Heading north on Friday we left busy Takaka behind and arrived at Collingwood – this town is an ecotourism destination due to its proximity to Kahurangi National Park and Farewell Spit Nature Reserve. Originally named Gibbstown, the settlement was later renamed Collingwood after Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, Lord Nelson's second-in-command at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Gold was discovered in 1856 and the town's population surged, and it was suggested that Collingwood should become New Zealand's capital. But a more central location was preferred for the capital and the recommendation was for Wellington.
Although fires have raced through the town several times in the early years, Collingwood has retained some interesting old buildings. The original Post and Telegraph Office was a very grand building in it’s time, although postal business is now done through the general store. And the old Court House is now a thriving café, filled with customers sitting outside under the shady umbrellas while they sipped their lattes. Collingwood is much smaller and without the frenetic pace we found at Takaka.
It was another 10kms up the road to get to our destination, the Old School Café and Bar at Pakawau, another POP which had been recommended to us.
The POP has a nice grassed area and was fairly full when we arrived, and Robin expertly backed the caravan into a space. Several more vans arrived in the afternoon, so things were rather cozy. A group of campers were collected from the gate to go on a Farewell Spit Tour in the afternoon. We did this tour quite some years ago, and booked the tour while staying in Nelson – if we had thought about it we should have camped a lot closer. The alarm was set for 4.00am, and off we set in the car, driving for miles in the dark, over the rather nasty Takaka Hill, all the way up to Collingwood. The timing of the trip depends on the tide, so that was why we had to set out so early.
After settling in, and having lunch, we set off to find the famous historic Langford Store at Bainham. The store has been in the same family four generations, since it opened in 1928. EB Langford was the initial proprietor, followed by his grand-daughter Lorna who ran the store and post office for 63 years. Lorna retired in May of 2008, handing over the reins to Sukhita Langford, who hopes to do both the community and family proud by continuing the traditions that her great grandfather instilled more than 80 years ago. Sadly, we couldn’t enter the shop, and sample a delicious afternoon tea which the shop is famous for. The shop is closed on Fridays (why Friday, we wondered?) so all we could do was take a photo and peep through the windows.
The historic Langford’s Store
A little further up the road was Salisbury Falls – to get there we had a short trek over the paddock, climbing two stiles, then down a rocky path. There was a family frolicking in the river, having a great time on yet another very hot summer’s day.
On Saturday morning there was a general exodus from the camp, and we were the only ones left behind. But never mind, we were going out and about again, and there were sure to be some more neighbours when we returned. The day was overcast and windy, but still rather warm and muggy.
All alone at the Old School Café
We decided to travel north, as far as the road would take us. The sealed road finished at Puponga and we decided to turn left and travel along the unsealed road to Cape Farewell, passing by Old Man Rock on the way. It certainly was an impressive rock!
Old Man Rock
The Cape Farewell car park was quite busy, and we trudged up the hill to the lookout point. And joined the other tourists all looking over the rail at the rather impressive sight in front of us.
The sea was surging in endless waves and over the rocks. We looked down to the seals far below. Some were sunning them selves on the rocks. And another group were gently bobbing about in the waves, they didn’t seem to be feeding, just enjoying themselves and having fun.
Seals having fun
We’re having fun too
Back to the cross road we went, and turned onto the other unsealed road, which took us to the Farewell Spit Information Centre and Café. We ordered a coffee and date scone and sat on the balcony looking over the spit. There were large black birds bobbing about off shore, and surprisingly, they turned out to be black swans. We were surprised to find them in the sea, thinking they were fresh water birds, but according to our bird book, it mentioned that they were found in the tidal waters, including those east of Farewell Spit.
Farewell Spit has been a bird sanctuary since the 1930s and provides a home for over 90 bird species. Bar tailed godwits, knots, curlews, whimbrels and turnstones fly around 12,000 kilometres every northern hemisphere autumn to spend the summer here in the south. The spit also has a gannet colony. To guide passing ships, Farewell Spit's first lighthouse was built in 1869. In the early years the lighthouse site had no vegetation and windblown sand was an ongoing problem for the keepers. Then one clever keeper organised for small loads of soil to be delivered with the mail. He planted a windbreak of macrocarpa pines which are still there to this day. The pines protect the station from the shifting sands and provide a daylight landmark for passing ships.
Views of the sandy spit from the café balcony
We are so pleased that we have driven to the end of the road north on the South Island. Rutted and rough it may have been, but the 4WD coped well. With our sightseeing trip over for the day, we drove back to the camp for some late afternoon R&R – and we were no longer alone, several vans had arrived while we were out.