Archive for the 'surfing' Category

The lighthouse

T’is holiday season in our house so expect (hopefully) lots of these kind of posts. The usual photo taken at arm’s length of me standing somewhere sunny looking smug, with an ocean in the background. Like this one

Though that was a whole 2 weeks ago so I’ll try and stay more contemporary.

My charming Brother and Sister-in-law (AKA Morsies) got us a voucher for our wedding enabling us to stay in one of these places.

We chose this one.

Mainly for location. It’s way out, almost as far south as you can go. If you go straight south, you don’t really hit anything till you hit Africa.

We were staying, not in the lighthouse but in the little house to right of the idiot’s finger.

I’m sure everyone has a pair of these porcelain dogs somewhere in their history

Even more excitingly, I got a surfboard and we managed to spend 3 days in the water enjoying the surf.

I have surfed before. Though rarely successfully. I have since discovered that this was largely due to the poorly made purchase that I made in NZ. A lovely board but about 2 foot too short for me. It’s somewhere still in NZ (i think), the last I saw it I think Jason had it, and he’s in Aus now, so maybe it’s doing the rounds!

The one I have now is 8ft and is surprisingly easy to stand on.

Note how fast a shutter speed you need to catch me standing on a board

Lighthouses are of course all automatic these days. This was the view from our bedroom. One night we left the shutters open to have the beam shining in; 5 every 20 seconds or so.

The house used to be home for the last keepers of the lighthouse. Them and their 15 kids! The son still maintains the current lighthouse and house.

My Jedward hairstyle gives you an idea of the wind you have to deal with. Not a place to try spitting into the wind

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Happy when you’re happy

My first memory this morning was that of a WW II spitfire crossing the bay in front of me. And in the dream I was having it made perfect sense. And then I woke and struggled to reconcile why a WWII spitfire would be strafing an unpopulated bay on the east coast of NZ. As the fog slowly cleared – the fog of sleep that is, it became clear that there were no WW II spitfires in the area, only milk trucks on the road behind me.

The sky was again all kinds of wonderful colours. I pinched myself again, not to wake from the dream but more to convince myself that I was actually blessed enough to be here. There’s a Kurt Vonnegut quote with a lot (but never quite right…) truth that the greatest thing in life is to realise you’re happy when you’re happy. Not like all those miserable twenty something’s bemoaning their lost school and uni days. Oh wait that’s me…

30 mins down the road I’m at Waihau bay. The type of place that’s so beautiful that really no one else should be allowed to see it and definitely shouldn’t be able to put such lovely bachs on.

The waves were good and the sea was empty. I obliged and threw myself all over the place on my board. Inhaling most of the surf. Great stuff.

Next stop was Tolaga bay – apparently the most populated bit of the east coast. Must be at least 500 people in one place. They even had a school, and a hobo fishing from the bridge. Indeed I doubt he was even a real hobo, just employed to look scruffy.

So I sat in the café, beside the supermarket, opposite the Tolaga information centre (which was empty and was bizarrely playing a tape of Jimi Hendrix live), and supped my latte (they always do good coffee wherever you are) and read my paper and eavesdropped on the conversations of the unemployed mums (sorry, being a mum in no way makes you unemployed, but these one’s were) beside me and silently judging everyone in sight – mostly in positive ways it must be said.

Outside the town was a 3-hour track to one of the places our dear friend captain Cook landed on one of his first visits here. It was a cool wee track, though full of sheep and cows, who I never quite trust, convinced that one of these days one will charge at me when I’m not looking and cause me all kinds of damage.

And I’ve ended up at a place called Anaura bay, recommended to me by a few people since my arrival. And justifiably so. A largely deserted, couple of mile long crescent of golden sand, surrounded by hills of native bush and a barren craggy island just off shore.

The sun is shining, it wouldn’t work if it wasn’t would it? The campsite at the end of the dirt track is a voluntary pay one and apparently closed out of season and is now full of sheep, but the gate is unlocked and anyway I just park on the beach anyhow and I see no one to complain.

