I’m currently in Auckland, sat on the lounge-iest sofa ever with my hair in a bun and the sound of Cicadas chirping in the background, waiting for Dave to return with the good news that our car has finally been sold. With only one week left in NZ it’s crunch time, so in order to successfully distract myself from our potential sale I thought I’d get back to the blog and reminisce on our last two weeks of fun in the sun. The blog has been quiet recently as we’ve been road tripping our way up the North Island, and this is the first time in the last two weeks that I’ve been able to sit down with Dave’s laptop and write about all the bits and pieces that we’ve been up to, so prepare yourselves for the ultimate brain dump (#sorrynotsorry).
Two weeks ago we set off on our road trip, after finishing up work on the Friday and heading over to Golden Bay on the Saturday morning. Located just to the west of the Motueka, in between the Abel Tasman and Kahurangi National Park, we’d had this trip planned for weeks and had been slowly adding to the list of things we wanted to do in this beautifully secluded section of New Zealand. But, and as many of you will have seen on the news, as I was finishing up work on the Friday some terrible news was breaking in the Bay.
Over 400 pilot whales had been stranded on Farewell Spit, and as the tide went out concerns were growing that these whales wouldn’t be able to make it back out to sea. I grabbed two wetsuits from my former employer, Abel Tasman Canyons, and Dave and I made our way to the bay.
It was 11am. It had taken about an hour and a half to drive from Motueka over to the spit – which is located at the furthest point of Golden Bay. The sun was heating up and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky – the perfect conditions to go and save the day.
We pulled into the car park which had – I kid you not – hundreds of cars, all of which had brought volunteers to help the whales get back out to sea. With our wetsuits at hand we had our briefing on how to help the whales, what to do and when, and the best methods for keeping the whales calm. We were prepped and ready to go. We headed along Farewell Spit, walking the 4 km to where the whales had all stranded, and admired the gorgeous views of the bay as we went. The spit itself is usually only accessible, beyond a certain point, by going on a tour that drives you along to view the variety of marine life that live there; but it has gorgeous golden sands and perfect turquoise seas, making it somewhere that we would have stopped off to see regardless of the whales.
Walking along we could spot the mass of black bodies from a fair distance away, all of which were surrounded by volunteers who had dedicated their mornings to helping out in any way they could. The volunteer effort had been put together by DOC, New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, and Project Jonah, a charity whose sole focus is to protect these marine mammals, and members of which had on orange and yellow bibs so that volunteers could spot them and ask for help.
Making our way up the beach the atmosphere was low. Over 300 whales hadn’t made it, the evidence of which lay bare in front of us, for all to see. Mothers and their babies, whales of all sizes, were scattered in front of the hundreds of volunteers. Many of the whales were bleeding from wounds, their eyes, their blowholes, and the smell of the 300 bodies was already filling the air. But 40 whales were nearby in the bay, trying desperately to come onto the beach to see their families, and it was up to the volunteers and their human chain to stop them before they too would be stranded. We bumped into Eva, my former boss at AT Canyons and member of Project Jonah, and she updated us on the situation at sea. Another pod of whales had been in the bay, taking around 100 of the original pod with them, but 40 remained and they were not liking the human presence. But we slid into our wetsuits and headed out to join the human chain, swapping with volunteers that had been in the sea for a long time and desperately needed to head back to the beach to get warm.
As we walked the 20 minutes out to join the chain we were focusing on doing the ‘Stingray Shuffle’, as already a couple of volunteers had been stung and we warned that there were still many in the water. We slid our feet along the seabed, signalling to the stingrays that we were approaching, but this process made the walk more tiring than we had anticipated. But continuing on we could spot the whales thrashing about in the water, only metres away from the long line of people. Two boats were there too, keeping watch and on the lookout for sharks.
Dave and I were nervous. We had never been apart of something so important before – there were lives at stake and we began to feel the weight of it all as we pressed on. We were nearly there, only a minute or two away from the chain, when two orange bibs turned towards us to gesture us away. The volunteers had done all they could, the human chain was only threatening the situation further, and everyone was to get out of the water as soon as possible.
We were so close, yet so far.
Shuffling back to the beach we could spot a lot of tense faces. What would happen next? Will the pod of 40 swim away, or re-strand? Or worse, would they call other nearby pods in, leaving the volunteers with an even bigger problem?
But the beach was closed. All volunteers were asked to walk back to their cars and await further instruction. There were rumours that the 40 whales would be shot, to prevent the nearby pods of hundreds of other whales coming into the bay, but we didn’t see or hear anything to say that this happened. With nothing further to report, and hunger and dehydration looming for us both, we decided to crack on with our plans and head to one of Golden Bay’s greatest hidden secrets.
Just to the west of Farewell Spit, about a 15 minute drive, is a little place called Wharariki Beach. We hadn’t heard much about it beforehand, but with the day growing hotter and hotter, and in desperate need of a relaxing afternoon, we thought we’d give it a go. We parked in the overflow carpark (never a good sign…) and walked for 20 minutes, through fields and around herds of sheep. We were walking in single file, with so many people behind and in front of us (ugh, people), and were dreading the prospect of the beach being too busy and having to walk back to the car. But as the path opened up we were greeted by the greatest view we could have possibly asked for.
The sand was hot and white and was spread for miles and miles. Apart from the people just ahead of us we couldn’t see a single soul, as if we would have the beach to ourselves. The sky was blue, the sea was turquoise and the sand was so soft I just wanted to wrap myself in it. We were in heaven.
We laid out our sheet (we’ve recently opted for a bed sheet for the beach, as it’s much better than using towels) and sun creamed up, before going for a romantic walk along the water and around the caves. A small crowd had gathered by a rock pool about 200 metres from where we had laid our belongings, so we headed over to see what all the fuss was about.
