A Sandy Day in New Zealand: Farewell Spit and Wharariki Beach

To get to some places in New Zealand is quite a mission. Today’s mission is to see Farewell Spit, New Zealand’s longest sandspit which stretches about 35km out to sea! The problem is, you can only drive along it at low tide and low tide is around 6.30am…

Farewell Spit is the most protected place in New Zealand, more so than the national parks, due to its ecology. Although you can wander around the end of the spit that is closest to land, the only way to explore further is with Farewell Spit Eco Tours.

We are meeting our guide, Paddy, in Collingwood then following him up north to the entrance of the spit.

Day vs. night: an epic battle between sun and moon

The 30 minute drive throws some outstanding blue and yellow hues at us as the sun is about to rise. It looks incredible, we can barely keep our eyes on the road! Then on the other side, we can see the moon still shining brightly.

At the entrance to Farewell Spit, we ditch our campervan and swap it for the Farewell Spit Eco Tours’ 4×4 bus with beasty wheels that will hopefully keep us from being stuck in the sand. (Which is always a risk with this activity).

The best sunrise we have seen in New Zealand!

We cross on a 4×4 track through a small section of bush to emerge onto the northern side of the spit. Miles and miles of sand lies ahead, as well as the gorgeous colours of the impending sunrise. What’s more, the colours are reflecting off the still water that has been left behind from the high tide. Before we drive down the beach, we hop out of the bus to take photos of this marvel!

We never really appreciated how quickly the sun rises once we see it across the extremely flat horizon of sand and water.


Farewell Spit's lighthouse Farewell Spit's lighthouse
Paddy tells us the history of the area as we stand on top of shipwreck Paddy tells us the history of the area as we stand on top of shipwreck
Seal spotted on the way back down Farewell Spit Seal spotted on the way back down Farewell Spit
Finding fossils at Fossil Point Finding fossils at Fossil Point

A lonely lighthouse

Now we are bombing down the beach, heading towards a lighthouse that has stood here since the 1870s! Along the way, Paddy tells us the history of the spit. Not only human history here, but how much the spit has transformed and continues to widen.

Paddy parks up the bus and we walk down a track between grass-covered sand dunes. The lighthouse welcomes us with the skull of a cow that used to graze on the spit. Old buildings that look like they have been kept in great condition still sit here years after the final lighthouse keeper and their family left around the 1980s. Imagine living all the way out here! Farewell Spit Eco Tours themselves used to deliver mail to the lighthouse.

Standing on a shipwreck

Now, it’s a race against the tide. Usually, the tour runs a lot longer with a chance to look inside the lighthouse buildings (with refreshments), but with the quick change in tides at this time of the year we need to haul ass and head back down the beach!

Midway down, we stop once again and climb a sand dune! This is the only dune you can climb on Farewell Spit. Not only that but once we get on top, Paddy tells us that there is a shipwreck right underneath our feet! The dunes move further and further down the spit each year. In about 5-6 years time, the shipwreck remains will be revealed once again.

the longest spit in New Zealand!

views and running down dunes

For now, the sand dune gives awesome views of Golden Bay, Abel Tasman National Park and the snowy peaks on the Kahurangi Nartional Park.

The only way down the dunes (or should we say the only fun way down the dunes?) is by running down the steep sides, quickly moving our feet so we don’t sink in the sand, and back to the bus.

Fossil Point

It looks like we have made it back to the beginning of the spit with enough time to check out one last thing, Fossil Point.

You can probably guess why this place is named Fossil Point. Ancient sea shells are forever cast in the rocks here. There are all sorts of unusually shaped rocks. Stones stick out of the very bottom layer of the headlands that tower above us. Layers and layers of natural history can be seen right here.

Entering the coal cave

We just have enough time to check out a cave – something not everyone gets the chance to do on this eco tour. Firstly, because of the tide changes, and secondly, because a seal might be occupying the cave and chase you out!

Hidden in the depths of the cave is a layer of black coal which Paddy points out instantly, along with thousands of stones that stick out of the cave walls.

What you can achieve before 10am!

Our trip on the sandspit ends back at the car park at around 10am. Oh my God! The amount of incredible stuff we have seen before 10am is amazing!

We say thanks and see you to Paddy. Now, it’s still morning so what are we going to do with the rest of our day?

Robin's take on old Man Rock Robin's take on old Man Rock
Seal pups teasing us with their cuteness! Seal pups teasing us with their cuteness!
Wharariki Beach: one of the most beautiful beaches in the world! Wharariki Beach: one of the most beautiful beaches in the world!

A journey to find the world’s most beautiful beach

6km down the road from the Farewell Spit turnoff just happens to be a beach in the “World’s Top 10 Most Beautiful Beaches” according to many different travel media. We have to check it out!

