Saturday, November 26, 2011

Walking Ohope Beach

Ohope Beach stretchs east for about 10 km beyond Te Rangi Point, before folding back on itself to reveal one of the largest harbour bays in New Zealand. I ride the Beach Hopper bus from Whakatane to the end of the line, the last houses on Ohope peninsula, and walk through the long grasses, native trees and wild flowers of a Maori holding to the bay shore. Mid-morning - the sun is hot and in the lee of the peninsula, the water is calm, there is no wind. The beach, with the tide just returning, is a wide, empty space of fine hard sand.

James casts into deep waters, next cast is into the police force.
Around the first bend I meet James. A recent undergraduate from Otago University, James stands by his bucket and two long fishing poles, the lures expertly cast far out into the channel before us. He claims it is an excellent spot for fishing, regaling me with stories of long days and beach fires for an evening fry-up. Once he caught a big skate, “Ehh, now what! The barbed tail was whipping 'round, piece of wood on the tail and another to flip him back in the water.” James is on a break to “get fit.” He wants to make some money and his cousin told him if he could pass the recruitment tests for the national police, he would make $30,000 just for attending the 13 week training course, and if that went well he'd start at $65,000. His future looks sweet, especially through the lens of another couple of weeks on the beach fishing and getting fit.

I head back into the dunes, a native bird preserve. The vegetation is thick. There is a high profile campaign to protect vegetation to ensure the stability of the dunes and permanence of the splendid beach. I stir up some pheasants but it is otherwise still while I patrol through the shrubs. Gradually the sound of waves floats over the dunes and I return to the beach.

The bay channel reaches the ocean, wind, sand and spray.
The bay channel ends and the roll of the Pacific Ocean against the shores of this small island reminds me how far I am away from home. The wind is powerful and runs straight down the beach into my face. There is a constantly shifting flow of sand blowing past my ankles. To the west I see Motuhora which marks the beach at Whakatane. But there is not much to see beyond the details immediately before me; broken shells, beautifully wind-polished bits of wood and one set of bare foot prints proceeding me. I take off my shoes and head for the water. The shallow water is warm, it swirls cross the rippled sand, blown by the wind and crazing my view of the sand and shells just covered by its sheen. It is very relaxing and I move slowly through this liquid vision.

66 mediates the batt;le between Mother Nature and local access.
Eventually the beach front sprouts houses and I wander up the dunes to see the neighbourhood. I approach a bare chested, white-haired man weilding a hammer. We acknowledge each other and he asks, “How old are you? I'm 66 and still out here working in the sun and wind.” And he was hard at it, replacing posts and boards marking out one of the infrequent paths through the protected dunes to the beach. He tells me its important to help out Mother Nature and make sure we don't lose the dunes, but he he says its always a balance, you also have to please the people who want ready access to the beach. “Too far either way and its ugly.” Barely are the words out of his mouth when a spry, elderly woman approaches us.

      W: “So what are you working at here?”
66: “Oh, I'm replacing the posts, wire and board on the walkway.”
      W: “Doing this on your own are you?”
66: “No, no. Working for the district council. District council owns the walkway. Where do you live then?”
      W: “#26 over there” nodding down the street.
66: “So do you know Jim Mason then?”
      W: “He lives right in behind.”
66: “Ahh, he's my mate.”
      W: “Well, it's not like I've had drinks with him, you know.”
66: “Yeahh, he's my good mate.”
      W: “Well, I'm off then.”
66 turns and grins at me.

The modernist curved architecture of the 1920s and 30s is a prominent part of the North Island's housing stock.


  1. Here's a dog free Ohope Beach for you Murray.

  2. Beautiful and peaceful, just as we remember it :)