We had left ourselves four days to travel between Abel Tasman and the west coast, and due to the changing weather and Zoë’s blistered feet, we had our decision made for us. We set off to chase the sunny weather along to Farewell Spit rather than go inland to the rainy mountains. The drive was very scenic, crossing a mountain pass before following the shore of Golden Bay. There isn’t much to stop for along the way but the largest town Takaka looked nice enough to stopover on the way back. 100km later we arrives at our campsite, aptly named Farewell Gardens as it was a small back garden campsite.
With plenty of information from our host, we were off to explore the spit. Farewell spit is a large sand spit that stretched 15km into the bay. Despite its exposed and barren landscape it is an important breeding ground for several species of birds, including caspian tern. The bay formed by the spit is a huge tidal mudflat which provides plenty of food for both local and migratory birds. Quite a few species migrate over 10,000km from the arctic to avoid the harsh winter and instead spend the New Zealand summer feasting on the mud flat. Farewell spit is only fully accessible by guided tours to visit the gannet colony or terns, but the first few kilometres are open for public access as well as the surrounding farmland. When we arrived, the tide was out so the mudflat was exposed and most of the birds were feeding a long way from the beach. We took a short walk up to Puponga hill to get a view of the area and then walked down onto the beach. We saw plenty of black swans, oyster catchers and gulls and were lucky to catch two caspian terns romancing nearby. The beach is really long and after a while we turned around and fought the wind back to the car.
The view from Puponga hill
A tip from our hosts to go and see Whariwarangj beach at sunset meant we had time for tea before our next walk. We set off for the beach and found the light was already promising and the tide was still out. The walk through the farmland and across the sand dunes was lovely. We watched the clouds turn pink but sadly some low clouds turned it rather grey a little too soon. We also looked for the seal pups who sometimes play in the pools formed at low tide, but sadly they had been sent to bed already.
A beautiful sunset on the beach
The next morning we took another walk through the farmland to fossil point before looping back to the beach. The fields were full of ewes with their lambs basking in the sunshine. We reached the ocean beach and walked along hoping the sand cloud ahead was still a long way off. Thankfully we didn’t reach it but instead we found ourselves a pair of banded dotterels on the other side of the dune. These are one of the resident species and are very cute.
We left the spit and started our drive back to civilisation. We made a stop for lunch at Takaka and found a German bakery which had sadly run out of Brezel (pretzels) and some nice giftshops. We also stopped at an orchard outside Motueka and picked up some delicious pears and kiwis straight from the producer. We made it all the way back to the cheap campsite at Kina Reserve where we had the tent field to ourselves while the campervans parked on top of one another.
The following day we started our journey to the west coast for real. We took the small road from just outside Richmond and had a lovely drive through the forested hills to Saint Arnaud on the Nelson lakes. We had earmarked the Nelson lakes to do some hiking, but the weather wasn’t great and Zoë’s feet were still not ready for day-long hikes. There were fewer showers than expected so we contented ourselves with a walk along the peninsula of lake Rotoiti. It was a nice walk through beech forest with views of the snowcapped mountains buy we were both a little frustrated we couldn’t do a longer walk. We did however see a few bellbirds and some rare black beaked sea gulls. That night we camped at Teetotal campsite and were woken at dawn to some kind of bird singing competition to see who could chirp loudest.
The next morning, we started our journey westwards to the coast. It was a good drive with a stop at the old gold mining settlement of Lyell before we continued through the impressive Buller gorge and onto Westport.