Old man rock

Halfway down the gravel road, we see a sign pointing to a bluff in the distance saying “Old Man Rock”. Robin spots the likeness straight away – the shape and the face in the beard in the cliff… Laura is taking the necessary photos but still doesn’t make it out! Robin has to take a photo on his phone then draw over the cliff to illustrate it for her. Duhhhhh…

Now we have reached the car park to Wharariki Beach, one of the world’s most beautiful beaches! (Did we mention that already?) But first, we must walk over some farm hills, through some bush and over sand dunes to get to it.

Leaping with lambs

The walk only takes about 20 minutes, but man, we see a lot along the way. First, there are lambs leaping after their mothers and other lambs “baaing” their heads off in search of their mothers. So precious, especially in this setting of rolling green hills dotted with the odd tree that really makes the place look like a painting.

the seal pup show

We then walk along a stream. We see a couple sat at the banks with a stick in the water. What are they doing? When we go to investigate, they are playing with a seal pup! Oh my God! The seal pup is just rolling around in the water a “reasonable” distance ahead putting on a show for us.

After a while, the couple leaves and it’s just us watching the seals from the banks. The seal pup leaves then brings back some friends to splash about in the water with. Our hearts are melting. This is just too cute.

It feels that every time we are about to leave, the seals do something else to make us stay, like start hugging each other. It’s like they want us to stay! They are just as intrigued by us as we are of them.

We made it, Wharariki BEach!

So, wasn’t there a beautiful beach we are meant to be seeing? Oh yeah, Wharariki Beach is just over the sand dunes. We have to walk towards the west side of the beach to get that picture-perfect view of the arched islands out to see. We would like to walk up to them and discover more caves along the beach, but the waters are tumultuous and this is not recommended, plus we are definitely at high tide at the moment. Nonetheless, the dunes and the off shore arches and islands surely does make this a beautiful beach!

We spend our final night in the Bare Foot Backpackers with our lovely hosts, Henriette and John, before heading on a mystery Promised Land tour tomorrow and hopefully we will get to check out the Rawhiti Caves too! Join us then!

Laura and Robin

look at us, Dazzled by the sight of one of the world's most pristine beach
look at us, Dazzled by the sight of one of the world's most pristine beach Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

You are a trooper! Check out these articles:

Until tomorrow, check us out on HerePin, give us a like on Facebook and see some pretty pictures on Instagram!

See you tomorrow!

This blog post was written in:

  1. Hi Laura and Robin.
    You certainly have an impressive selection of photos there. I’m glad you enjoyed your trip. It was a pleasure to share our special part of the country with you.
    bon voyage


    Comment avatar Paddy Gillooly
    24/08/2016 at 4:32 pm
  2. Please anyone who goes to Wharariki Beach – you CANNOT walk or swim out to the Archway Islands even at low tide. This is a very wild stretch of ocean, and it is extremely dangerous in the water there. People had to be rescued there last summer; some in the middle of a storm. Please stay safe and keep out of the water there.

    Comment avatar Jac I
    30/08/2016 at 7:30 pm
  3. Love Wharariki, love your post about it! Well done.

    Comment avatar Keev
    02/03/2017 at 7:41 am
  4. Superb place, your write on it is really great!

    Comment avatar rafid
    02/03/2017 at 12:19 pm
  5. This is a fantastic trip! Thanks for recommending it to us!

    Comment avatar Rob4
    03/03/2017 at 10:41 am
  6. This place is fabulous people, I was there back in 2016 and still remember every moment.

    Comment avatar Doug
    03/03/2017 at 3:45 pm
  7. Hey guys, I read the blog daily so I thought I’d drop you a note to say thanks for all the awesome stories!

    Comment avatar Thomasop
    03/03/2017 at 10:32 pm
  8. BOOM! This is now on my list of thing to do, thanks guys!

    Comment avatar CurtisPI
    04/03/2017 at 11:03 am
  9. Been there, done that, loved it! This is a must do in New Zealand!

    Comment avatar Richardpi
    03/05/2017 at 7:18 am
  10. I have not been that far off the beaten track, a good reason to come back in NZ I guess.

    Comment avatar Rich
    25/05/2017 at 7:56 pm
  11. Just sayin’: you two make me regret only having 6 months to travel NZ, I need more time!!!!

    Comment avatar Coline
    06/06/2017 at 10:36 am
  12. I’ll have to add a stop in Golden Bay to my itinerary I guess…

    Comment avatar Tomtom
    06/06/2017 at 7:57 pm
  13. There is a similar tour in the north island at cape reinga

    Comment avatar Scottfuh
    08/06/2017 at 8:38 pm
  14. i’ve got to get there!!!!!!

    Comment avatar Michaelsleek
    09/06/2017 at 1:32 am
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We use cookies to understand how you use our site and to improve your experience. This includes personalizing content and advertising. To learn more, click here. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, revised Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.
I accept