There is another ‘less than nothing’ surf, so I just go swimming, sans wetsuit, so a tad chilly I realise. In the end I just sit on the bonnet of the car with the setting sun on my back and reading my Kerouac book and remembering that Vonnegut quote. As it gets dark, a quarter moon comes out, bright but not quite bright enough to read by so instead I just lie  back on the bonnet with a few extra layers on and stare at the stars thinking the world’s in a terrible state of chassis… but sure ain’t them stars pretty…

If the amoeba don’t get me first

I’ve had better nights sleep. And I’ve had worse. Like being crushed in 17F from Joburg to Sydney or one time cramped in the wet porch of a vango force 10 in a rainstorm in the mournes, just shivering my way through to morning.

So as I say I’ve had worse. Sleeping in my car gives me the simple satisfaction that it can be done. And I did it. Lying on your back it’s really remarkably comfortable. Tucked up in my sleeping bag staring at what I can see of the southern stars through the window.

The problem came when I tried to lie on my front – the only way I seem to be able to get to sleep. The bend in the middle tends to arch your back in ways it’s not meant to go. Either that or you just hover in the middle with all the weight on your chest and legs. I saw 3am appear with no notion of sleepiness. From 3 to 6am I think I slept. At least I dreamt so I presume I slept.

I woke to see the sky turning orange and watching the white caps on the sea. I crawled out of the car to a silent and empty beach and a glorious vista of reds and oranges as the sun came up. Alas the surf was as benign as the evening before so I popped over to the other side of the peninsula to what is described as a beach with a ‘good wave for learners’ in the surf guide Jess had given me.

So it wasn’t massive towering waves, with me tucked under the crest looking staggeringly cool. But it wasn’t shore break and it was consistent right to left break, not too far out so I didn’t have to paddle too far.

And the new board did me proud, I stood nearly every time, but still suffering from a tendency to lose the crest of the wave and be left standing on a stationary board. I like this surfing lark.

By this stage it was 8am and I’d been going for two hours. I cooked some porridge on the gas stove in the car and waxed my board – yes I know all the lingo now!

Next stop was the Morere hot springs. Geo-thermal energy is a feature of NZ geography. Exploited for either energy or making tourists smell of sulphur, it’s wonderfully popular.

This place was something out of the cold war, at least the concrete and paint was. The water was dark green with floating red bits in it. It was wonderful. The type of heat that makes you dizzy when you stand up, your baroreceptors wondering what’s going on.

I had the main complex to myself, which was also pretty cool. The guy who’d charged me the meagre sum of 5 bucks for the pleasure had also told me that there were a further 3 pools about 10 mins up a track.

Now there are few occasions when you’ll regret bringing footwear with you but my list of occasions when I’ve regretted not bringing footwear is lengthening by the day. I love going everywhere in my warehouse shorts and a t-shirt and no shoes/sandals. I just like the idea of bare feet. That sounds weird written down, I’m sure it made more sense in my head.

I am immediately regretting my decision to leave the sandals in the car but I persevere. Mostly from the thought of being embarrassed having to go past the ticket guy again and partly from some kind of masochistic tendency. Like some kind of painful pilgrimage. I’m convinced someone had been along before me and sharpened the stones.

At the end of the track were three baths of different temperatures. One was ice cold, one had a rather large and intimidating Maori guy in it who refused to acknowledge my existence (really quite unusual in NZ), and the third seemed to be heated for poaching eggs or splitting the atom. I was stuck with the third option, if only cause I was cold from the walk up in my togs and couldn’t go to the cold pool and going to the pool with the big guy in it would have been simply asking for trouble.

I eased into the (very) hot pool, wondering how long it would be before human flesh actually begins to cook. In the end I get into my knees and simply sit there with the rest of me above the water.

Given that my mate the big guy isn’t into polite conversation I search the walls for something to read. All I can find is two signs. One – beware hydrochloric acid with one of those skull symbols. Two – keep your head above water when swimming to avoid the risk of amoebic meningitis.

The second one grabs my attention and makes me immediately withdraw what little of my legs are in the water. I have no desire to get amoebic meningitis. Largely cause it’s bad form for doctors to catch diseases they’ve never actually heard of.

