Wharariki Beach, nr. Farewell Spit

Posted by Patrick Melon
2 hour hike

On a campervan holiday in New Zealand (South Island), we generally follow the good weather. On this occasion it took us north to the Golden Bay area, to a town called Pohara where there was a good camping ground next to the beach. Asking the park manager if there were any good local walks, she responded that we should try “the world’s greatest short walk.” Intrigued as to whether this was hyperbole, tourism promotion, or something else, we took directions to the far north west of the South Island, to the Farewell spit area. We found the walk she mentioned, which is documented below, and I have to agree that it is very scenic walk. Whether it is the world’s greatest short walk is a claim impossible to verify, I suppose, until one has walked every part of the planet. Still, I can wholeheartedly recommend it. It is certainly up there.

Farewell Spit

Wharariki Beach map

For those of you who are familiar with Windows 10, you will recognise one of its default lock screen images and desktop wallpapers as a picture of the Archway Islands taken from Wharariki beach. This is the area that we came to. The Farewell spit itself is also an area for exploring and there’s a good café at the road end.

Windows 10 default wallpaper

We drove about 4 km in a westerly direction from the village of Puponga along the Wharariki Road. We passed a camping ground on the right and shortly after this came to a car park and toilets which mark the end of the road. On the left is a working sheep farm. The track starts (if you are walking in a clockwise direction) immediately beyond the car park. It may be worth noting the tide times because beach access on the west side is a lot easier at low tide.

Peacocks in the car park

There are four distinct types of terrain. Rich green pasture land, coastal scrub with interesting vegetation, a dune system and finally, the beach itself complete with islands and seastacks.

Sign at track start

From the car park, we headed west. The farm track rose gradually through rich green sheep pastureland. Eventually, after about a kilometer, the track flattened and skirted Dune Lake before continuing in a westerly direction. There were panoramic views of the coastline and glimpses of the Archway Islands. After another 500 meters a sign on the right indicated the track that led down past Nikau lake, through the coastal scrub and onto the beach (there is a hard to find hilltop track that avoids the beach if the tide is in).

A short distance from the car park; sheep farm on the right

Dune Lake

Nikau lake

Wharariki beach

Along the beach you can explore the rock formations that have been carved out by the sea.

Wharariki beach

Wharariki beach

Heading eastwards took us past some spectacular views of the Archway islands themselves.

Archway Islands


At the eastern end of the beach there were rock pools some of which had seal pups. They were unafraid of human beings and played and foraged quite happily in our presence.

Seal pups

DOC warning sign

Behind the beach itself was a dune system. The track was non-existent, but we followed the footprints in the sand. This took us back through some delightful coastal scenery, complete with unusual vegetation.

Dune system

Cabbage Tree Palm

Kanuka trees shaped by the wind

The last section of the track sidled steep grassy hills, over stiles which separated one field from the next. Of course, being in New Zealand there were lots of sheep. Sometimes the track is closed during lambing season.

I highly recommend this walk if you are in the area.  Whether or not it is the world’s greatest short walk, I cannot comment.