Tourist Traps on Farewell Spit

A Distinctive Farewell Spit Tours bus cuts through the water
Trapping on Onetahua Farewell Spit got off to a somewhat unorthodox start but thanks to the determination of a few good men and some tourist dollars, there are over 100 traps dotted about the spit today. Farewell Spit Tours manager Paddy Gillooly and his team knew that something needed to be done about trapping on Farewell Spit and were looking for a way to get the idea off the ground. Paddy would attend a yearly trade show where tour operators and travel wholesalers would come from all over the world to learn about the types of tours and experiences NZ operators were offering. Paul Carberry, founder of UK based tour operator New Zealand in Depth would often recommend Farewell Spit Tours to his clients. Paul was aware of the need for trapping on the spit and had the idea to waive the commission he’d normally charge Paddy and instead put that money into Paddy’s trapping programme. Things were off to a pretty good start but more traps were needed. Another trade show and a bit of persuasion over a beer saw Jeremy Palmer from ID Tours NZ come on board with the plan, also waiving his commission and diverting it into the trapping programme.

Having traversed the spit for almost 40 years, Paddy is attuned to the changes in topography and biodiversity of the area. Ten years on from the onset of trapping, he is seeing increases in the volume and variety of life on the spit. 

‘We started our own trapping because we knew there were predators out there and we’ve seen plenty of changes – particularly  around the lighthouse,’ he says. ‘Whenever we used to drive in there, we’d always see two paradise shelducks. When we started trapping, we began to see ducklings. Now year after year, there’s a new family which tells us the trapping is working.’ Paddy says that he’s seeing birds around the lighthouse that he hadn’t noticed before such as fantails and kingfishers. ‘Last summer we saw a family of quail for the first time and I’ve been noticing that pipits and skylarks are becoming more abundant,’ he says.

With Farewell Spit Tours holding the line for so long, Paddy is pleased to see Pest Free Onetahua join the fight against invasive pests and is keen to get involved in the project. 

‘It’s going to be hard,’ he says, ‘but we have a great opportunity to not only make a difference to this iconic place, but to set a great example of what can be achieved and to create an incentive for others to follow suit.’ Paddy started with Farewell Spit Tours in 1986 (then called Collingwood Safari Tours) as a mechanic before becoming a driver and eventually manager. Paddy and the team are currently developing a lightweight collapsible trap that can be easily transported across difficult terrain. When he’s not doing that, he can be found driving one of the distinctive maroon coloured Eco Tours buses, imparting his knowledge and his love of a place he calls home. 

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