With open sea on one side and sheltered waters on the other, this massive sandspit has two entirely different faces.
Farewell Spit stretches 34km long, making it one of the longest natural sandspits in the world. A wetland of international importance, it has been a bird sanctuary since the 1930’s and provides a home for over 90 bird species. Bar tailed godwits, knots, curlews, whimbrels and turnstones fly around 12,000 kilometres every northern hemisphere autumn to spend the summer here in the south. The spit also has a gannet colony.
To guide passing ships, Farewell Spit's first lighthouse was built in 1869. In the early years the lighthouse site had no vegetation and windblown sand was an ongoing problem for the keepers. Then one clever keeper organised for small loads of soil to be delivered with the mail. He planted a windbreak of macrocarpa pines which are still there to this day. The pines protect the station from the shifting sands and provide a daylight landmark for passing ships.
The best way to experience the entire length of the spit is on a 4WD safari. You'll find tour operators in nearby Collingwood, and it is worth choosing a tour that incorporates a visit to Cape Farewell, the northernmost point of the South Island. If you’re lucky, you may even see some seal pups basking in the sun below.