The “Top of the North”: Sand and sea
90 Mile Beach has also been on our “to do” list for a while but we started off at Bayly’s Beach just because we ran out of time travelling north. Bayly’s Beach is on Ripiro Beach which is another driveable beach over 100km long. We took the “5 minute” walk from the campsite down a steep hill and arrived on the beach just as the sun was going down. It is a beautiful spot, several photographers were set up with tripods so it is clearly a well known place for a sunset. The 4WDs making circles on the beach were a little alarming but they quickly raced away into the distance.
The quick way north is to get the car ferry from Rawene which is an interesting place. Once a thriving little port with some historic buildings, most notably the courthouse and gaol and a great little cafe on stilts in the harbour “The Boatshed Cafe”. Nowadays, it seems to survive on the basis that the car ferry transports tourists and locals across the harbour, so avoiding a long drive around windy roads. On the way we stopped at Koutu in Hokianga Harbour to look at the boulders. We spent a good hour wandering up the beach climbing on the strange spherical boulders that look like giants have abandoned their huge bowling balls right in the middle of a game! It looked like the best ones were further along but we didn’t have time to linger – if we had realised how extensive they were we would have made more time, but we have made a mental note and will return!
Our next beach stop was Rarawa Beach. What an awesome place! We could just as easily have gone to Henderson’s Beach but missed the turn off! The sand was so white… and squeaky! Silica sand, really fine and the blue sky made it like a tropical beach. Aonghas and I had great fun in the waves while Nigel watched camera in hand. There is a lot of work going on to regenerate the sand dunes as there is all over New Zealand. The plants vital to stabilising the dunes are being re-introduced and visitors are discouraged from walking across the delicate dune environment. Last year, my Year 12 students helped out with some planting and maintenance of a regeneration project in Raglan. We were amazed at the photographs of the area just 50 years ago when extensive dunes were in evidence. Some of the erosion is natural as high tides wash the sand away and deposit it in other areas, but the activities of tourists and building developers contributes significantly too.
After our play in the waves we went for a walk along the beach to the rocks where we fossicked in rockpools. Lots of crabs scuttled away as we approached; we also saw small fish, deep red sea anemones and a small octopus hiding in a crevice. Just its eyes were visible and the regular sweep of a tentacle as prey swept past in the waves. The rocks were unforgiving on bare feet as they were covered in barnacles but the pools were just too enticing to ignore! The tide was coming in so we had to be careful not to get cut off and we ended up diving into the ocean again to cool off and play in the breakers. As the waves rolled in we saw shoals of fish seemingly trapped in them. Where do they go to when the waves break? We also felt little lumps in the water and soon realised that they were bits of jellyfish! The people in the water with us said that they had seen them at 90 Mile Beach before but didn’t think they were dangerous. We certainly suffered no ill effects but made sure that we showered well on return to the campsite.
We visited 90 Mile Beach on a day when the wind was blowing hard off the Tasman Sea. Apart from the tourist buses and some other families braving the chilly gusts the beach was deserted. It only served to illustrate just how vast this place is. Blown up sand on the horizon as far as you can see north and south and the Tasman Sea stretching out to infinity to the west. We wandered to the water’s edge to dip our toes – as you have to – and when our attention lapsed were swamped by rogue waves that threatened to reach our thighs! It is a wild and beautiful place and I was sorry that we did not have time to go back again on a different day. It was also strange to see buses going up and down with the Tasman in the background. We decided that it would be foolish to attempt to get our car onto the sand despite the fact that it is a public highway; the sand at the entrance to the beach was soft and we watched the buses taking a long run up to get off the beach!
Heading further north next ….