After an exhausting but exhilarating climb to the top of Saint Arnaud Range, I continued north to explore the shore of Tasman Bay and Golden Bay. In the former, I had little interest: too much agriculture, too many people, too little nature, it wasn’t for me! I slept a night in Motueka because I badly needed a shower, then continued on. My first stop was at the Riwaka Resurgence, a lovely dale sacred to the local Maori where a newborn river carved its way through forest and boulders.
The atmosphere was appeasing, I understood why some would want to revere the place. I found inspiration in the mossy rocks and the twisting trees, and in the end, I stayed longer than I had expected.
My next stop was pretty close to the resurgence as the crow flies, but it followed a long drive up the pass on a winding and narrow road, typical of hilly places in New Zealand, where slopes are often steep. The landscape at the top was radically different, it was much drier and the karstic rock formations reminding me of Vercors, a mountain range near my hometown Grenoble.
From the top, the view to the sea was obstructed by low clouds, but the scenery to the west was clear. I had a great view of all the contradictions of New Zealand: in the background, the wild forest of Kahurangi National Park, and in the foreground, cow pastures and conifer plantations. In the following days, the contrast between nature and human activities stayed at the back of my mind, as I went from one preserved place to the other by driving through dead farmland.
Even in a remote place such as Whanganui Inlet, where only a gravel road leads, forest has all been cut around small pockets of conservation land. That patchwork was clearly visible from Knuckle Hill, where I stood after a muddy ascent through tussock fields. There again, I stood on the edge of Kahurangi National Park, which looked grim and menacing in that grey weather. Amusingly, it was in that elevated location that I found the best data connection 😀
On the day after, I finally visited my last target on the South Island: Farewell Spit. The spit is a 26 km-long sand spit that runs eastward from Cape Farewell; in the old days, it’s thought to have reached the North Island around what is now Manawatu Estuary. Indeed, there at the top of the South Island, I was further north than Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand and the southernmost point of the North Island.
Farewell Spit is born from winds and currents of the Tasman Sea that grind the cliffs just to the west of it. It’s a generally windy place, with winds averaging 25 km/h. To birders, it’s known as an important wintering place for Arctic waders like the Bar-tailed godwit (Limosa lapponica). Low tide recedes up to 7 kilometers south on the leeward side of the spit, revealing some 80 square-kilometers of rich mudflats where birds can feed before their long journey back to their breeding grounds. Most of the spit is a strict reserve, and as such, it’s closed to visitors who do not take part in guided tours.
In April, most birds were gone, but the sun shone. I spent much of my time in the dunes or at the beach, looking for wonders or reading Frank Herbert’s Dune (what a powerful novel!).
I spent two evenings at Wharariki Beach, a place you’ve probably seen on a Windows lockscreen at some point. Featured on post cards all around New Zealand, the Archway Islands were the main attraction of the place, but many other rocks were pierced by cracks and crevices, waiting to be explored.
In tidal pools, I found Australasian fur seal pups playing: they were cute! The little furry creatures chased each other in the water or on land, slept, and scratched, for the delight of many visitors. I loved how they seemed not to make their mind up: they would run in the sand, but all of a sudden, as if they had just changed their mind, they would stop and start scratching behind the ears with their flippers. Then they would run again and crash in the sand, seemingly resting… until, only a few seconds later, they raised their head and start running again!
My two sunsets at Wharariki Beach were beautiful but not mindblowing. I played with my polarizing filter a bit, and simply enjoyed the last moments of summer. A few days later, I was on the ferry to the North Island… but that’s a story for another day 😉 Stay tuned!
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