I came across this lady surfing at Christmas at Taupo Bay in Northland near the top of the North Island of New Zealand. What drew my attention was not just the red wetsuit against the brooding, stormy sky, but how good she was. Pretty full-on surf at Taupo, scary, but she just glided though the powerful waves like she was riding a bike. It looked that easy. The wave above was not big, but some of it was — see below. I can hold my own when it comes to body surfing, but I always wished I had learnt to use the board. The real thing.
The highlight of our 6-day visit to Melbourne last week was driving the Great Ocean Road to see The Twelve Apostles, massive limestone pillars that rise 65m out of the Southern Ocean in an area aptly known as The Shipwreck Coast — 700 ships have come to grief here over the last few hundred years. The erosion of the cliffs, 2cm a year, shows the power of the sea, evident in the relentless pounding of surf on shoreline. It’s an awesome place and draws hordes of tourists, the beneficiary being the village of Port Campbell where we overnighted. The weather wasn’t great but we got a brief burst of sunshine early in the morning which made for some dramatic lighting. The Twelve Apostles are part of the Port Campbell National Park and the authorities have done an excellent job building a tunnel under the main road which leads to excellent boardwalks and viewing platforms of the coastline. The vegetation along the walkways and planted by the cliff the cliff edges is interesting and attractive. Nearby you can access the beach and two impressive Apostles by way of the Gibson Steps, worth doing so as to get a sense of the scale of these wondrous formations.
This will be my last entry for a month as I’m off to Trinidad and Tobago via San Francisco. So I thought I’d put up one of my favourite photos as a parting shot, as it were. It’s the original colour version of the black and white detail that makes up the header of this page. Piha is Auckland’s most famous surf beach, renowned for its dangerous rips and unpredictability. So dangerous can it be a reality TV series is made each year focusing on the work of the local life saving crews called Piha Rescue, which says all that needs to be said about the perils of swimming here. But that doesn’t stop hordes of holiday makers doing so every summer, some of whom get into difficulties after downing one too many beers in our unforgiving, burning sun. No danger of drowning, you’d think, when this mid-winter photo was taken. But Kiwis are hardy, and some might say foolhardy as, shortly after this was snapped, a man stripped off and ran into the freezing surf, though he didn’t stay submerged too long. I was so lucky to be there at the moment the sun peaked out of the clouds, bathing this scene is such a dramatic way. I feel it sums up the dangerous magnificence of Piha perfectly. Later the sun came out properly and so did the beach walkers, revelling in the beauty of this wonderful place.
We’re thinking about where to go in the summer holidays. Spring has sprung and if we don’t book somewhere soon all the best value spots will be taken, especially in the Coromandel. The Coromandel Peninsula is a forested finger of land sticking far out into the Pacific Ocean, blessed with countless pretty coves and sweeping golden bays. Unsurprisingly it’s the favourite holiday haunt for Aucklanders, including us. Just two hours from the big smoke it can, nevertheless, be a pain to get to at weekends and holidays when it seems the entire city has the same idea. But, once there and away from the main towns, it can feel surprisingly empty. Our favourite base in the Coromandel is Kuaotunu, a small holiday village with a nice beach, but surrounded by a wealth of really amazing ones. It’s that choice that makes it such a good place to stay. Kuaotunu beach is a great for a walk, or a run. This fellow was out jogging soon after the sun had risen. It gives you good idea of how uncrowded the Coromandel can feel. Bring on summer!
Rain, gusts, gales, squalls: we’ve had the lot these last few weeks. In the South Island they’ve had to deal with the snow. Here in Auckland it’s been cold, too, but with monotonous wind and rain instead. Try hanging out the washing in these conditions and see how far it gets you. There’s not a lot to like about Auckland’s wet, windy winters. At least snow looks nice. But, in between the downpours, it’s worth getting out to places like Muriwai, home to the famous gannet colony and an enormously long beach upon which all sorts of foolhardy souls can be found doing their thing. On this day it was the sand, or is it kite, surfers? Either way it looks like great fun and those guys really move when the wind gets up. I could barely keep my balance for this photo and several times was nearly blown off the dunes.
Piha is a volcanic black sand beach renowned for its dangerous rips and is the home of Auckland surfing — the photo at the top of this page is Piha. So large can the seas be and so deadly the rips, that every year a TV reality show is filmed there called “PIha Rescue” which follows the lifeguard crews as they pluck swimmers or anglers swept from the rocks to safety. But, sadly, there are quite often unhappy endings at Piha, the result of one too many beers before hitting the surf, or simply underestimating the power of the currents that take hold here. I’ve never found it an appealing place to swim: dangerous and cold, and I’m amazed it’s so popular. As a place to visit and simply chill out, though, it takes some beating. It’s the most spectacular of Auckland’s west coast beaches and is imbued with a special ambience which is why so many people live here, or holiday, in houses that cling to the bush clad hills that enclose the beach. I seem to find myself visiting Piha mostly in the autumn, winter or spring when we enjoy walks along the beach or on the network of walking trails on the surrounding cliffs. Even when it’s cold there are people in the sea, but if I were to do any surfing at Piha, it would be of this nature. It’s safer! This was taken on the move, almost running after the guy with the kite, with a 17mm-wide lens to add impact to the trail of bubbles leading into the frame . I finished it with Silver Efex Pro as I like the blackness it adds to the volcanic sand and silhouetted surfer.
At Muriwai, on Auckland’s west coast, you can visit the world’s most accessible gannet colony. We’ve been there many times and went again last night. However, this time the gannets had flown their nests and we really went there to take in the sunset and special ambience this beautiful area affords. So I’ve included some photos of the gannets from previous visits, below. The 1,200 pairs of gannets breed between September and March before heading off to Australia, though some stay behind to keep the resident fur seals company, which is why we saw so few yesterday. The chicks hatch in October and this is the best time to visit as the colony launches into a frantic overdrive of flying and feeding their demanding offspring. Gannets really are extraordinary birds, dressed in a beautiful, sleek plumage, noisy, rude and argumentative, yet graceful and skillful in the air; true arial acrobats. You can see these arial aerobics close-up as observation decks built just above the cliffside colony allow wonderful views of the birds plunging into the ocean and balancing and breaking in the air before landing on ledges and rocky stacks. As with so many places in New Zealand, the information on the areas you’re visiting is outstanding and so well done. Here, the gannet information is beautifully illustrated on a series of tiles strategically placed around the colony.
One of the great things about living in Auckland is the diversity of the coastline. You can drive from the Tasman Sea to the Pacific Ocean in less than an hour. On the eastern side, the Pacific, the beaches are characterised by calm, blue seas — though there are surf beaches to be found — and sheltered bays of golden sand fringed by hills and cliffs of pohutukawa trees. The west coast, on the other hand, is a totally different story. Here, in the Waitakere region, shaped eons ago by violent volcanic activity, the coastline is rugged and forested, the sea wild and dangerous. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty and endowed with a unique ambiance, where nature is truly, and fully, in charge. Bethells Beach is typical of west coast beaches: wild, atmospheric, with an expanse of volcanic sand backed by weathered, eroded, bush-clad cliffs.
All Images © 2012 Mark Meredith
The only people with any sense who would want to brave the treacherous currents at Bethells are surfers. Continue reading