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Farewell Spit

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Farewell Spit
Photograph: Bob Gill

Farewell Spit, located at the very top of the South Island, is New Zealand's longest sandspit system, extending eastward in the Tasman Sea for approximately 30 km, but sheltered to the south with tidal mudflats extending up to 6 km seaward at low tide. The part of the spit that forms the Ramsar Wetland site, covering 11388 ha, is managed by the Department of Conservation as a Nature Reserve and Shorebird Network Site. Apart from a small area at the base of the Spit, it is closed to the public except through organized tours.

Farewell Spit is particularly important as a staging area for migratory shorebirds on the East Asia - Australasia migratory shorebird flyway. A total of 83 species of wetland birds have been recorded at the spit. Its mudflats provide a major moulting site for about 12,000 black swan. The spit is also home and breeding grounds for colonies of Australasian gannet, Caspian tern, southern black-backed gull, red-billed gull and variable oystercatcher.

and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team

Maori seemed to have occupied the Spit for Moa hunting and the harvesting of sea food and other birds. Puponga Point, once the site of a pa, is one of many archeological sites. Maori named the spit Onetahua, meaning 'heaped up sand'.

In 1862, Abel Tasman was the first European to visit the area and in 1770, Captain Cook named it Farewell Spit on leaving New Zealand. Grazing of Farewell Spit stopped in the late 1930s, but Puponga Farm Park is today a working farm operating under a DOC lease.

(page last updated  1 May 2007)