Seal pups. SEAL PUPS. About six or seven of them, frolicking in a crystal clear pool of water, cooling off their adorably tiny bodies before pulling up on the rocks to pose for photographs. Yup, they were actually posing. This was legit the cutest thing I’d seen for a long while (and maybe Karma’s way of saying thank you for helping with the whales?). But anyway, we headed back to our patch and spent the remainder of the afternoon napping and marvelling at how beautiful the views were. Wharariki beach was, and is, my favourite beach in the whole of New Zealand. Perhaps one to add to my 10 Favourite Places…
As the evening drew in we decided to drive towards Collingwood in search of somewhere to camp for the night. We hadn’t planned anything out – it turns out we’re quite bad at the whole planning thing – and headed back up the long gravelled drive that had originally led us to the beach. As we headed back into civilisation my phone went off. Eva: ‘the whales have re-stranded at Puponga’.
We weren’t far, maybe only a five minute drive away. We quickly stumbled across a long line of cars parked up on the road, half-abandoned as volunteers raced to get back to the whales before the overheated. The tide was out, meaning it took about thirty minutes to get out to where the whales were – although the whales were dotted along the beach making it difficult to know where we would be needed most. But we finally made it out there and you could instantly feel the adrenaline in the air. For the first time that day we were able to see the whales alive, flapping their tails and whistling noises of pain and sadness. We found a whale and grabbed a bucket each, before slowly pouring water over it’s body. With its black skin and layers of blubber it was important to keep the whale cool, or else it would face overheating, exhaustion and then death. We watched for when it would close its blowhole before covering its head with water, being mindful not to get in the way of it’s powerful fins.
We were there for no more than fifteen minutes before being told that it was too dangerous for volunteers to remain in the water. The tide was coming in, and with it so were the stingrays. We bid our goodbyes, stroking its skin to wish it luck, and begun the sad walk back to the beach. We felt useless. As if we hadn’t done even nearly enough (which we hadn’t really – every time we came close to really being of use we were too late). But we felt proud to have been part of such a momentous day, one of the biggest strandings to date in the bay, and of course we got to see the whales up close, alive and kicking. It was sad, but rewarding in so many different ways too.
We were able to camp nearby that night, because of the unique circumstances of the day, and so we parked up and cooked over our little gas stove whilst discussing all things whale. Why is it okay to kill and eat salmon, but not whales? Why have hundreds of people come to the rescue today, having been brought to tears by their bodies lying on the beach, but still continue to eat beef and lamb and chicken? Hmm…
The sun set over the water, and with it our eyelids fought to remain open. At 8:30pm, we were shattered, but we remained hopeful that we would wake to better news.
Project Jonah were yet to update their Facebook page that morning, so we began to drive through Golden Bay towards one of the many hotspots that we had on our itinerary. As we drove we spotted 17 more whales that were stranded just down the road from Puponga (we also spotted the vast numbers of volunteers that were there to help, so we
OK’d ourselves to enjoy the rest of our holiday).
Pupu Hydro Walkway
This neat little walkway is situated just outside of Takaka, and is meant to take an hour and 50 minutes. The first half is all uphill, taking you through some stunning native bush with the sound of water keeping you entertained as you go. We didn’t quite realise what the walk was and where it would take us (nowadays we just see a walk, do the walk, enjoy the walk, without much prior planning of where and what and how long) but as we reached the top we realised it was an old gold-mining water race, with the powerhouse at the end of the walk.
As we reached the top, and the narrow canal of water, we were quickly forced into side-stepping along a narrow platform alongside the water – with the stream one side of us and a steep, vertical drop on the other (note Dave’s ‘I’m really enjoying this’ face in the picture below).
This made the walk highly entertaining, especially as waves of vertigo were thrown into the mix (a bungee jump, sure. Walking along a plank of wood, na-uh). The walk was mostly uphill, even on the way down – clever, eh – which did sort’ve put me into the, ‘ugh, I’m so over this’ mentality. But we made it to the end and in only an hour and a half too, and treated ourselves with a little tour of the power house (underwhelming, to say the least).
Te Waikoropupu Springs
And just down the road from the hydro walkway is the incredibly popular Te Waikoropupu Springs (otherwise known as Pupu Springs). We were going to visit here at New Years, the last time we visited Takaka, but the weather was so dismal it wouldn’t have been worth it. This time round the weather was clear, sunny and perfect for a little meander around these beautiful pools of water. The walk takes about twenty minutes, and there’s tons of information boards to read before/afterwards that are great if you want to read up on your Maori legends. Pupu Springs is a sacred place for Maori’s, and therefore you cannot touch the water – not that we wanted to, of course. It was very pretty, and very blue, but there were quite a few people around which made it difficult to just sit and stare and zen. So we got a wriggle on and made a move for our next stop.
Ohh, Takaka. Otherwise known as ‘hippy central’, it’s town where no one wears shoes and every item you wear should have every colour of the rainbow on it. Unfortunately for us we we visited on a Sunday, the day in which most shops are shut, which meant that we couldn’t do a great deal of mozy-ing. We did, however, identify numerous cafes that look insanely yum and a dozen shops selling lots of float-y clothing. But the clothes weren’t the only colourful item found here, even the buildings are painted vibrant shades of red and blue, yellow and green, with images of all sorts of abstract ideas that I couldn’t quite get my head around. It’s certainly a unique little town, worth a visit if you decide on a holiday to Golden Bay.
From Takaka we made a quick stop off at Labrynth Rocks (not much to report, a small maze for children made entirely of limestone rocks, that encase you from either side) before heading back to Motueka for our last night of normality (shower!!!).
The next day would be our last day, maybe ever, on the South Island, and boy did we have a whole list of activities to look forward to…