New Zealand Trout Adventures

Farewell Spit Nature Reserve a no-go for fly fishermen

Farewell Spit, at the tip of the South Island, is New Zealand’s longest sand spit (25 km) and a nature reserve. It is an internationally-renowned bird sanctuary with over 90 bird species recorded in the area.

Every spring, thousands of wading birds arrive from the northern hemisphere. Other birds range from black swans to sparrows. Penguins also breed in the area.

The area’s attractions include a historic lighthouse, pa sites, the seals and striking landforms of Wharakiki Beach and a cliff top viewing platform.

The caves, islands, and arches of Wharariki Beach, where seals breed, are among the most dramatic in the country. Behind are constantly shifting dunes and a series of lakes and swamps. The vegetation is diverse, with some very rare plants.

The part of the spit that forms the Ramsar Wetland site, covering 11,388 ha, is managed by the Department of Conservation as a Nature Reserve and Shorebird Network Site. The spit is ramsar site number 103, listed on 13 August 1976. This wetland area is both estuarine and freshwater.

There is much evidence of Maori occupation in this area. Some is associated with the hunting of moa (now extinct) and harvesting of other foods. Puponga Point, once the site of a pa/fort, is one of many archeological sites.

In 1642, Abel Tasman was the first European to visit the area. In 1770, Captain Cook named it Farewell Spit as he left New Zealand. In 1870, the first lighthouse was built to prevent shipwrecks, which occurred frequently. Grazing of Farewell spit stopped in the late 1930s, but Puponga Farm Park is today a working farm operating under a DOC lease.


So as you can see Farewell Spit is a special and unique place. In the past few weeks I have been working with the Department of Conservation on a plan to further protect the spit from the impending invasion of fly anglers that will descend on Golden bay next summer.

If you take a look at the above map you will see the boundary of the Farewell Spit Nature Reserve (all of the green). This boundary is unique as it is along the low water mark and has the ability to move with that low water mark line as it the tide heights vary. Within the green area there are several walking tracks. The one that is of interest to us as fly fishermen is the loop track (marked in yellow). This track travels 4km up the inside of the Spit then crosses the dunes and heads back down the beach on the Western side and back to the carpark. The current signs do not give a clear picture of where you can and cannot be inside the Nature reserve. I will clear this up for you right now….. you cannot be anywhere inside the Nature reserve except on this track! All of the water down to the lowtide line are out of bounds. This even means if you are in a boat. The Nature reserve begins at the rocky point at Puponga and heads down the channel visible at low water to the low tide mark.

We are working on new signage to be put up at Puponga and the Nature reserve carpark below the Paddle Crab Cafe. This will make it clear where people can and can’t be. There is also a marker buoy to be put in at the low tide mark at the mouth of the channel at Puponga.

With these measures in place there is no excuse for being in the Nature reserve.

The protected area is going to be hugely beneficial to the Kingfish fishery. There are around 28km of flats within the Nature reserve. The numbers of kingfish and rays inside the boundary are huge.

I know a lot of people have been vocal in knocking the release of the “secret” of Golden Bay kingfish. Saying “the fishery will fall over” or “its going to get thrashed”. This protected area is going to prevent this from happening.

The Department of Conservation are very keen to make an example of anybody they catch within the reserve.

Other points I would like to make are around the high tide roosting areas for the wading birds at Taupata point and Pakawau. These mostly migratory birds rest here on high tide in big numbers. Please use your common sense and walk right around the outside of the flocks.

Be aware also that if you are travelling in a non-self contained camper/vehicle (ie. van or stationwagon etc) you will need to book accommodation. There are many accommodation options available. If you do not have toiletry facilities and are sleeping on the side of the road you are “freedom camping”. Please make sure you know the areas where you are allowed to do this by checking the Tasman District Council website.

These are some of the issues to be aware of when visiting to catch the Kingfish on the flats.

Please have some respect for the fishery and all the other unique species and habitats in the area and it will remain for you to enjoy forever.

Anton Donaldson

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I am not understanding why the reserve excludes fishing/ kingfishing on fly. As a longtime resident of Golden Bay I am fully aware of the uniqueness of ‘The Spit’ and its inhabitants. It is one of my favorite places!!
    Yes!! These unique features/ wildlife need to be protected!
    No question about that!!
    My query is about the kingfish fishery itself. Are the kingfish spawning on the Spit? If so, by all means put a ban in place so no one can fish for them in an area for spawning, and leave those fish outside this area for the anglers. If not, then why have a ban .? There are – to my mind- not enough reasons to ban the fishing. Kingfish are migrants. Here in Summer, gone soon after. The time they spend here is fleeting. What is the real point of the ban? What is the ban really protecting? The ‘here-today-gone-tomorrow’ fish? The rays that inhabit the flats in a period of warmer water temperatures? ( ….though the fishers don’t target the rays! )
    Fly fishing for kingfish is not about habitat desecration. Fly fishing for kingfish is not about laying waste to the species as almost all anglers practice catch and release. Pressured fish?? Show me the evidence!! As a temperature specific migratory species they are spreading themselves across NZ. The kingfish of today are unlikely to be the kingfish of tomorrow.
    So, I hope you see my point! Science or warm fuzzies? Reason or emotive speculation.
    The ban has no point.

    • This is not a ban on fishing for Kingfish. It is an access ban. Nobody but the department of conservation and the only concessionaire – Farewell spit eco tour are allowed out there. This is as the blog states, to do with the wading birds that travel thousands of miles to feed there. It have an international protection status and it has been given to DoC to be administered. The blog was written to make the anglers aware that this is an area they are not allowed. As we have seen in the last few years that fishers are starting to spread into other areas around the bay. So if you have another look at what is written you will see that this area not being closed for fishing but closed for access by humans.

        • This area is unlike all other Department of Conservation land, it is a nature reserve that is of international significance. I have asked exactly that question a few times and the answer is always no. Although it would seem our impact in a boat would be minimal the reserve is out of bounds both on foot or in a boat. I’m sorry this reply wont help you understand. I have never fully understood it myself but have always respected the boundary.