A Surf Journey to a Remote New Zealand Island

Words: Ant Green
Photo & Video: Ant Green & Christina Roberts

The whistle of the kettle became a familiar morning alarm, I was hopeful that it would wake Christina and Victoria. The steam from the hot water ascended towards the sky as I poured the water over the grounded coffee. Rich golden goodness began to drip from the filter. I sat back in my camping chair proud of the coffee smell now in the air, thinking to myself that this would definitely wake them. The sun began to peak through clouds casting golden hues across the estuary, as it rose above the mountain range to the east. I poured the coffee into three cups, just as both the girls got up from their tents. We all knew that we would be in for a treat this morning as last nights surf was fun and the waves were super clean. With my camera in its water housing in one hand and a surfboard in the other, we began to cross the estuary. It’s about a 15 minute walk and paddle before you can actually gauge the surf so when surfing here you have to time the tides and take everything you need, maybe even two boards. The waves were peeling perfectly, clean and backlit from the sun. We were the only ones out and overtime familiar faces from different parts of the island began to come out. 

It felt so good to be back in New Zealand and on this little Island. Since moving to Australia its been the longest I have been away from my homeland and straight away you can feel the more relaxed vibes here. Christina and I were only back for the short Christmas holiday break. We had last minute planned a trip with our friend Victoria from Wellington to spend about a week on this island. I had always known of this island as it was relatively close to where I grew up. I knew there was surf here but I was more familiar with the beautiful timber baches designed by Herbst Architects. 

My Dad was very generous and lent me his Ute to use on this trip. We loaded it full with surfboards, tents, sleeping bags, camera equipment, enough food and alcohol to last us the week. Even a ukulele and a fishing rod managed to fit in. There was hardly enough room for Christina and I so good thing Victoria was flying in. The next morning we woke early, tired and excited. With a very full car we drove down to the ferry terminal. The ferry was quite small compared to the interislander that I was use to, it had an open deck that could fit around 20-30 cars. It then had an upper story that flanked the perimeter of the deck. The staff were quite relaxed and I was surprised how we were allowed to walk on deck and take things to and from our car as we needed. This morning there was little wind, and the early morning sun glistened on the water. There was so much heat in the sun and it was still before 9am. Typical New Zealand. The captain would announce on the ship’s loudspeaker, “we have some visitors on the starboard of the bow”. Sure enough, there would be a pod of dolphins chasing the ferry, and playing in its wake. This happened a couple more times before we made it to the Island.

We drove what seemed like a long but beautiful 45 minutes to our campground. The island was a lot bigger than I thought, my assumption of a simple road that went through the whole island was wrong and I managed to take a few wrong turns a couple of time. When I passed other vehicles I noticed the drivers would lift a few fingers from the steering wheel or wave as a friendly acknowledgement. This is one of my favourite games so I began to do the same. Feeling like I now fit in. We arrived down this dusty path to what was the campsite. A little patch of land that leads onto an Estuary. I was taken back and confused by how empty it was there were not many tents set up, no one around and just one sign stating the campsite. In the distance, you could make out some waves and spray that looks promising. By this time the sun was high in the sky and blaring down, it was extremely hot and the campsite had little shade. We parked up, and decided to pitch our tent close to the other two tents in the whole place. Both tents were zipped up but had bikes and some of their gear neatly stashed away but strangely felt empty. We unloaded most of the ute and began trying to put together a huge dome tent, that my family would use when I was younger. The idea was if it rained we could use the extra space to hang out in. While we were struggling with a mansion of a tent, a guy with messy sandy hair unzips the tent furthest from us. He is laying in his tent trying to escape the heat and using his tent for some shade. From the sight of our surfboards he walks over to Christina and I. We talk about surfing, the island and the campsite. In his American accent he told us the story of how his friend had a wipe out, slicing his head open from his fin. “I had to pull my friend on my surfboard along the estuary while he used his hand to put pressure on his head to stop the blood gushing out”. A few moments later a local hospital nurse arrives to the campsite in her SUV. She explained how Sam’s mate has been helicoptered back to Auckland hospital with suspected skull fracture. He left with the nurse to charge his phone and contact his friend and his friend’s wife. This traumatic story made us wonder how monstrous that spray in the distance really was.  

The day after we arrived, Chistina, Sam and I were surfing some very fun waves and sharing them with some locals. The locals here are really friendly and the vibes in the water are some of the best I have experienced. For a place that was remote they are very open about sharing waves and passing on knowledge on the different sports. If it were anywhere else they would be disgruntled at the tourists showing up at their spots.*cough cough australia*. One local was on a retro high volume short board and he had the best smile, we think everyone on the island refers to him as Uncle. As a set wave would approach Uncle managed to always be in the right spot. There was also a father out on a SUP coaching his son, Wirimu, to surf. He told us that he is not your typical Supper, and welcomed us to drop in on him and also that he will let us know from his vantage point of the sets coming. I had never heard anyone on a SUP talk like that before. If you saw Uncles green cab ute parked up, it was usually a good indicator that the waves would be good.

Christina and I were beginning to feel at home on the island and couldn’t wait to show Victoria this paradise. She was due to arrive in a few days. We drove to the petite island airport, which was basically a shed with a fenced off runway out front. No need for customs and x ray machines. The plane bounced around as it landed on the dark tarmac and then drove across the grass towards us. The three of us explored the island, surfing the different beaches on offer. Moe another Wellington Gurfer was on holiday on the opposite side of the Island, with her husband and baby.

New Year’s Eve came around too quick, I had half dreaded this day because it meant that our trip would soon come to an end. Our last surf for the year I can’t really remember the surf itself, except for the part where we sat on the beach overlooking the perfect peeling right hander with the sun setting behind us. We sat there drinking champagne, which we packed in a dry bag and paddled it across the estuary. I think we were all grateful for the waves and the beauty of this island and sadly dreaded leaving this paradise in a few days. The most surfed out we had all been. We finished the bottle and made it back to the campsite to join our new camp friends for festivities, which involved sharing some freshly caught mussels and wine.

This adventure for me was an example of doing the opposite of your standard routine. We often spend our time in routines; we drive the same route to work, go to the same cafe, spend time socialising with the same people, surf the same wave. Which is good, it means less energy thinking and more energy for deeper thinking. However it can become a bit same same. This trip I experienced somewhere different, met some new people, surfed some new waves and pushed comfort zones. This Island is extremely beautiful, I’d prefer not to share the name, in respect of keeping its untouched beauty and friendly local vibes. I look forward to future trips here exploring its mountains and seas. Maybe next time instead of having a ute on the island we should have a yacht and circumnavigate its shores.