After all of the Lord of the Rings movies, and the Hobbit movies, much is made of New Zealand being exactly like Middle Earth, with rolling green hills, high snow-capped mountains, and lush forests and roaring rivers. While New Zealand has all of these things and more, it also has an area that appears to be lifted straight from the Sahara, or from one of the deep deserts of the world. That place is the Farewell Spit, a fifteen mile (25km) stretch of land that extends from the northern section of the South Island of New Zealand. And for those willing to explore it, the Farewell Spit features sand dunes, blowing sand storms, long stretches of sandy coast, wildlife, and hidden pools of water.
The Farewell Spit is the northernmost point of the South Island, and is a curving sandspit that is covered in shifting quartz sands, some of which have formed dunes ranging up to a hundred feet in height. While the Spit is fifteen miles long, its width varies from a fixed half mile distance overall at high tide, to an expanse containing sand and mud flats surrounding the spit of some four miles in distance at low tides. The Spit was discovered by Europeans by Abel Tasman in 1642, and then by Captain Cook in 1770. In 1870, the first lighthouse was built near the end of the spit to prevent shipwrecks. Today, the area is protected by the New Zealand Department of Conservation in the Farewell Spit and Puponga Farm Park, and is an internationally recognized bird sanctuary that houses over ninety species of birds.
Directions: As the Farewell Spit is located at the northernmost point of the South Island, the park is located at the end of State Highway 60. From the Triangle Flat parking area, visitors are required to proceed on foot.
Exploring the Farewell Spit: Both the Farewell Spit and the Puponga Farm Park have a number of short trails that explore some of the historic sites in the region. The best hike however, is the Spit Track, which heads out into the shifting sands of the Farewell Spit. The Spit Track departs directly from the Triangle Flat parking area (which is the main parking area), and first heads east along what is known as the “Inner Beach”. This beach is called the “Inner Beach” because it is the northern boundary of Golden Bay. At the three kilometer mark, hikers will have the option to cut North through the dunes of the Farewell Spit to Ocean Beach (which borders the Tasman Sea). From this point, the track heads back west to the parking area for a six kilometer round-trip hike. Hikers who wish to explore more of the spit can continue further East past the first trail junction for another kilometer before angling North and again returning along the track along Ocean Beach for a hike of some eight kilometers round trip.
Tips: The Farewell Spit is a unique area in New Zealand, with a great deal of wildlife, and a large amount of stunning scenery. It is also an area that receives high winds on a regular basis, which can make the temperature drop dramatically, and can vigorously blow the sand on the spit at visitors. Visitors should be prepared for windy conditions, no matter the season. Even though the area is windy, this is a fantastic spot for photographers, because of the sand trails, the sand ripples, and the numerous other features that the wind has sculpted over the years. While this is a great area to explore, the Farewell Spit is also in a remote area of the South Island, and as such visitors and hikers should be prepared with ample maps, supplies and gasoline when exploring this area.