But how much there was to see on our own! Starting with a quintessential NZ thing: walking through private farmland to a viewing spot marked at its base with a small sign that said simply, View Point.
And what a view it was. We clambered up a gravel path to the top, through grazing land and livestock-proof gates. The tide's out in this shot, revealing the significant difference between low and high.
The light was magical.
I saw this mama sheep gently head-butt a different lamb who came a callin' for lunch, sending her back in the direction of her actual mom.
Persistent thought: how lucky to be grazing here
We walked back to the Farewell Spit cafe/visitor center near the beach entry point, a welcome sight for walkers who suspect they'll be famished on their return.
Again walking on the verge of private farmland to reach the beach access.
It's a clear blue day, and with the tide out a broad expanse of beach to explore along our way.
I spy bone among the tide's tailings.
Seal vertebra, we think
Dunes beckon on the spit, which arcs to the right.
Mind you, we had no concept of how long the spit actually was.
More sea creature bones.
Here's the sign we were expecting, stopping us from walking any farther toward the end of the spit. A second sign says it's 15 minutes to the other side--the Tasman Sea side. Let's do it!
We turned left into the dunes, excited by the idea of being in the northernmost spot of the South Island and touching both oceans.
We think we're already pretty far along toward the end of the spit, but when Art calls up a map we see the truth. There are miles of spit ahead on the kiwi beak. Still it's only 15 minutes to the other side and it looks fairly skinny to cross. (The map below shows the entire arc of Golden Bay. We started our walk probably about an inch to the left of the dot.
Dunes are great fun on the gravity-assist downward path...
...daunting on the up.
Every time we cross a dune we expect to see the ocean, but all we see are more dunes, and at the bottom broad expanses of water left after the big storm. Can we get a little boat here?
Scrambling up dune and down and around water brought us to another signpost.
Was this it?
No, but it was magical, the interior of this portion of the spit looking like nothing so much as NASA images from another planet.
It was warm, with little wind.
Pretty much exhausted after walking three and a half miles and then hustling the dunes, we turned back the way we came, sorry the water had blockaded our 15-minute walk.
Notch to the previous beach.
Want to sit down for five minutes, honey? I say to Art. He looks at me like I'm crazy and keeps walking. That's a difference between us--a quick rest rejuvenates me and seizes him up. I find a stump on the beach and look down, wondering how I could have ever forgotten my water bottle.
The return walk faces directly into a fierce wind, calling forth every bit of energy just to move forward.
Occasionally I turn around and zoom to distant areas of the spit, longing to see more. The ocean appears to be just on the other side, but of course this is a section of the spit that can't be accessed without the tour. Still, magical.
More Cassini-esque dune views
Yes, we did finally make it back to that lovely Farewell Spit Cafe, where I wolfed down some delicate green-lipped mussels and Art a bowl of chowder.
While we're restoring calories with a view toward the spit, a fresh, signature-NZ rainbow.
This poster shows the enormous distances flown by migratory birds, many of which stop at Farewell Spit. The tours are, naturally, beloved by birders.
These birds cross the Pacific non-stop between Alaska and NZ--a distance of 11,000 k--in just seven days. (Jeez, it feels that long on a plane.)
Behold the astonishing stats on the bar-tailed godwit
Driving our tried bodies home, more beauty. I feel overdosed on it and wonder what will happen when I return to Chi. How will I shoot up the AWE?
We drove to Farewell Spit (on "sealed roads" as they say here, meaning paved) without a spare tire, and on the way back to our camp there was a beach we desperately wanted to view. A short gravel road, no problem, but that short gravel road turned into 12k and we decided to turn around, preferring not to tempt fate.
Old man rock--do you see him?
(Do you also see the virgin mary in your toast?)
Good day, friends. Next visit we are definitely taking the tour.