This 500 metre wide and 5 km long Onoke Spit extends from the Western Lake Road towards Lake Ferry separating the open sea of Palliser Bay from the waters of Lake Onoke. The outlet of the Ruamahanga River system is at the eastern end. From time to time when the outflow is low the sea can pile shingle up and block the outlet. Some early settlers who drove stock around the coast from Wellington used the Spit as an easier route into the Wairarapa than by trekking along the western shore of Lake Wairarapa. The massive earthquake in 1855 which did so much damage in Wellington is said to have raised the Spit by some three metres.Birds to look for: Black-backed Gull, Caspian Tern, Red-billed Gull, White-Fronted Tern, Black Shag, White-faced Heron, Banded Dotterel, Skylark and New Zealand Pipit. Royal Spoonbill sometimes fly over. In winter, look for Black-fronted Tern and Black-billed Gull. Sometimes shorebirds such as Lesser Knot and Turnstone are seen along the lake shore. Look for Australasian Gannet flying off shore.
In early summer, you will find breeding colonies about 30 minutes walking along the Spit. There are scattered Black-backed Gull colony with more compact colonies of Caspian Tern. Red-billed Gull and White-Fronted Tern nest further on.
Members of the OSNZ colour band Black-backed Gull and Caspian Tern chicks each year so keep an eye out for banded birds. It is worth returning along the seaward side with views of distant Kaikoura Mountains across Palliser Bay and sea beyond. After southerly storms this seaward side can often yield numbers of storm-wrecked seabirds.
En-route to the Spit, there is some good birdwatching at Western Lake Reserve where the road is close to the stony shore of Lake Wairarapa and sightings of Black Swan and other water birds may be had. The many Kowhais along the road edge make a spectacular flower show in spring, attracting many Tui. The native trees in the Reserve provide good habitat for Grey Warbler, Pied Fantail, Whitehead, Silvereye, Tui and Shining Cuckoo are often heard in spring.
How to get there
The road continues on past the picturesque Wairongamai Church then past the east-west access road on your left with the tarseal running out 5 kms before the road end. Be sure to take the left hand fork where the sign points to Lake Onoke. The road ends at a small stream which drains a nearby swamp. If the lake outlet is blocked this stream can be quite deep but is normally shallow and easy to cross. Leave your car here, cross the stream and take the favoured walk along the lake shore.
On returning to Featherston a visit to the Heritage Museum will provide you with a lot of information on history of the district. The adjacent Fell Museum houses the only remaining Fell railway engine which used to haul trains across the Rimutakas.
For more tourist information on this region, please check the Tourism Wairarapa Web site (www.wairarapanz.com).
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