Central Hawke's Bay: Love of sea expressed in paddle protest

By Nicki Harper

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Peter Ralph stopped off at Pourerere Beach this week during his 675km journey from Cape Palliser to the East Cape to raise awareness about deep sea oil drilling.
Peter Ralph stopped off at Pourerere Beach this week during his 675km journey from Cape Palliser to the East Cape to raise awareness about deep sea oil drilling.

Ever since he was a youngster, Peter Ralph has been passionate about the sea.

Growing up in the Bay of Islands, he spent much of his youth sailing, surfing and diving.

Growing concerns about the risks to the environment caused by deep sea oil drilling, however, prompted him to raise awareness by taking an ocean journey this month on a stand-up paddle boat.

His mission began on 6 February, and this week he was at Porangahau and Pourerere Beaches, where he'd stopped off during the 675km journey along the East Coast starting from Cape Palliser on the South Cape and ending at the top of the East Cape.

The 25-year-old said the East Coast was in particular need of protection in the face of Government plans to sell off areas of the sea bed for deep sea oil prospecting.

"Deep sea oil in New Zealand is something that has never really made sense to me," he said.

"Why would we put our most precious asset, our oceans and beautiful coastlines, at risk of permanent catastrophic damage all for a quick buck. A quick buck that most New Zealanders won't see a cent of?

"On top of that, it's a big step in completely the wrong direction in terms of climate change."

His response was to resign from his job as an environmental consultant, tired of spending most of his time behind a desk, and take a broader approach to protecting the environment.

Unfamiliar with paddle boating, he started training about a year ago with the help of YouTube videos, and it's held him in good stead for the lengthy journey. His paddle board and gear was donated by Starboard Paddle Boards.

On the 17-foot long (5.2-metre) craft he estimated it would take three to four weeks to complete the trip; a total of 228,000 paddle strokes.

Speaking from Pourerere Beach on Monday, he said he was averaging about 25 kilometres a day, slowed down by a prevailing north-easterly wind that had not been as favourable as he hoped.

His father is his support person, accompanying him on in a van, and the pair check the weather first thing each morning and decide how far to go that day and where to meet up.

Weather permitting, he has been setting off at first light and is carrying a cell phone, VHF radio, personal location beacon, spare paddle, flippers and rescue blanket on top of the food for the day and plenty of water.

Although unaccompanied by another boat, he has had the company of a variety of sea creatures.

"I've been seeing lots of dolphins and seals and seabirds, including an albatross. Also lots of fish.

"I got given a crayfish by a passing boat, but I haven't seen any sharks yet," he said.

His stop at Pourerere for a couple of nights was longer than expected due to the wind conditions but he said it was a good opportunity to recharge the van and all the equipment, have a shower and do some washing.

People he has met along the way have been curious about his journey and its cause.

"All the locals that we talk to are very interested and supportive, especially those who live on the coast or visit there a lot. They share the same thoughts and concerns."

Mr Ralph is calling on the Minister for the Environment to give people back the right to have their say on the matter and make exploratory drilling for oil and gas a publicly notifiable activity.

You can follow Mr Ralph's journey on his Facebook page, capetocapenz, or the website www.capetocape.org.nz.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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