What's On in Winter on Farewell Spit?

Posted by Sue Farley on 27 July 2016

Tags: farewell spit winter tours farewell spit eco tours nz fur seals farewell spit lighthouse

Winter on Farewell Spit is often a time of calm water, little wind and silvery blue light. The sun rises tentatively in the east, glowing pink in the cold morning, and sets fiercely on the horizon in the evening, dropping with the air temperature into the Tasman Sea.

We left Collingwood in the watery golden sun of a mid-winter day. The Aorere Estuary was shining blue, not a breath of wind rippling the water, as the bus creaked across the delta's five bridges and wandered the coastline of the western shore of Golden Bay. Kersten, our driver and guide, kept up an entertaining banter as we reached the base of the spit. It was a gorgeous afternoon.

Triangle Flat sits at the base of the spit. It's just a carpark really, but whereas most people have to walk from here, Farewell Spit Eco Tours have concession to go through the locked gate and drive the length of the spit to the gannet colony and lighthouse at the top. The wilding pines lining the beach on the inner spit have been dropped recently, making it all look a bit untidy, but this is a good thing really, allowing the native dune vegetation to regrow and naturalise. Pine trees are not native to New Zealand and are not helpful in this very fragile coastal environment.

We had chosen to do an Eco Tour, which includes a side trip to Cape Farewell (the northern-most point in the South Island), Fossil Point (where you'll see …. fossils in the rocks) and then along the ocean beach for the full length of the spit to the lighthouse. These winter trips are quite a personal experience, with less people than in summer.

The inside of the spit is a sheltered, shallow arc of extremely tidal water and is a wetland of international significance. In winter many of the wading birds found here have migrated north to their summer grounds. There are a few birds out stalking in the tidal pools, but the Wader Watch Tour is a trip best left for summer. For us, the interest is all on the ocean side in winter. We rock and roll our way along a kanuka-lined track to emerge on the main beach 500 metres from Fossil Point.

It's warm enough to wander round the rock pools and watch the oystercatchers strutting along the water's edge – they don't seem to like getting wet feet. At the top of the beach, against the cliffs, we see some intriguing fossils cast in the rock. How old are these things? Above us the steep cliffs are cloaked in wind-bent kanuka, kawakawa and nikau. It's a wild spot.

But we need to keep moving as the short winter day will soon close around us. It's a quick easy trip along the spit, with a few stops to photograph big lazy fur seals working on their winter tan. They don't hang around long, but don't seem too worried about us either. We take a quick look at the gannet colony as well, although most have now left for the winter. The Gannet Colony Tour is another one to do in summer, when the thousands of birds are resident and busily feeding.

We finally reach the lighthouse as the afternoon light starts to drop a little. High above us the sun lights the branches on the old man macrocarpas, casting a golden glow. We enjoy fresh plunger coffee and home-made muffins on the verandah of one of the old lighthouse keepers' houses. Replete, we rejoin the bus and spin our way down the beach. The winter sun is dropping low in the sky, almost kissing the horizon as we stop to climb an easy sand dune. Here's a spot for a sunset as we take in the 360 degree views out to sea on both sides of the spit. Shadows lengthen and the air temperature drops sharply. But we are mesmerised by the huge glowing sun as it drops into the horizon; red and orange tones building in the sky as the darkness approaches. It's a sunset to remember on this beautiful fine West Coast winter's day on Farewell Spit.

Watch the video above, it tells the story beautifully.

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