Aotearoa: Farewell Spit and Pupu Springs

In the dusk, we headed on toward Farewell Spit, where Captain Cook once bid farewell to Aotearoa New Zealand. As Cook was the primary European explorer to bring word of New Zealand's existence to the attention of European powers, there's no avoiding Captain Cook in New Zealand. Or anywhere in Polynesia, really. The man was just about everywhere, and in some ways his heroic image is only now being challenged.

Farewell Spit is a 26-kilometer sandbar that is now a wildlife sanctuary. There are no roads on the spit, and because of both time and financial constraints, we opted not to go on one of the organized tours that let you actually head onto the sandbar itself. Instead, we decided to simply look out over it, from the lighthouse that sent its light out across the sandspit.

Looking toward the southwest, from the lookout near the lighthouse.
View toward the south, toward Wharariki Beach.
The lighthouse, looking across a vast expanse of ocean.

By the time we walked up to the lighthouse, it was dusk, and we were tired. But we forced ourselves to keep walking, because one of the tenets of travel is that you always have to climb to the viewpoint - be it the top of the cathedral, the top of the hill, or to the lighthouse. And we did not regret the effort. Farewell Spit stretched out before us, as did a seemingly endless expanse of Pacific. This looked like where the world ended.

Farewell Spit stretching toward the horizon.
The lighthouse, which gathers solar energy during the day to keep its light powered at night.
And the Spit again, just a beach, really, but treacherous to sailors who didn't realize how far it stretched.

We watched the sun set over the ocean and the hills, awed by the sheer grandeur of the landscape, until we realized we didn't have a flashlight along and darkness would fall very quickly once the sun was all the way down. So, bidding farewell to Farewell Spit, we scrambled back down the path away from the lighthouse, and made it to our car in time to wave to the departing park service employees returning from Puponga Farm.

Earlier in the day, we had stopped at Waikoropupu Springs, the clearest freshwater springs in the world. The only clearer water known to exist is under the Ross ice shelf in Antarctica. The springs are also sacred to the Maori, who believe the springs hold healing powers. The springs are astonishing - there is constantly water welling up from underneath the surface, and the sign noted that "Waikoropupu springs discharges an average 14,000 litres of water a second - that's about 40 bathtubs full!" Per second.

Here's one of the central places where the water welled up from deep in the ground.
You can see how clear the water is - that's plant life a meter or two below the surface, at the bottom of the picture.
Again, the springs. They really were astonishing, and there was certainly a sense of power to them.

Another impressive moment during the visit to the springs was reading the sign that the Department of Conservation had set up at the entrance. "Attention," the sign read, "Te Waikoropupu Springs are a taonga (treasure) and waahi tapu (a sacred place) for Maori, both locally and nationally. The legends of Te Waikoropupu are told in the stories of Huriawa, its taniwha (guardian spirit). In Maori tradition the Springs are wairou, the purest form of water which is the wairua (spiritual) and the physical source of life. The Springs provide water for healing, and in the past were a place of ceremonial blessings at times of birth and death and the leaving and returning of travellers.

"Please respect the springs. It is particularly offensive to Maori to pollute these sacred waters. Should you chose to dive the Department of Conservation asks that you carefully comply with the voluntary code of conduct for divers.

"Drift diving. Drift diving down the Springs River causes no offense."

The notice at the entry.

We were amazed. Here was an official government site, telling people that Maori beliefs needed to be respected when visiting this sacred site. It wasn't couched in terms of "historically, it was once sacred," but instead emphasized the present-day existence and traditions of the Maori, which should be respected at this site. Sure, the codes are voluntary and who knows what is done to enforce the "no pollution" suggestion, but the fact is that the park service cared enough about this respect to put their expectations in no uncertain terms at the entryway to the springs. I can't imagine a similar sign put up by governmental representatives in the US.

A river - not the clearest water in the world, but pretty nonetheless.
Landscape with rocks.
The typical New Zealand hairpin turn. This one's wider than most.

Along the rest of the drive between the Farewell Spit and Motueka, there were a few more random scenic places, which I've thrown in here somewhat haphazardly. The valley shots are from an overlook, and I honestly don't remember much more about these beyond "they're in that same general area."

One of the valleys along the way.
Farmland enclosed by mountains - that seems to be the theme of the South Island.
And more of the valley, and the mountains.

After a gorgeous day at the Pupu Springs and the Farewell Spit, it was time to head across the way, toward the Marlborough region whose claim to fame lies, for once, not in its scenery, but in its wine...

15. September 2003


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