Farewell Spit

Other NZ Ramsar sites: Firth of Thames Kopuatai Manawatu Estuary Awarua Waituna Whangamarino
Farewell Spit Photo Copyright Ingrid Hutzler


The history of Farewell Spit is one of constant movement.  Everything on the spit moves. The tide. The sand. The plants. The birds. 

Footsteps are erased behind you. A seal, resting on the sand is hidden in a matter of minutes. 


Looking remarkably like a kiwi's beak, this long thin strip of 'almost land' protects a massive intertidal area in Golden Bay. Source: Google Earth

The quartz sands that make up the land here came from the Southern Alps. As the Alps eroded to a third of their original size, sand was swept down rivers into the Tasman Sea. Currents and winds still carry sand up the West Coast, sweeping out into a huge arch. With nature dumping 14 million cubic metres of sand here every year, in a few thousand years time, the arch will extend to encircle Golden Bay and create a lagoon.

Farewell Spit is a critical stopping-off point for 20 thousand or so migrating wader birds. It is an internationally significant spot for bar-tailed godwits, pied oystercatchers, variable oystercatchers, banded dotterel, red knot and ruddy turnstone.  The Spit is not only a hugely dynamic environment, it is also very diverse. The barren windswept northern beach, with sometimes massive dunes, changes to inland lakes and sandy planes with obscure pioneer flora, to shrubland on the southern coast and finally to the massive inter-tidal area that reaches right into Golden Bay. 

Native vegetation includes tiny and extremely rare pioneer plants such as the sand sedge Eleocharis neozelandica and more common species like harakeke (flax) coprosmas, manuka and ake ake. However, the exotic marram grass, once planted to stablise the dunes, is taking over and interrupting further plant associations.  It  threatens slower growing native species with extinction and can over-steepen dunes, causing even more erosion. There is on-going debate as to whether the sand dunes should be allowed to shift at will, or be “tied down”.

Key facts for visitors

  • Shorebird Network Site (11,388 ha) Nature Reserve managed by Department of Conservation
  • Established as a Ramsar site on 13/08/76  
  • A 30km long sand spit, and intertidal area, extending at a rate of 15m annually. 
  • Magnificent views of the Spit and the Cape Farewell area from Puponga Farm Park.
  • Puponga Visitor Centre overlooks the Spit and the huge intertidal area. Cafe, souvenirs and information. 
  • Farewell Spit public access: the first 2.5 km is open to the public and offers a good impression of the Spit.
  • Joining eco tours is the only way to get to the tip of the Spit, and to visit the lighthouse and the gannet colony. 

How to get there

21 km north of Collingwood, turn left at Port Puponga, then first right accros the causeway to Puponga Farm Park.   

Keep right at Puponga Farm Park, park at the top of the hill.

Find out more about birds that visit the Spit.

Read more about Farewell Spit in the Directory of Wetlands in New Zealand (see Chapter 39).

Farewell Spit Map

Return to our RAMSAR page