Pools done with, I drive on to Gisborne as the clouds roll in. I’ve been here once before, for a weekend with 20 of the docs from work all crammed in a wee beach house. Wonderful weekend. I look back a the photo of us all and realise there’s only about 5 of us left at the hospital. Maybe it was the amoebic meningitis…

I have recommendations from Forbes about a quality bookshop in Gisborne. Something I’m most excited about as there’s a definite lack of a decent bookshop in Hawke’s bay. Some people like bookshops with character with a pleasant owner with inside knowledge. Now I’m not averse to these but to be honest I prefer a good old multi-storeyed, stacked shelved, impersonal Waterstones. ‘yes i’m happy just browsing, leave me alone…’

This was somewhere in between and actually had a wonderful coffee shop attached. So despite having neither Coupland, Vonnegut nor any CS Lewis, it still scored reasonably. So between browsing (‘yes I’m still happy browsing!’) and coffee (served by a pretty American girl who was lovely and made me drop my change in confusion/embarrassment) reading my new purchases (‘the poisonwood bible’ and a Jack Kerouac book) I filled 3 hours.

To complete my time in Gisborne (where it was now grey and raining) I wandered the empty main street with the ‘old and the bored’ and found another three bookshops – none of which sold any Kurt Vonnevgut books. The third was a wonderful second hand bookshop which was simply a unit with books piled randomly and a few seats strewn about the place. The owner said hi and offered me a cup of coffee as I entered the door.

He identified my accent as from NI (and not Scottish like most do) and when he found out I was from Portadown he told me he’d played footy with former Portadown players with names ending in McCoy or Kennedy. This was the 70’s and I wasn’t born I tell him.

He has at least heard of Vonnegut, though of course has none in stock – dying is the only way to get famous and sell books. He has never heard of Douglas Coupland. I spend a pleasant 30 mins there, wondering at how many books there could be actually written in the world. I managed to find a gem of a newspaper comic strip book, a Toni Morrisson book, a kiwi novel and a book by some Spanish guy I’ve vaguely heard of.

I drive out of town and up the coast and find the wonderful Pouawa bay which has a nice picnic area set up for free camping. I’m treated to a nice rain shower and the best rainbow I’ve ever seen. It’s 7.15 pm and I could have fallen asleep hours before now. I don’t think the ‘bed’ will cause any problems tonight. That’s if the amoeba don’t get me first…

Rugged coastline and empty beaches

I have another week off, with no specific plans or obligations. This to compensate for the 14 days straight I swapped into following this.

The east coast of the north island, once you get north of Gisborne, is largely a deserted rural, coastal community, populated by less than 5000 people. Nothing but rugged coastline and empty beaches. Bit like Donegal but with better weather and marginally better roads.

I’ve yet to make it north of Gisborne, each time being distracted to lake Waikaremoana or some other picturesque spot. This time I’m determined. Though day one completed and I’m still an hour south of Gisborne, so maybe it’s not going so well.

It is of course, the equivalent of late November here. Which means it gets dark at 5.30 pm but not that it’s cold. It’s still sunny and I’m still wearing shorts. I managed to leave the flat at 5.15 pm, after a hasty pack following the olive picking.

Previously on my little solo expeditions I’ve stayed in campsites or hostels, this time I’m trying something different. I’ve realised that my car would make a lovely one person camper van. The seats go completely flat and I’d have a secure, lit structure to sleep in.

I have the surf board (must give he/she a name) on the roof, the guitar, the gas stove and the bike. Some grub, and a bag of books and I’m off.

I’ve made it to Mahia, a former island, now a peninsula north of Napier (about 3 hours of winding roads). It’s apparently a legendary surf spot so I’m expecting great things.

The bit that took the time was finding the appropriate spot in the dark to park the car. My first bet was right out on the peninsula, miles from anything. And, while scenic (even in the dark) it was flippin windy and the sheer darkness (no moon at all) was a little bit scary. I still have this childish fear and paranoia when I’m camping and travelling by myself, that around every dark shadow is a gang of thugs willing to do vile murder upon me. Though the fear has perhaps kept me safe from harm on a few occasions.

