Preface: I may have kinda sorta stopped blogging because I was too busy having crazy wild fun in New Zealand… I’m back in St. Louis now- so prepare yourselves for some hardcore retroactive adventure blogging!
Here’s the thing. I went on this adventure- and the whole thing lasted, in its entirety, for approximately 8 hours. As far as adventures go, that’s just a blink of a moment in time…especially since two of the hours in question were spent driving to and from the destination. Especially since this whole 3 month New Zealand trip is an adventure. Especially since all life is an adventure.
But get this. I’m going to have to split that 8 hours up into three blog posts, because otherwise the level of grand miraculousness that occurred on this adventure will not adequately be described and that, my friends, would be a travesty.
You see, before The Void took me to New Zealand, the number of times I had personally interacted with oceans could be counted on three fingers. After just a few weeks, I’d encountered my fair share of beaches and oceans, and up until this day I felt like I had a pretty good handle on the whole situation.
But then this happened:
New Zealand separates the Pacific ocean (east) from the Tasman sea (west)- and further along west is Australia. It’s not one of those “I can see Russia from my house” type scenarios though- it’s a bit further away than that. Piha was my first experience with the Tasman sea, all the other beaches I’d been to so far were on the Pacific side.
Sheep insisted his picture be taken before we moved on:
As a side note, shortly after this trip Sheep created his very own Tumblr and he’s pretty popular. Like, way more popular than me…
I took 491 photos of this adventure (part of the reason it’s getting split up into three posts)- and you’ll see why. How can you not when everything’s just so pretty?
One of the first things I noticed when we got out of the car was the sand- It’s called a black sand beach, but really it’s a combination of normal colored sand and iron from volcanic rocks, which darkens and gives everything beautiful, shimmery effect. The beach literally sparkles, and it’s fabulous.
The iron deposits are washed up by the waves, and sit on top of the sand. Next time, I’m bringing a magnet and science is going to go down.
The second thing you should probably know about Piha is that it’s one of the most dangerous beaches in New Zealand. It’s one of few surf beaches I’ve been to, and the currents here are so dangerous that it has it’s own TV show: “Piha Rescue”. – However, the waves are pretty excellent.
The trip was mostly exploratory, though. I still can’t surf (patience, grasshopper. Next time), and the water’s a bit chilly anyways- but it’s gorgeous even if you choose to stick to dry ground. There are three sections of the beach, and it’s safe to say that the most interesting bits are only accessible at low tide. By a very lucky coincidence, our visit was well-timed.
Not only did we get there just as the tide was going out, it went out much further than usual while we were there. According to Google and my middle school science teacher, this is called a “Spring Tide” and occurs during new and full moons. The more you know.
As we were looking around (read: as I was taking pictures of the ground…) Jon told me about a second beach that is only accessible at low tide (it’s a fairly common dilemma with the beaches here), and although the tide was going out, it wasn’t low enough yet. While we waited for the water level to go down, we wandered over towards another interesting landmark.
Lion Rock! it looks more or less like a lion depending on where you stand, but the general idea is there. When the Māori lived here, they used Lion Rock as a lookout and defensive position, and were quite successful at defending their land from invaders for a very long time.
It’s a short, steep climb up to the lookout, and definitely worth it for the views. If you look closely, you can even see a few tiny surfers amongst the waves! Straight ahead you can see the extension of beach that I talked about earlier- we’ll get to that in a minute.
There’s a little grassy patch on top of the lion’s head for your sunbathing pleasure, and it also happens to afford a pretty fantastic view of the beach and village below. From the top, I learned a thing or two about what, exactly, makes Piha so dangerous. There’s just the boisterously breaking waves crashing up onto the beach if you look to the south, but looking over the north beach is a different story entirely. There, amongst the breakers, you can see the twisting patterns the rip tides create in the surf, and the places where the pull is so strong that it drags sand up from the ocean floor. This definitely isn’t a swimming beach- and when people don’t heed that warning, it makes for some very dramatic television.
