Wish You Were Here: New Zealand

Kir Ora Girls!

Picture this: three girls, four surfboards and a camper van crisscrossing the North Island of New Zealand in search of waves.  This is where my friends, Robbie, Maria, and I began our one month “surf adventure.”  You may have noticed the quotes.  That’s because the waves were almost as elusive as the warm weather, but as we were determined to find them both we spent our week exploring the island.

We had planned our adventure in November, which would have been their summer.  Or so we thought, we found out it was really only their spring, which means blustery winds, rain, and a lot of blown-out surf.  We began in the capital, Auckland, a sweet city despite the cold wind and rains, with amazing restaurants and friendly surf shop employees who checked online and reported we should head towards south-east towards Gisbon.

We picked up our mode of transportation, a camper van.  Did you know that 3 girls and 4 boards (two of them longboards) take up all the room in a six person camper?  None of us had ever traveled this way before and we were all a little apprehensive to drive this lumbering vehicle on the wrong side of the road.  And to make things even more complicated, you needed to change gears with your left hand (oh yeah, it was manual). Luckily our intrepid surfer girl, Robbie, was up to the task. With only a few stall and a handful of incidents turning on the windshield wipers instead of the blinkers, we made it out of Auckland and onto the open road.

Since Gisborne is almost seven hours away, we decided to stop at the Bay of Plenty at an absolutely beautiful beach in Waihi.  While we did find some sunshine and a spectacular hike to Orakawa Bay, there was absolutely no surf. Since we were on a surf trip, gosh darn it, we drove a bit further to get a couple more miles, or kilometers, under our belt.  Since we were only half-way to our destination when it began to get dark, we parked our van and settled in for the night.  We woke in the middle of the night to what felt like and earthquake only to look out the window and see a car full of teens running way in hysterics.  Apparently they shake camper vans for fun in New Zealand.  We felt like we were really getting a taste of the culture.

Wainui Beach

The next day we drove to Gisborne, but not before stopping in a one horse town called Opotiki for some coffee and meat pies.  Okay, we all have heard that New Zealand is beautiful and it boasts some world class surf breaks, but did you know about the meat pies?  They are amazing.  And not just meat.  Chicken, pork, vegi, cheese.  Whatever you want.  I am still dreaming of the pies from this little bakery, which as far as I can tell was just called Hot Bread.  (If you find yourself in Opotiki, you must go.  You can’t miss it, as far as I can tell it’s the only bakery, no, the only restaurant in town.)  We drove through the scenic Waioeka Gorge to Gisbon where we went straight to Wainui beach.  Do you know what we found?  Waves!

We suited up and paddled out.  It was terribly windy, but offshore so that the waves were holding up perfectly.  Although, since we had planned a summer vacation we only had our 3:2 wetsuits and were FREEZING!  So we didn’t last too long in the little but fun waist high waves.  Unfortunately, the wind blew out the surf the next day.  Argh!  So we headed towards our final destination of Raglan, with and overnight stop in Rotarua for a soak in theirhot springs.  Raglan has a great surf-town vibe.  The only problem, of course, is that when we arrived it was very, very windy.  My friend Jose who is living there told us the wind might die down the next afternoon and we could go for a surf.  As he predicted that is exactly what happened.

Raglan is made up of three spots: Manu Bay, Whale Bay and Indicators.  From the road it looked like Manu Bay was crowded while Whale Bay looked a little less hectic.  There was an inside break that looked perfect for us.  When we got down to sea level however, we could see that the waves were well overhead and that the only place to paddle out was  where waves were crashing over slippery rocks.  Robbie and Maria backed out.  I knew I needed to cowboy-up, so without thinking too much about it, pulled on my wetsuit and followed Jose out.  Once in the water I realized the size of the surf.  Sets were rolling in that were lifting me high above the ocean level.  I was terrified and kept paddling towards the horizon.  I wanted to get around to where I thought that little inside break was.  What I hadn’t realized is that what I thought was a cute fun break went right over some large rocks.  I knew I needed to catch just one wave so that I could say that I had surfed at Raglan.  As usual, I sat far out on the shoulder watching some stellar surfing from the locals.  Some of the nice surfers encouraged me to move farther in.  Finally, after watching me bob up and down for nearly an hour, Robbie and Maria came over to the shore and showed me exactly where to line up.  I paddled over, a wave came, and I took it!  I went right over a large rock and bailed.  Somehow the surf gods were with me and neither I nor the board got hurt.

The next morning the wind stayed down and the three of us paddled out at Manu Bay, a much friendlier spot.  We had a blast on the long, rolling lefts.  We had finally found the waves we had been searching for.

We are now onto Australia.  Fingers crossed we find some sunshine, warm water, and sick waves.

Wish you were here,


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