But after a bit more searching I’ve now found the ideal spot. About 10 m from the road, about 5m from the beach in a wee hamlet of about 20 beach front houses. There’s the odd streetlight, but not enough to keep me awake. I’m parked about 10m from the ‘no camping/overnight stay’ sign. There’s symbols on it banning tents, caravans and campervans, but none of stupid Irishmen willing to sleep in their car, so I think I’ve found a loop hole.

Since arriving I’ve spent an hour on the beach in my shorts (and three layers and a woolly hat but shorts none the less!) staring at the southern stars and just able to see the white caps of the breakers in front of me. Glorious moment.

The next few hours I’ve spent eating bananas and crisps and writing and reading. So much writing in fact my eyes are dry and tired and I’m worried I’m running the battery in the car flat. It’s 11pm and the sun rises at 6.15 am when I’m sure the police will be waking me and painting an image of an Irishman in a car on the sign and putting a line through it.

The (real) green room

I’m gonna try and do a retrospective blog. In that I’m gonna write bout what happened Friday as if I wrote it Friday even though it’s Sunday. If I had an editor I’d have a deadline. But I’m just lazy.

Friday morning 6am. I’m off work, but I’m up at 6am. I an surprisingly happy at being awake at 6am on a day off. My eggy bread is frying and I’m still staring at psalm 24:1 for the fourth morning in a row. Partly bleary eyed confusion but mostly the sheer implication of it.

6.30 am, I’m driving past the port onto marine parade as just a hint of brightness begins to make its’ presence felt on the eastern horizon. The wannabe immortals are turning up in their suits to ocean spa (the gym), and the mere mortals are starting to pick up last night’s rubbish. I’m feeling judgemental and pass remarkable…

At 7am I’m standing on the gravel of Te Awonga beach with Jess (an ICU murse) staring across the bay with a rising sun in our eyes looking at surf that could only be described as less than nothing. It’s less the roaring surf and more a duck pond. Very pretty, but hardly an invitation to the green room.

So we bail on Te Awonga and head to south side of the cape to my favourite beach – the imaginatively titled ocean beach. And it’s crisp; the sun is glaring, dominating the horizon. There’s not even a hint of a cloud, nor even the suggestion that one might turn up later if it’s bored. This is New Zealand.

So we gear up in our neoprene monkey suits and head for the surf, me trying to look like I know what I’m doing.

15 mins in I stand on the board for the first time in my life. I am so overwhelmed with joy and satisfaction I immediately fall off and inhale some seawater. Jess graciously offers a ‘gnarly move dude’ sign from out beyond me.

I manage to repeat this a number of times over the next hour. I am hooked. Most of the time, the wave is beginning to die out by the time I get round to standing. Indeed they were mostly moving into retirement villages and getting hip replacements by the time I was struggling to lift myself off my belly.

Occasionally this meant I would be left standing on the board as all forward momentum stopped and I simply sank.

My previous attempts at surfing (all 3) were mostly on short boards, intended for actual surfers as opposed to muppets like me. The board I was using today was a long board (technical term that) or mini-mal (short for Malibu, as opposed to some horrible mini-me copy), so it was more like standing up on a small boat than a real surf board. Much easier. I’ll take all the advantages I can get.

After 90 mins we’ve been swept half a km north by the rip and my arms are burning with the effort of paddling. I am a happy man.

I spend the afternoon looking at boards in surf shops in town. I surprise even myself by resisting the urge to impulse buy one.

I buy it the next morning.

The Big Trip – Day 18

Weird kind of day. Si and ruth’s flight was in the evening. So we had a day to fill and little idea of how to do it. It was sunny which gives you a few more options. So we ended up at the beach and me and si trying to turn the kayak into a surf board again.

It got a little bit messy. Si isn’t too hot at knowing where is head is in relation to the kayak wheb he comes off. This means he gets whacked on the head by it quite a bit. Today he caught the corner of the kayak on his jaw, sending him underwater for longer than I would have liked, and brought him up with a curse or two on his lips. Well I suppose they would have been curses if he could have moved his jaw to form the words. He’ll live i’m sure.

