Farewell Spit Eco Tours base at the lighthouse is one of the original lightkeeper's cottages and it’s where we gather on the deck to have our lunch (which we've brought with us) and hot drink & muffin (supplied by the tour company).
Then it’s off to explore the surrounding area. A whale skeleton, a reminder of the mass strandings that happen on the Spit, sits below a world sign post, without the distances.
From Maritime NZ-
Before the lighthouse was built, many ships had been wrecked upon the spit; it had been feared by mariners for years. Construction of the light station at the end of the spit began in 1869. In 1891 it was found that the hardwood used for the tower was rapidly decaying because of the weather and abrasive sand.
The tower was replaced with a steel latticework construction, the only one of it’s type in NZ. The new light was ready in January 1897.
Farewell Spit was converted from oil to diesel-generated electricity in the 1930s. It was connected to mains electricity in the 1960s. The station was automated and the last keepers were withdrawn in 1984. The original light was replaced in September 1999 with a modern rotation beacon, illuminated by a 50 watt tungsten halogen bulb.
It was a hard life for the lighthouse keepers and especially for their families;
Farewell Spit was not a popular station among keepers because the site was completely bare of vegetation and sand got into everything. Keepers had the never ending job of shovelling sand away from their cottages. The first attempts to grow any kind of vegetation proved unsuccessful. Just before the turn of the century, a keeper organised loads of soil to be brought to the station with the mail. He planted a windbreak of macrocarpa pines to protect the station from the sand. As the pines grew, this windbreak became a well known landmark for passing ships.
It was made very clear to the keepers that the diesel-generated electricity installed in the 1930s was strictly for the lighthouse, and not for domestic purposes. In 1957 the generators were finally allowed to be used one day a week for washing and to run the radio for the children's correspondence school.
We were all a bit naughty, we shouldn’t have climbed the lighthouse stairway, a sign board blocked the way at the base, but we had a vote amongst ourselves and decided that we couldn’t come this far and not climb it to check out the view. And John had told us that he would be looking the other way back at the house. So it was a quick climb up to the 3rd landing, a few clicks and a hasty retreat. A couple of large gaps between the rises and a rotting board on one of the landings was obviously the reason that DOC were being extra cautious.
The views were impressive, I could see right up to the top of the Spit and out the side to the gannet colony & tidal flats. The view back down the Spit was blocked by the trees. Down below was the Chief Lighthouse keepers home, now occupied by the pig hunters and their dogs (outside in their kennels of course)
Rounded up by John (an easy chore with just the six of us) and back in the bus, we hit the road (sand) again heading for home. This time higher up the beach and following the tire tracks of the DOC vehicles from this morning. They were pretty good too, following each other most of the way with just the occasional wobble.
Our next stop was at the Spits “great dunes”, known as barchan dunes, they move in an easterly direction before the prevailing westerly wind, heading up the spit. That’s the front of one of them, quite a high & steep “cliff”, in the bottom left photo. I wished I’d had a piece of cardboard to toboggan down it but John told me that it wouldn’t work. The sand is quite “sticky”, kids that have tried it in the past haven’t moved more than a few feet (which means I probably wouldn’t move more than a few inches). And I suppose it would be a pity to mess up the silky smooth face.
The views from the top of the dune are amazing, beautiful patterns ripple across the sand in every direction. In the distance we can see the tidal flats and beyond that Golden Bay & Separation Point.
Out last stop is at Fossil Point, back past our entry point to the ocean side of the beach and just before Cape Farewell which we catch a glimpse of, this time from sea level.
John won't show us where the fossils are, too many people have been helping themselves. We stop beside two large sea caves where a couple of dozen seals, including pups, scatter, some running into the caves and others hiding behind a gap in the cliff. Maybe our vehicle looks like a large shiny orca on the hunt.
When we get out of the bus they start to panic. They’re actually quite a distance away (in the cave in front of us out of the photo) but we can see that they’re getting agitated. We’re not moving any closer but in the end they send some sort of signal to each other and then they’re off; the pups to the far back reaches of the cave and the adults racing in single file down the side of the cliff heading for the sea, which because of the tide, is quite a distance away (the blue section in the photos is the shade from the cliff behind us).
They move quite quickly but must tire quickly too (dragging that amount of blubber around will do that to you), they stop to rest for a second or two which causes the ones behind to run up their bums. I felt sorry that we had disturbed them but on the other hand it was quite funny to watch.
Just as they reach the breakers John lets out a yell to quickly board the bus. I wondered what was happening and then we see that the tide was fast approaching and cutting off our return route around the cliffs. We race for the gap cutting off some of the seals on the way.
The shadows were getting long by the time we made it back onto the road home, it had been a long afternoon. Along the way we pass the rusty Suzuki jeep we’d seen the other day way out at the low tide line. Here it was towing it’s little trailer train with sacks full of clams!
John was keen to pass on one more snippet of interesting information just before we arrived back in Collingwood. This old rustic shack in a paddock used to be the home of Barry Crump (a well known NZ author) and his wife Robyn, it was here that he wrote "A Good Keen Man".
And with that the tour came to an end. We had a fantastic time and learnt so much and even though we initially thought a 6-7 hour tour was going to make it a very long day, the time just flew by. Big kudos must go to John our tour guide & driver who had an amazing amount of knowledge of the Spit and Golden Bay. He never missed a beat, imparting knowledge & telling stories non-stop from go to whoa.