Farewell Spit

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Farewell Spit
Farewell spit.jpg
NASA satellite image of Farewell Spit
Map showing the location of Farewell Spit
Map showing the location of Farewell Spit
LocationGolden Bay, New Zealand
Area11,388 hectares (28,140 acres)
Designated13 August 1976
Reference no.103[1]
Sand dunes on Farewell Spit.

Farewell Spit is a narrow sand spit at the northern end of the Golden Bay, South Island of New Zealand. Known to the Māori as Tuhuroa, it runs eastwards from Cape Farewell, the island's northernmost point. It is located about 50 kilometres north of Takaka and 20 kilometres from Collingwood. The tiny settlement of Pūponga stands close to the western (landward) end of the spit.

It forms the northern side of Golden Bay and is the longest sandspit in New Zealand, stretching for about 26 km above sea level and another 6 km underwater. The spit runs from west to east, and is made from fine golden sand, swept up from the Southern Alps by the Westland Current in the Tasman Sea.[2]

The northern side of the dunes are steeper and unstable being constantly exposed to the prevailing winds which average over 25 km/h. The southern side which faces Golden Bay is more stable and largely covered with vegetation. The tide here can recede as much as seven kilometres exposing some 80 square kilometres of mud flats; a rich feeding ground for the many seabirds in the area but also a trap for frequently stranded whales.

Human use[edit]

The automated lighthouse at the end of Farewell Spit.

Abel Tasman in 1642 was the first European to see the spit, calling it Sand Duining Hoeck. Captain James Cook was the next European visitor in 1770,[2] showing Farewell Spit as a broad peninsula on his maps. He named close-by Cape Farewell, and the name stuck, with early European settlers originally calling the sandbanks 'Cape Farewell Spit' before it was shortened to its present name. It was the last land he sighted after leaving New Zealand for Australia at the end of his first voyage.[3]

The lighthouse at the end of the spit was first lit on 17 June 1870 in response to many ships having been wrecked upon the spit. The original timber tower did not stand up well to the frequent blasting by the sand and salt-laden winds experienced at the end of the spit. The hardwood used started to decay rapidly and the original tower was replaced in 1897 by the present structure, the only steel latticework lighthouse in New Zealand.[4]

Due to the spit only reaching 30 metres (98 ft) above sea level at this point, the lighthouse has to be taller than usual for New Zealand's coast. The light of the 27 metres (89 ft) tall tower can be seen for 35 kilometres (22 mi). The original oil-burning lamp was converted to a 1000 watt electric lamp in 1954, and the diesel power supply replaced by a buried mains electricity cable along the spit in 1966. The original lamp was changed to a modern rotation beacon with a 50 tungsten halogen bulb in 1999.[5]

The light was fully automated and the last lighthouse keeper was withdrawn in 1984.[4] The lighthouse keeper's house and two accommodation buildings are still being maintained for use by the Department of Conservation, Maritime New Zealand, and tour groups.

The spit is administered by the New Zealand Department of Conservation as a seabird and wild life reserve. Apart from a small area at the base of the Spit it is closed to the public except through organised tours.

Four-wheel drive bus tours from Collingwood or Pūponga include the opportunity to jump off a sand dune, a visit to the lighthouse and the gannet colony. The south side of Farewell Spit is home to many thousands of seabirds; it also the site of frequent whale strandings mainly by long-finned pilot whales. The northern side is bounded by the Tasman Sea.


The Queen Bee ran aground off Farewell Spit in 1877[6] and the SS Port Kembla was sunk by a mine 17 km off the spit in 1917.

The dredge Manchester was last seen off the Farewell Spit in April 1912 and was said to have foundered in the Tasman Sea between 6 and 9 April, with the loss of 25 lives.

Whale stranding[edit]

Volunteers attempt to keep body temperatures of beached pilot whales from rising at Farewell Spit

Whale strandings have been a common occurrence throughout history on Farewell Spit.[7] On 15 November 2012, a pod of pilot whales stranded themselves on the spit, around two kilometres north-east from the Spit Cafe. Eleven were found dead on the first day. The spit has claimed around 680 Whales since records began[citation needed]. In January 2014 several whales stranded and re-stranded. This included a pod of 50 pilot whales, many of whom died from stress or needed to be euthanised despite several attempts to refloat them.[8] In February 2015, pilot whales were found stranded on Farewell Spit.[9] On 10 February 2017 a pod of 416 pilot whales beached overnight at Farewell Spit. 75% of the whales were dead upon the arrival of a Project Jonah medical rescue team and attempts were undertaken to refloat the remaining live whales at the morning high tide. Efforts are underway,[10] but 240 more arrived on Saturday.[11]


  1. ^ "Farewell Spit". Ramsar Sites Information Service. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  2. ^ a b https://www.doc.govt.nz/globalassets/documents/parks-and-recreation/places-to-visit/nelson-marlborough/farewell-spit-brochure.pdf
  3. ^ "Collingwood Travel Guide". Jasons Travel Media. Archived from the original on 2015-02-17. Retrieved 2011-08-23.
  4. ^ a b "Farewell Spit Lighthouse". Maritime New Zealand. Archived from the original on 2016-02-08. Retrieved 2016-02-09.
  5. ^ Information panel at the lighthouse keeper's house, Maritime New Zealand
  6. ^ 'Wreck of the Queen Bee, from London', pg 2, Nelson Evening Mail, 8 August 1877
  7. ^ Melissa Hogenboom Do whales have graveyards where they prefer to die? BBC 2015/02/25
  8. ^ "Whales stranded on Farewell Spit". 3 News NZ. 15 November 2012. Archived from the original on 1 February 2014. Retrieved 15 November 2012.
  9. ^ "Nearly 200 Whales Stranded On New Zealand Beach". The Huffington Post. 13 February 2015. Retrieved 14 February 2015.
  10. ^ "Surviving whales to be left alone overnight". Stuff.
  11. ^ "New Zealand whales: Hundreds more stranded at Farewell Spit". BBC News. 2017-02-11.

Coordinates: 40°31′S 172°52′E / 40.517°S 172.867°E / -40.517; 172.867