As a surf addict, one of the main draws of surfing in New Zealand for me is surfing their incredible waves. Almost everywhere, around both North and South Island coasts, there is a wave of some description to be found – beach breaks, reefs, point breaks and river mouths – the whole gamut of wave types is present in New Zealand, often blissfully deserted save for the dolphins, seals, penguins or sea-lions (and of course the sharks!)
Being totally mobile in a van, our day’s itinerary is often dictated by the swell forecasts, wind directions and other factors needed to find the best surf. There is an excellent little publication called ‘The Wavetrack NZ Surfing Guide’ which we often use to get us headed in the right direction or to give us specific surf break information but usually the most fun comes from pouring over a map and guessing whether a certain destination will offer up some surfing options.
The Far North area of New Zealand’s Northland is one of our favourite surfing haunts. There are myriad surf breaks all within close proximity to each other which gives us many options in any one day allowing us to change location should we need to get the optimum conditions from the tide times.
Today we are camped at the beautiful and deserted Department of Conservation camp site at Rarawa. For just NZ$7 a night we get to camp underneath the pines and by the river with just a short walk through the bush to the pure white dunes and talcum powder soft sand of Rarawa beach.
We are up early to check the surf. There was swell yesterday and according to the forecast it is a dying swell so we need to get in soon before it disappears. We run quickly through the pines, with a fantail flitting around our heads, until we feel the silky white sand under our feet. Cresting the dunes we happily see that there is still, as yet, a wave so it’s a sprint back to get kitted up. The sun is only just up and the air is chilly so wriggling into our wetsuits, still damp from yesterday takes an effort of will.
We launch our surf boards into the river and get paddling, the most pleasant way to get to the beach. Coming back the tide will be against us and we will be tired so we’ll probably have to walk.
When the river gets too shallow to paddle without snagging our fins we hoist our boards under our arms and run to greet the turquoise ocean. We are careful to avoid the dotterels’ nesting area, laughing at the sand which is so fine it squeaks as we press our feet into it.
The waves are fairly few and far between as so often happens with a dying swell but the rides are fun and the early morning sun turns the sand particles in the water to floating, glinting gold dust while the spray from the backs of the waves makes rainbow arcs. Sometimes being out in the ocean isn’t just about the waves it can be an almost spiritual meditation on nature and beauty.
We both have a few rides and then decide breakfast is calling so it’s back to camp to fire up our little portable stove and cook some eggs, hoping the sun will take at least some of the damp out of our wetsuits before the next session.
Breakfast over we decide to do a spot of fishing to catch tonight’s dinner. Neither of us are fishermen but New Zealand waters are so rich in sea-life it is harder not to catch a fish than otherwise. The first one caught always has to be given back to the ocean as a gift as we have been taught by some Maori friends – a lovely idea which we religiously follow no matter how big that first fish is.
We head to the beach a couple of times to see what the surf is doing, do a spot of beach-combing to check out what last night’s high tide delivered up, gather the prettiest or most interesting shells and just generally enjoy this magical place. Occasionally we see someone else on the beach way in the distance – despite the beauty of this beach it seems to be little visited.
Just before sunset we head off with our surf boards again. The swell really has all but gone now but being out in the ocean as it turns orange and gold is always special and I can usually do with a bit of stroking around to keep up my paddle fitness. If we’re really lucky we might get a wave or two roll in but we’re not very hopeful.
As we sit out on our boards, gazing down into the crystal clear blue depths we see a sting ray glide past looking for all the world like an underwater bird in its grace and motion. The sun has dipped below the dunes now. A couple of small swell lines did roll through but we both paddled for them and missed them – it doesn’t matter.
There will be no more waves for at least a couple of days according to the swell forecasts. We will take the opportunity to go exploring other things or go inland a little – something hard to do when we know that the surf is pumping! For now, we get out of the ocean, at last feeling a little of the weariness from our active day and trudge slowly back over the dunes where the sand turns to grass and then through the pines and back to our little camp – still deserted save for a random rooster who struts around here, seemingly a free spirit.
As we cook our freshly caught fish from earlier we can hear the possums in the trees and the occasional plop from the river as some fish jumps. The stars wink into view one by one and eventually seem to fill the sky more fully than anywhere else I have ever seen. Not for the first time this week or even today I thank the powers that be for giving me such an idyllic life – lucky, lucky me.
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