14 November 2014

The most dramatic and scenic beach in NZ - our big bang finale on Wharariki Beach

Before planning our trip to Nelson and Golden Bay, I'm pretty sure I hadn't even heard of Wharariki Beach. But once I saw some photos of it, I just KNEW we had to make time to visit. And the fact that it's a 20-30 minute walk over farmland to get there, plus there's a high likelihood of seeing baby seals (although we'd already had our share of seal scares earlier in the day) makes it all the more rewarding once you get there.

You do need to time the trip just right though as you can only get down to the beach and explore properly at low tide and so we'd kept a close eye on the tide times on the Surf Forecast website and I was pretty darn happy when I saw that the low tide would be at 6pm so the chance of being there for a good sunset was high!

We bought some takeaways from the Old School CafĂ© on our drive out to Wharariki and ate them at the carpark when we arrived, after bumping along a gravel road for a good 5km. The walk takes you up onto a ridgeline in farmland and is very well marked with a shelly path - this is a good thing as you are up quite high with a big drop on one side and it is reasonably narrow. Plus I can imagine that just like us, others are just as keen to capture sunrise and sunsets at this famous spot so they'd be potentially making the journey in very dim light in at least one direction.

After winding your way through several paddocks, the farmland eventually gives way to the dunes and then the beach.

FAR OUT! This is a beach with a capital B.

Wharariki Beach is arguably the biggest, most dramatic beach I have ever seen. The sheer size of the beach, even enclosed as it is on each end means you have to walk for a good half an hour from end to end. Once you add in the extra time for exploring the sea caves and seal spotting, it is easy to spend hours here.

Mark did do a bit of a recce into a few of the sea caves (which all stunk to high heaven of seal) but with the early morning fright we'd had on Farewell Spit still playing heavily on the boy's minds, they weren't keen for Mark to go too far in and kept yelling at him to come back - they weren't keen on Dad being eaten by a seal! And apart from spotting one baby seal high up on a rock, we didn't experience the volume we'd expected - it turns out they were all up the other end of the beach from where we were which we later found out - but as we'd visited Red Rocks not that long ago we felt we'd still gotten our seal quota this year!

The offshore Archway Islands make for an incredible centrepiece to photos here, and they are constantly changing shape as you walk from one end of the beach to the other. I wasn't the only photographer with tripod trying my luck here, but again the vast scale of the beach made it unlikely that we would get in each other's way!

We spotted what looked very much like a Turtle rock - can you see it?!


As you can see I found it hard to stop taking photos with such an interesting subject.

And one thing this beach definitely had with its vast expanse of sand and the incoming tide was reflections galore. It was a photographer's paradise. Although when a set of waves came in, they would keep on rolling in for ages so even standing far back from the surf was no guarantee that you wouldn't get wet or have to hightail it mid-shot.

There's no other people I'd rather have been with in this glorious spot than these three. Although what is up with Mylo's face in this shot - ha ha!

You can get a small appreciation for the epic sense of scale at the beach from this black and whiate shot above with the lone walker in the shot.

I'd been hoping for a few clouds to add some drama into the scene but it was completely clear on this night. The sun sank behind the southern end of the beach casting a golden glow over the whole area. We also eventually found out that the seals were playing in the surf and on one of the islands at the opposite end of the beach but we could only hear them rather than see them as we made our way back to the dunes.

It was very hard to pull myself away, but with two weary little people out past their bedtime and still a long walk back to the car, I reluctantly packed up and we headed back over the hills in the dying light to the car.

I feel richer for having experienced the magic and wonder of this incredible landscape and I very much hope we are able to visit here again one day.

This night was the perfect, fitting big-bang finale to what had been an incredible week exploring the Nelson and Golden Bay area - this part of NZ packs an incredible punch in terms of amazing and varied scenery all within a couple of hour's drive of wherever you may happen to be.

Our holiday was so spectacular - from the snow capped mountains that surrounded us on our journey to the crystal clear azure waters we travelled on in the Abel Tasman, from dramatic big beaches to calm kayaking on the estuary, and so many sunrises and sunsets to sigh endlessly over  - it will all live on in our memories for a very long time to come.

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