very much tide dependent but in this case, the timing was too much of a coincidence as they could have left it a bit later, bless them. Not everyone will get to see it like that and having a virtually windless day was a real bonus.

  5. Some magnificent images Geoff. Thanks so much for sharing them. I went as far as Collingwood when we traveled on hired motorcycles and I remember being a little underwhelmed by the place. Little did I know what beauty was so near.

  6. Thanks Jules! So you went over the Takaka Hill on 2 wheels! In 2001, I gave Jennie's first MX-5 a good thrashing over the big hill but still have to do it on 2 wheels! Amazing what you can find tucked away in various corners of the world! Some parts of S-W Australia are like that - hidden surprises.

  7. Thanks for the blogs Goeff, which I've just enjoyed a read of. We love living down in that area and you've fired my imagiantion to go exploring that region again. How did you organise the Farewell Spit tour?

  8. Hi Lee,
    Yep, you live in a gorgeous area all right! I've just got to do the Takaka Hill on two wheels! The sole concessionaire tour is here: http://www.farewellspit.com/our-tours/ . They have a timetable on their website. I can certainly recommend getting there at dawn but it's tide dependent. Make a weekend of it and stay at Sans Souci too!

  9. Thanks for a great tour Geoff, I could see myself and the wife settling in that Pohara area.

  10. Very welcome Andrew! If we weren't living in Coromandel, I'd be keen too!

  11. I will be sure to visit some of this area when I next get to NZ.

  12. Good stuff Waren! Going back to the South Island on the bike for a decent amount of time is long overdue for me too!