A word about the Sans Souci Inn in Pohara, Golden Bay. This is a lovely, peaceful, tucked away place built out of adobe twenty years ago by Swiss expats. The rooms are modest and light-filled, tiled and whitewashed with a private little lanai out back. Lavatories and toilets are in a single common room ‘to promote comradeship.’ We get used to the set-up pretty quickly, but find little comradeship in communal tooth brushing and composting toilet use. Reto, the owner, is a very fine chef. These have been our best meals so far.
We are crushed to find yesterday’s coffee shop closed when we drive by 9am. It’s Sunday, I guess. We hold our grouchiness close to our chests as we motivate up the road to Collingwood. It is from here that the Farewell Spit EcoTour bus departs for a six and a half hour trip to one of ends of the Earth.
Farewell Spit is an arm of sand and scrub that extends thirty kilometers into the sea, separating Golden Bay from the Pacific Ocean. It is also the northernmost point of the South Island. Not only is it wholly uninhabited, but public access is allowed for its first four kilometers. The EcoTour buses have a concession that permits them to travel the entire length to the lighthouse.
Elaine, our driver/guide, provides droll and engaging patter with a dry Eeyore-style delivery. “During some dicey-er passages this vehicle may undulate and, consequently, you will undulate within. Try to maintain your equilibrium and your composure.” She is conversant in local history, geology, flora and fauna, and oceanography. She starts out practically manic and slows over six hours to non sequiturs and one-liners.
The ride is never dull. We drive along on hard-packed sand, pacing sea birds and pulling up to gape at drowsy seals. At the lighthouse, currently under major restoration, we have our lunch. Jocelyn and I eat sandwiches and drink delicious ‘lightly sparkling’ water under the shade of large pine. If only the annoying German girls would shut up. There was a community of lighthouse keepers out here – The Keeper and his family in one house and two smaller houses for the First Assistant and Second Assistant Keeper. They painstakingly carried topsoil from the mainland and started a grove of pines that ultimately threatened to block the beam from the lighthouse.
On the return trip, Elaine stops the bus and lets us climb one of the enormous shifting sand dunes. The wind out here blows sand into marvelous shapes and patterns. She says Farewell Spit is wind-built. I guess so. It’s expanding eastward at a rate of four meters a year and in Golden Bay, the area below the Spit is filling with many square kilometers of sand flats. The Spit and the Bay itself are restricted nesting grounds for many bird species. By the Second Assistant Lighthouse Keeper’s House, Joss and I discover an expired bird. The poor thing looks jewel-like. The bird book tells us it is a Silvereye, very common.
We enjoy another one of Reto’s fantastic meals and split a lemon semifreddo again.