Collingwood to Farewell Spit & Mangarakau
White sand dunes, waves, seabirds, migratory and native waders. Wild west coast beaches and picturesque lakes surrounded by nikau palms.
is New Zealand’s longest sandspit, stretching for 35 kilometres. Onetahua is the Maori name for Farewell Spit and translated means “heaped up sand”. The spit is formed from shifting sand dunes up to 20 metres high. 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 2.5 kilometres down the inner beach, or 4 kilometres down the outer beach. Supervised tours take you further.
Puponga Farm Park
is one of only a few places in New Zealand where DOC
has set up an active farm on conservation land. You may wander freely over this area, but please use the stiles and follow any instructions in lambing season.
Coastal hills form a dramatic backdrop to these beautiful
lakes. A 10-minute walking track begins beside one lake and heads gently down to the other. Turn left at Pakawau, and then right just after the end of the seal.
Westhaven, or Whanganui Inlet
The unsealed road is narrow in places but the scenery is spectacular. The southwestern end of the estuary is a marine reserve. the remaining two-thirds is a wildlife management reserve. Kayaking the sheltered waters is recommended, but not at low tide. A paddle up the Wairoa River deep into the pristine native forest is particularly rewarding.
is known for its conservation values, especially the Mangarakau Swamp. Access to this new public reserve is via the Mangarakau Swamp Visitor Centre in the heart of the old village. Visitors can explore the swamp and surrounds along tracks or visit the photographic museum.
“Everything is so relaxed here and we love the climate.”
Over 112 species of bird have been recorded from the spit, many make use of the shallow tidal waters. Most spectacular are the 20 odd species of migrant wading birds, which visit in huge numbers. Up to 27 thousand birds belonging to a single species have been recorded.
There is considerable evidence of Maori occupation in the Puponga area. Middens (Maori rubbish heaps), dating back around 700 years, tell us it was an that important place for moa hunting, collecting shellfish, catching birds and sea fishing. Puponga Point (Abel Head) is the site of a small fortified pa.
New Zealand’s 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 Zealand’s most important wading-bird habitats; 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 has become famous for whale strandings. In 1991, 325 whales came ashore and there are pictures of this in the Visitors Centre and the skeleton of a whale is displayed outside the Visitor Centre. Seals also breed along the outer coast.
The Spit is administrated by the Department of Conservation. One indication of the Spit’s 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.
Wharariki is a landscape photographer’s Paradise. You will enjoy taking advantage of the endless photo opportunties on offer at Wharariki Beach and surrounding areas.
Mangarakau and Beyond
Beyond Westhaven there are manuka moorlands to the left, high bluffs to the right. Suddenly there is a scatter of houses, and you are in Mangarakau.
In earlier times there were sawmills and a coal mine but these are gone and the village has shrunk accordingly. However, life is returning to these distant parts. Once prized and exploited for its timber, flax and coal, Mangarakau is now known for its conservation estate; especially the Mangarakau Swamp; the largest wetland in the Nelson Region. Access to this new public reserve is via the Mangarakau Swamp Visitor Centre in the heart of the old village. Visitors can explore the swamp and surrounds along several well marked tracks, visit the photographic museum or picnic at the Field Centre. The swamp can also be accessed via the Wetland View Park, and from there you will find a walk up the old road to the historic bridge which crosses the Patarau River.
A few kilometres on, the wide but shallow Paturau River meets the sea near the base of a high cliff. Tangles of driftwood, a haze in the air and the boom of surf tell you that this is the energetic Tasman Sea and you can expect exhilaration, perhaps some vigorous south-west wind and an empty seascape, apart from the odd trawler, and, more rarely now, a bulk cement-carrier en route to Westport. Near the site of the old hall, on Richards Road, is a plaque commemorating the pioneers of this lonely district.
Clean farmland and superb views carry on down the coast for another 12 kms or so; a sudden descent sees you at Anatori, with a small huddle of baches on the banks of the shingly river. If you have a suitable vehicle and the ford is crossable, you can drive on for several kilometres to the Turimawiwi River but for most people, this is the end of the line.
It’s a good place to camp, there are fine beach walks, seafood is available (take your quota, if need be, but no more) and you’ve got that special feeling that you’re away from it all.
Signposted from the Wharariki road is Cape Farewell, the northern most point of the South Island. A few minutes easy walk from the car park takes you to an impressive cliff top lookout with expansive sea and coastal views.
From the carpark at the end of the Wharariki Road it is only 20 minutes’ walk along a good track to wharariki Beach. The actions of wind and wave have combined to produce a superlative coastal landscape, characterised by sheer cliff lines, high arches, caves, rock bridges, massive sand dune systems and surreal islands which are home to fur seals and seabirds. Quiet inspection of the islands and headlands accessible at low tide may reveal seals.
The west coast of the Bay from Kahurangi Lighthouse to Farewell Spit provides splendid surfcasting for the skilled fisherman. It is a dangerous coast with large rolling waves, but there is good fishing from the rocks and beaches, and paua, crayfish, kina and fish such as moki and butterfish can be caught.
People from the Past
In 1770, Captain James Cook sailed along the west Coast and took his last sighting of New Zealand. He named the cliffs Cape Farewell. Charles Heaphy and Thomas Brunner embarked on their treacherous west Coast exploration from Te Tai Tapu.
One of the highlights of a holiday in Golden Bay has to be the drive along the edge of the vast estuary known as Westhaven, or Whanganui Inlet. This is the second-largest estuary in the South Island and as well as being a beautiful landscape it is an important fishing and wildlife area.
Recognising the great natural values of Westhaven and the firm desire of local people to keep their estuary free from the sad decline which is evident in estuaries such as the Manukau, the Department of Conservation proposed Marine Reserve status for the inlet and, after a considerable amount of public consultation, not one but two types of reserves have come into being.
In the south-westerly end of the inlet, from Pah Point towards Mangarakau, the estuary is now a Marine Reserve, where all plants and animals are protected – no fish, shellfish, whitebait or seaweed may be taken. In the north-eastern two thirds of the inlet things are different; this area is a Wildlife Management Reserve, where commercial fishing is prohibited, as are certain “indiscriminate- catch” types of net, but where all other traditional types of fishing, plus whitebaiting and duck-shooting, are encouraged.
This “dual reserve” management of Westhaven is a first for New Zealand and should give this important area long term protection while allowing a wide range of fishing and other “harvesting”. The need for Tangata Whenua to collect kaimoana for cultural purposes is also recognised.
It is hoped that this management system will protect Westhaven from the ills which have befallen other estuaries.
Travellers note – there is a grand viewpoint directly opposite the inlet entrance, there is a spot (Echo Point, signposted) where you must stop and try your voice, there is fine bush with isolated patches of farmland for those interested in the greener things in life, and there is the challenge, at the inlet’s end, of even further exploration. The road is narrow in places and inclined to be dusty in dry weather. There may also be a few sandflies on dull days. None of these minor irritants can spoil your day at Westhaven, under any circumstances.
An increasingly popular way of appreciating this environmental paradise is by kayak or canoe. Sheltered waters and hidden inlets abound. You can paddle up the Wairoa River into the depths of pristine native forest.
Westhaven (Whanganui Inlet) is one of the largest and least modified estuaries in the country. Approximately 30 species of marine fish use the inlet at some stage of their life history and it is an important breeding and nursery area for fish. It is also the second most important tidal area in the Nelson / Marlborough region for wading birds.