I made my way down the grassy path towards Wharariki Beach, over farmland and steep hilly pastures in the dark. The night sky shone with a brilliance rarely seen elsewhere, as the stars still glimmered overhead, free from any light pollution. There wasn’t a cloud to be seen and constellations reigned up above. You’ve never seen the night sky until you’ve come to New Zealand. I don’t know how many times I’ve stopped and stared at the show the stars put on when the sun has set.
Sheep bleated in the quiet and their eyes shone silver in the beam of my head lamp. I entered a few darker than dark tunnels of trees over sandy paths as I got closer to the shore. Sometimes the morning stillness and lack of any other souls gives me peace, yet it bordered along the lines of of nervousness as dark shadows crept along beside me and any strange sound made me stop in my tracks.
Some people have told me I’m brave for doing this trip. Little do they know I jump at sounds that go bump in the night and have to give myself pep talks when hiking alone in the dark. At this moment, I tell myself I’m in New Zealand. It’s not as if a bear could come out and bite me or that heaps of attackers wait in the bushes…at 5:45am. I get a grip and my tension fades as the glow begins in the sky from the rising sun.
I make it to the huge dunes and stretch of sand where the sea touches the shore. It’s one of the largest beaches I have been to and I walk for a while, my feet interrupting the repeating lines in the sand born from the night’s wind. This part of the coast is known for its rock formations. Massive ones stand before me out in the waves. Walking far enough to one side, their shapes form and each has a piece missing, creating arches over the water. One looks like an elephant lost at sea.
The shore is full of caves and crevices to explore and I walked in and under forms. I scooted under a large arch, shuffling like a crab in sea water and sand. My backpack scraped on the rock ceiling as I came out on the other side to find an even bigger arch before me. I was in a photographer’s heaven and set up my tripod to take photos. Looking back at the images, they seem so serene and dreamy. Yet in the background, there were two seabirds nesting nearby, large black birds with extra long, orange beaks. They started to get flustered at my presence and went into defense mode. The male was soon dive-bombing me and I was flailing my tripod around in self defense. It was pretty comical and luckily after a while they left me alone.
Later exploring led to watching seals arrive on the shore. They were such funny looking creatures pulling themselves along with their front flippers, their back ends looking useless, dragging on land. The adults rolled around in the sand and seal pups played in a shallow pool nearby.
Wharariki Beach is one of my fondest memories of New Zealand yet. It’s more than a beach, but a place to wander and get lost for a few hours. Part of it stays with you, creating a deep and wonderful impression as vast as its shore.
Wharariki is prounounced Farariki.
For directions and and more information on Wharariki Beach and other hikes in the surrounding area, you can visit this website.
When arriving at the beach and facing the sea, walk to the left to see the arch formations appear. Also, be aware of the tide schedule. Low tide is the best time to view the rock formations. You have two hours before and after to explore.
The beach is known to be windy with sand blowing harshly at times. The morning hours tend to be less so.