I’m writing from the dial-up connection at the Innlet, a very homey, impeccably cared-for backpackers about 10km past Collingwood on the way to Farewell Spit, the end of the world for northwestern South Islanders. The Spit is home to 100 species of birds that make their home in its windswept dunes, bordered on both sides by water, and extending out into the Tasman Sea like the long probing beak of a kiwi.
After a beautiful two days in the Abel Tasman, during which we spent a VERY chilly night in our insufficient summer sleeping bags, we made our way to Golden Bay and Farewell Spit, hoping to catch some sights that our kayaking guide had deemed “unmissable.” In Abel Tasman we’d heard tuis and bellbirds singing in the trees, seen oystercatchers awaiting low tide so they could make a meal of blue- and green-lipped mussels anchored on the granite shore, and watched fur seal pups soar beneath us in the shallows off Adele island. At the Spit, we hoped to walk out to Wharariki Beach (pronounced “Far-ar-iki”), a prime example of New Zealand’s “wild West Coast beaches”.
We spent our first night at the Innlet, making tacos in the 110-year-old beadboard kitchen and getting acquainted with the other 3 guests in-house for the night, then woke up the next morning ready to check out what the wild northwest had to offer. And boy did it. With 20% chance of precipitation predicted, we spent the entire day enduring driving sideways rain and up to 47-kt gusts. We made an attempt to head outside, but after our first stop, at the gas station, our resolve began to wobble. Once we reached the visitors’ center at the Spit, we knew it was a hopeless endeavor and resolved to stay another day.
Late in the afternoon back at the Innlet I found Jesse, owners Jonathan and Katie’s horse, who trotted up and sniffed my pockets for treats. Realizing I’d committed an error in the world of horse introductions, I went back to the house and sliced up a Granny Smith apple and made amends. On the way to Jesse’s paddock you have to cross a stream, over which is strung a net called “The Web.” It’s pretty wobbly and very fun as ways of crossing waterways goes, and it characterizes the attitude of the place very well. There are also 2 bathtubs hidden near the waterside that have hoses leading to the stream, connected to gas heat. Guests are welcome to venture out there for a freshwater soak at night under candlelight. This time of year it turns out it’s so cold at night, the air just sucks the heat right out of the water the moment the tubs get full, but starting next month it’s rumored to be pretty cozy. The Innlet also provides an assortment of yummy baking ingredients in the kitchen, the rule being “if you bake it, you must share it.” A German guy we met here made everyone a delicious sweet wholewheat bread last night. Another guy named Alan, a retired rocket scientist from Phoenix, popped popcorn for the house in butter on the stove top.
Today dawned bright and clear, so we’re heading out soon, lest the weather change. After we hit the Spit we’ll be backtracking south to pick up another blanket for the car and some water for washing dishes, then we expect to camp somewhere along the road south to the West Coast glaciers, Fox and Franz Josef, tonight.