Sunset on sand dunes at Farewell Spit © Anna Gorin

Farewell Spit: the longest natural sandbar in the world

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When you first spot the spit on a map you just know you have to go there.

Anyone with an ounce of the adventurer in their blood would want to know what that long, hooked finger of land that looks as if it’s beckoning Golden Bay looks like. Well, it’s beckoning you, friend, so come take a look.

Farewell Spit is the longest natural sandbar on the planet. It’s a sandbar but a wetland, as it happens. Crazy.

The northern/seaward side is barren dunes, exposed, brutal. The southside, brother, faces Golden Bay and is more hospitable. The tide can go out kilometres, revealing huge areas of salt marsh and mud flats on which, unfortunately, pilot whales beach themselves with monotonous regularity. On the track leading down from the visitors’ centre is the reassembled skeleton of one of these whales, a gruesome reminder.

farewell ast 2001044 lrg

Farewell Spit taken from NASA’s Terra satellite shows Cape Farewell (left) and Farewell Spit. © NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team

But this unique environment is also a homeland with a good outcome for loads of feathered folk. Thousands of migratory waders form the Arctic tundra turn up here seasonally. That’s taking ‘take the long way home’ to a whole new level. Think of the air points. Lordy!

Bar-tailed godwits, curlews, whimbrels and turnstones also reside here. Take a four-wheel-drive tour (it’s the only way you can really get onto the spit) and see all these guys as you make your way along the massive, 26km long beach. There is a gannet colony at the far eastern end and a fully functional lighthouse. Much needed, actually: these waters are dangerous in many ways.

Remember that when you head to Wharariki Beach, a 7km drive and half-hour walk from the base of the spit. An amazing, unusual place, this wild beach at the very top of the South Island is famed for very strange dune shapes, weird rock formations just off the shore and seals at the far end of the beach. Let them do all the swimming. People don’t swim here, seriously; it’s dangerous as all hell, no matter how good it looks on a sunny day. Welcome to the wild, unpredictable west coast.

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