This manage to fritter away the time till 2pm. Only another 3 hrs till I could safely dump them at the airport and be rid of them. Kidding, honestly…

It frustrated me that I had these people with me who I love so dearly and we were struggling to fill our remaining few hours together. Maybe I was just annoyed that they were going home and i’d miss them. I’m not particularly good at expressing any kind of emotions towards most people, particularly my family. My fondness for them comes across as a sulky, sullen, form of grumpiness, which is only subtely different from my routine sulky, sullen, grumpiness.

I’m not good with goodbyes. I’ve watched too many movies and maybe I expect them to be more like that. All the ones I go through just seem a bit awkward. We sat in the airport café and drank our coffees (morsies on the hot chocolate) and passed the time as best we could.

And so i’ll not see them for another four months. Which is no time at all really, in the grand sheme of things. But i’ve spent 6 months here already getting used to the idea of not having my family with me and now I have to do that again. If it sounds like i’m moaning, then i’m not. Si said – you can always come home. And it’s true, i’m in the wondeful position of being able to do pretty much anything. I could come home at the drop of a hat.

I’m still not going to though.

And so I went back to the car park and got in the RVR and realised how bad it smelled, and that it was mostly my shoes so even with them gone it wasn’t going to change. I bought the paper, turned on the miserable old git music that I love, that i’d been banned from playing and drove back to town. Parked the car and spent the whole evening, walking the length and breadth of chistchurch and lying in the park watching the ducks and sizing them up for bowler hats.

Surfing and lattes

things to do while in NZ:
1) jump off bridge
2) two months in intensive care and rehab
3) jump off bridge with bungee rope attached
4) skydive
5) reincarnate and sky dive with parachute
6) learn how to surf

well number 6 I’ll have a go at.

nz-jan-07-57.jpg

I’ve surfed once before in my life. In Jefferies Bay in south Africa with ricky mayes on holiday a few years ago. Jefferies bay is a world famous surf spot, the site of pilgrimage for surfers round the world. Like Mecca without the white robes and stampedes. Home of the world famous ‘super tube’ – a type of wave I’m told. I knew none of this, but every time people ask me where I’ve surfed before and I tell them Jefferies Bay they go all misty eyed and awestuck. Either that or I’ve farted and they’ve got a whiff.

Where I live is hardly the top surf spot in NZ but it ain’t bad. I arranged a morning’s surfing with 3 of the nurses from the unit. In fact they were murses (male nurses). Garth (can I still be garth… – Kiwi), Martin (a galway guy who’s worked near everywhere) and Jess (or Jessup, a guy from Seattle). All good lads. We have a ‘reaining men together’ type banter. Mostly involving standing about taking the piss and being silly and using the pressure bags to squirt saline at each other. Nursing is a female dominated profession so you need ways to cope. And I’m the only registrar a lot of the time so we bond.

Borrowed a board off Tim, another Kiwi murse, stuck working the same day. He had a JC (signature make of board) and he’s got it embellished with a wee fish symbol and all. Good to have a brother in Christ to borrow stuff off!

At the ridiculous hour of 8am we met at Garth’s house. So we packed four boards on top of Garth’s shiny new black truck. The type of car homies drive in the US. I expected it to bounce up and down. It should have been called bessy or something like that. It was none of these – I was most disappointed. We didn’t even play gangsta rap. And in most manly fashion we stopped for lattes. (see http://picasaweb.google.com/ajneilldoctor for photos)

I have to say the waves weren’t exactly pounding. On the way to the beach we met people driving back at 8.30am. a bad sign. So the place was deserted. Which was good, cause none of us really knew what we were doing. A cop car turned up at one point. The lone cop checking out whether it would be worth surfing after work.

I spent the first 30 mins swallowing sea water and struggling to get out into the waves. I got beaten and overturned and got hit by my board numerous times. But then I got into it a bit.

There is a place, when the surf’s good and you’re in the zone, when surfers say they’re in ‘the green room’ (no relation to edenderryce.org). I think it’s something to do with mind altering drugs.

I wasn’t quite in the green room but did manage to master the technique of catching waves, and standing and falling off in one seamless maneuver. A rare talent I suspect. It amused the small, laughing children on the shore anyhow.


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