The Scene: Far Too Freaky Beach

I do most of my exploration on my own.  My time with my camera is almost always in solitude.  And I have been to some very empty corners of the earth.  By far my favorite place has been New Zealand because of the landscape’s diversity, compact area, beautiful wilderness, and lack of crowds.  One amazing location that is more out-of-the-way than most of New Zealand is Wharariki Beach.  This is a Maori word where “Wh” is pronounced like “F” and “R” is a “rolled R” closer to a “D” and there is no special emphasis on any one syllable.    Some of the locals of Golden Bay  use the homonym “far to freaky” beach.

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It’s a long drive to the northwestern tip of the South Island.  The stations (farms) out here are expansive; the coastline rugged, the wind wild. I walked down the beach in the late afternoon. The beach is home to monoliths, arches, and tunnels carved in the soft rock.  My ambition was high.  I walked all the way to the south end of the beach, but it wasn’t enough.  I started into the dunes and the tightly knitted mat of plants that had suddenly become much taller than they first appeared.  The going was tough.  I was hoping to summit a prominent rock formation for a view down onto the beach.  The sun started to set, I realized that scaling this crumbling, sandy rock tower was not a good strategy.  I headed back to the beach.

Something had changed on the beach:  There was less of it.  The hundred feet of flat sand that had been between me and the Tasman Sea was now covered in rushing water. I was wading through a foot of water to get around some of the rocks.  Turning the corner I faced a narrow gap between two of the great monoliths of this freaky beach.  I had walked through this passage, gazing in wonder, just an hour before.  Now it was a gauntlet of ripping water.  Just over my knees in depth, the retreating waves exerted an awful force.  It was dizzying, dark, and I had all my camera gear high on my back.  The lighting was gorgeous, but the feeling of peril was a greater motivator.  I made it through the gap up onto the dry beach, quickly turning to snap a few images of the experience.

Wharariki Beach at sunset.

Remember the tides, time of day, and to pack a headlamp.

Soon I reached another impasse that I was not willing to attempting.  Luckily there was another path that lead back to the parking lot.  I entered the dense canopy near the beach.  It was dark.  I had no light with me. I soon emerged to open pasture.  The light was fading fast and I could not see the path I was meant to follow.  Now you must understand that one of the great hindrances of New Zealand’s pastoral landscape are the fences.  And this ‘open’ pasture that I found myself crossing, in the dark, was surrounded by barbed wire.  Somewhere along the fence line was a set of stiles (stairs for people to hop over the fence which animals can’t climb) but I could not see them in the gloom.

Needless to say that I survived unscathed, made it back to the car, slept there in front of the ‘No Overnight Parking’ sign, and continued with my solo adventures with a bit more preparedness.  Having a headlamp in your bag could be a lifesaver in many wilderness circumstances.


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