So Long, New Zealand... | Part One

Updated: Feb 28, 2021

Sprinting full pelt, T slams into the glass door to the rental cabin, frantically thumping a fist on the glass, startling the grey-haired owner almost off his stool. Thinking something terrible had befallen the wide-eyed hippie out front, he rushes to the door and opens it. Still thumping on the glass, Tiare, the love child of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, exclaims in his authentic Taurangan accent, undoubtedly helping our cause in this situation; "We need two boards!"

A Kiwi, a Swede and two English guys walk into a board rental store on the north shore of Auckland, two minutes past closing time, much to the dismay of the visibly rattled owner. It was my last weekend in New Zealand, two years of a settled life coming to an abrupt end. And having endured a painful two-week flat spell on both coasts, one last throw of the dice was needed to send me off. We needed to all surf one last time. Having secured a last minute car rental, boards were next. Goose picks out a pastel-shaded 8ft beauty. Ali, having long left our fair shores of the UK, refusing to allow his thick Yorkshire accent to diminish, chooses a garish beast, complete with tribal design. Lashing the two stallions to the Hyundai, we point the silver surf mobile south and head for Whangamata in a desperate attempt to score some of the fabled and fickle east coast swell. Times were desperate. The west coast, in all its wild and untamed glory, was just that; wild and untamed, an onshore wasteland.

The forecast looked bleak; a very weak south-westerly swell was rolling in, and combined with a surprising offshore breeze, there had to be something. Stocking up on One Square Meals (OSM), the ultimate Kiwi survival bar, everything you need in a singular block of questionable nutrition, packaged in foil, which makes for an easy stash in your wetsuit for mid-session refuelling. It was almost 6pm, and our proposed camping spot was still over 3 hours away, peak Auckland traffic pending. Hitting the road with a trunk full of beer, OSM, a tent and wetsuits, we were badly prepared but overly excited.

Pulling off Highway 1 and joining Highway 2 just before Pokeno, the real New Zealand presents itself. Skyscrapers to suburban housing estates to expanses of green, so much green. The sprawling and ever-expanding reach of Auckland will no doubt reach Wellington in a couple of decades but for now, we're out of the city and hightailing it on the road east. Frantically checking charts and wind direction, we relentlessly debate where to set up camp for the night in the hope of catching first light waves. T insists on the Otahu river mouth, just south of Whangamata, but we all wave away his local knowledge, dismissing him entirely, he is the youngest after all. I propose a headland even further south, even more remote, and a potential for two different facing spots in close proximity. Goose and Ali argue over music, Avicii versus Arctic Monkeys naturally. I take this opportunity to pull the leaving card, it is my trip after all, so we head there. I was horrifically wrong.

The sun was beginning to set, the cloudless sky save for a few scattered puffs of cloud showcased the rising full moon, illuminating the non-existent lines stretching to the horizon. The headland was nice though. Ever optimistic, T assures us that the real swell will be rolling in through the night, so we should just set up camp and wait it out. Ali brings the car around and painfully and tentatively off the road onto a bank overlooking the cove. Nervously avoiding the many boulders and rocks scattered around, Ali turns full learner on us. The image of Margaret the rental car lady fresh in our minds, beehive hair and soft voice, emphasising the fact we are not covered if we go off road. Any other time we would mercilessly mock Ali for driving like an idiot, but we all silently encourage his precarious nature.

T and Goose attempt to set the tent up, soon revealed to be a two-man tent intended for four, we would be splitting sleeping duties between tent and car. The success of the pitching was short-lived as they had set the tent up next to the 'NO CAMPING' sign. Without a soul around, we figured we'd probably be alright, despite the no mercy attitude shown by the rangers happily dishing out $200 fines for all and any illegal camping, no second chances. I had won a spot in the tent, Ali and T were resigned to the car. Like kids before Christmas, we tried to get some sleep but this time, we were allowed to wake up at 4am and open our presents. Lying on the hard ground, a hoodie for a cover and pillow, I imagine waking up, unzipping the tent to a scene of endless lines. But just like Christmas as an adult...

To be Continued here