For a bit of a reference, here’s a view of the climb back down Lion Rock. It’s a steep and well worn path, but not an issue even if you’re not very sure-footed. One thing I discovered pretty quickly is that aside from my low level of general physical fitness, I specifically have a pretty awful sense of balance. Even though I felt like I was going to fall for most of the walk, I still managed to do it without so much as a skinned knee.
After climbing down from Lion Rock and a quick snack break, the tide was low enough for some secret-beach explorations. We climbed over the barnacle-encrusted rocks and stopped to investigate many a tide pool ecosystem, and I took some pictures to document my efforts at keeping my bright pink dye job from fading in the sunlight. New Zealand’s UV rays are, after all, 40% more intense than the ones in the US.
After a bit of climbing, and some hilarious moments concerning my inability to balance myself upright with anything less than three points of contact -(I see you there. You think I’m kidding. I’m not.)- this is what we saw:
This whole ‘Grand Adventure in Three Parts’ occurred on a Monday, which is not-generally speaking- a very popular day for beachgoers, so the whole place was virtually empty. Even fewer people ventured around to this little corner, so my job as ~Official Photographic Evidence Gatherer~ was pretty easy. You’d have to actively try to take boring, ugly pictures of this place.
If you walk all the way down so far that you run out of sand, this is what you see. The beach gives way to nothingness, separated from the ocean only by a rocky outcropping against which the waves crash violently (in sets of seven, I learned). Behind this is an area where, I was informed, seals and penguins might bring their young to keep them safe while fishing. Alas, it was neither seal nor penguin season, so we didn’t spot any mammals this trip (other sea life on the other hand… well, stay tuned for part 2!)
Three pictures ago, you may have noticed a rock to the right of the beach. Here’s another view:
This little channel goes, obviously, all the way through the rock. Apparently people (more adventurous than myself) even swim through it! Nature is the coolest thing ever.
We decided to spend the hottest part of the day in the shade by taking a short hike up into the hills to see a waterfall; but that’s part three of this little adventure. After that, and lunch under a flowering Pohutukawa tree, we tried our luck at the north end of the beach.
This end had a whole bunch of truly fabulous tide pools and sea life that we are not talking about until next week because there is too much and it is overwhelming and even as it is I may still explode…
There was also this very cool cave.
Below, we can see a very nice specimen of mermaid hair, which as we all learned in school, grows on the rocks until it is long enough that it can be harvested and worn by the mermaids.
The mermaids, because of this, have bright green hair which blends nicely with the green-blue of their oceanic habitats as well as the various jewel tones of their tails. Of course, some of the more rebellious mermaids have been known to dye their hair ‘weird’ colors like blonde and brunette, and some of them don’t even tell their parents they’re doing it first. Some people will attempt to convince you that this is not mermaid hair at all and is instead seaweed, but those people are wrong.
As the sun went down and the tide started to roll back in, (neither the first, nor the last time we almost got caught by the tide on this trip) we headed back to the car, I took pictures of the colors changing as the daylight faded, and we evaluated the condition of our sunburns and tan lines.
Did you make it? Are you with me here at the end of this post? Did you scroll through the pictures thinking to yourself: “My, they just keep going- when will it end?” – well here it is. I’ve made it through one third of this single-day adventure. Probably less than a third, if you consider the number of photos I have for next week’s post. This is what happens when you release someone with a formal education in photography on a beach for (basically) the first time in her life and tell her to go crazy. I can, having already returned from this trip to New Zealand (’tis only the first of many!), look back on this adventure in comparison to everything else that happened and say with pretty secure certainty that it was still one of the best parts of the trip. There are so many things you don’t think about when you don’t experience them firsthand. Sure, you learn in elementary school that the ocean’s tide goes in and out- that there are seven quintillion, five hundred quadrillion grains of sand in the world, that crashing waves carve patterns in rocks, and that a variety of sea life living in these nifty little things called ‘tide pools’- but until you see it? I don’t think you fully understand it until you’re standing in the middle of it, and it’s jumping up to nibble at your unsuspecting toes.