Back on the horse

After a quiet day following my expedition into the wilds of Farewell Spit, I ventured back on the horse by making my way back up there to do the walk again the way it was meant to be done.

But first a postscript on the wallet. When I got back to the YHA and was exchanging stories about the day with one of the German travellers who was staying there with her partner, she mentioned that they, too, had been to Wharariki Beach and that he had lost his wallet in the car-park. So I was able to reassure them that not only had someone found it, but that it was in good hands, and would be sure to be delivered somewhere sensible like a police station. Accordingly, the next day they retrieved it there, less than 30 minutes after it had been dropped off.

What a different day, weather-wise! Whereas two days previously the water of Golden Bay had been glassy and the day still, on this day it was windy and there were even waves on the normally calm waters.

Another YHA resident, an American who had been living in NZ for many years, had wanted to come on the expedition, so there were two of us in the car. He stopped back-seat driving within a few minutes of the start of our journey, after I made it fairly clear, in a good-natured way of course, that he would need to be getting out of the car if it happened again. We stopped off at a farm en route so he could buy some free-range eggs and he pointed out various things along the way. There were no side trips today – my mission was do the walk properly, so we drove straight to the car-park at the farm to commence the Spit Walk.

We had intended to start at the beach on the Golden Bay side, but it was starting to rain and the wind was furious, so we decided to go across to the Ocean Beach first, and come back along the wetland area. I had my plastic cape from the outing to the Capilano Suspension Bridge as part of my Canada trip in 2015, described close to the very beginning of this blog in the post a walk in the forest, but not only was it flapping loudly in the wind, it also appeared to be deteriorating, perhaps as a result of it being made from compostable material. Not wanting to deposit a Hansel and Gretel trail of yellow plastic, I took it off, as it wasn’t very wet anyway.

There had been an enormous amount of rain since my visit two days before, and the paddocks were covered in water, with few options to avoid the large puddles. We made our way up the path and diverted over to a higher point to look across the Spit from west to east. I had been fascinated to see it from above, to give me a better idea of what I had negotiated on my previous trip, and the folly of my journey became obvious immediately. I had chosen a much longer and more arduous route by deciding to cut across diagonally, but not only that, it was clear from above that it was through the densest (well, I knew that bit) part of the landscape. Had I risked the quicksand again I would have made it back in less than a quarter of the time. Here’s a long view of The Spit, west to east, showing the sandhills beyond the vegetation, adjacent to the lakes (just visible) on the northern side of that vegetation. Also visible is the ocean on the left and the water of the Bay on the right.

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And here’s a zoom-in of the vegetation itself; note the very straightforward, simple track towards the front of the picture – this was the one whose entrance I missed on the first attempt.

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But onward…

The track, which to that point had meandered up and down steep hills covered in thick bright green pasture and the sheep diarrhoea that is associated with such a diet, changed to bush as it descended to the ocean. It emerged at the mouth of a stream so it was necessary to keep to the sandhill side for a short stretch to avoid the water, but then we were on the beach! I looked back at the end of the track to see a large orange marker above the green framework of the sign – no such clear delineation at the other end, on the wetland side… I ambled along the sand, photographing patterns of dark and light sand, ripples, shells, shadows and a one-legged Oystercatcher about 100 metres away. It was windy here too, so I also tried to capture the sand being blown across the surface. You can get an idea of it here. This is taken looking west, and Cape Farewell is apparently (according to my companion) around behind the outermost cliff.

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As the track we had just taken to reach the ocean had been well-marked, so was the other end of the one I had missed on my previous attempt, a bit of which is shown in the zoom-in before the above photo. It too was covered in water in part, so after my walking companion had caught up (he had had a back operation some time ago which somewhat slowed down his walking) and put his shoes back on while I continued to photograph close-ups of the ground, I did a quick reccie of the track ahead, as it seemed at first that there was no way of getting through without getting quite wet. I found a way though and climbed the bank a metre or so to look out and call to him that it was okay to come this way.

We hadn’t gone very far along when I realised with a sick feeling that I didn’t have my camera! I knew it couldn’t be far back, as I had only just been taking photos before we set off again, but it didn’t stop me feeling alarmed. I raced back, following my route and my companion followed. I forgot to check where I had climbed the bank, but he being slower spotted it. Phew! I made my way back along the higher ground again to avoid the puddles and we continued on along the track, which was more of a driveway really, and I kept looking in at the vegetation I had “conquered” two days before.

Back at the Bay (no, still no big orange disc to indicate the track!) the rain had stopped and the sun was out. I had gone ahead so I could walk up the beach to try to find where I had come out the other day, but there were no longer any tracks evident after tides and rain and wind. I gave up and went back to meet my companion, who had just appeared on the beach.

Some of the many varieties of birds including Shags, Variable and Pied Oystercatchers, Southern Black Backed Gulls, Black Swans and terns that inhabit the wetland were visible in the water and/or the sky, and the tide was very low. As always there were interesting things to look at on the beach too and I tried to restrain myself when it came to collecting some of them, instead taking photos all the way, except that after a while I had to keep stopping to put things down in order to use the camera. We got back into the car for our return journey, with more of the day to spare than I had had a couple of days before.

With plenty of daylight left, we stopped at Te WaikoropupÅ« Springs. According to the Department of Conservation (DOC) website, “they are the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand, the largest cold water springs in the Southern Hemisphere and contain some of the clearest water ever measured.”

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They are also sacred to Maori people and there are signs and requests to not just not take any water, but to not even touch it. Should I mention the flagrant disrespect shown by my companion who took his empty water bottle, despite my protestations, and encouraged me to go the long way while he went back the short way? Should I mention the extent of my lecture about respect on the way home, how I dobbed him in to the gang back at the YHA and how, when I saw his water bottle sitting on the kitchen table later I wrote a sign on a piece of wood which I propped in front of the bottle saying “Boycott B’s H2O”?

It was very disappointing.

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