As we are a long, slender country, we tend to align ourselves with one coast or the other. East or west. Unlike the way we randomly pick sides for State of Origin, English football teams, or our favourite children, my anecdata suggests its nearly always the coast closest during your childhood that secures that special place in your heart.
A Tairawhiti/Gisborne/Māhia upbringing puts my own affinity in the east. As a recovering surfer, the east coast waves were always far superior to anything I could find out west and the diving and fishing incomparable.
I do realise that just writing those words will raise the hackles of anyone sitting on the Sir Bob Harvey side of west coast appreciation. But there is something about each coast and their variable attributes that find their way into your blood for life. I have West Coaster friends who are known to be as equally parochial about their own geographic tūrangawaewae, each for a different ingrained set of reasons. People passionately adopt their own side as they would an essential family member. However, the true test of these relationships is seeing yours at its worst and still finding attributes to admire.
It's hard not to be a little intimidated at times by our rugged Australian-facing coastline; the shoreline is an interface for the heaving weather systems that seem to form before your eyes just offshore. The results thrash in by way of huge pounding waves that grind mercilessly against black-sand beaches. You haven't really lived until you've had the rip drag you around the point, surfing at Māori Bay or you've been drilled into the sand on an O'Neill beach shorebreak.
Those heroic Westie walks where its possible to take in winter with only a few other hardy souls, the howling "onshores" whipping foam across scarred sands into your face. A wind that can wrap you up completely, stealing words from your mouth and whistling so far into your ears that it creates an inescapable wall of noise, its own prog-rock soundtrack. That unique feeling of relief when you get back into the car at the end of a strategically angled walk, a bedraggled dog sitting soaking wet behind you, both of you feeling more alive than you've felt in ages, reset for whatever lies ahead. That is the raw west.
Compared to that, the east coast at times presents like a Ponsonby cafe child's fluffy. Although every once in a while it, too, can deliver a tropical cyclone punch that brings mythical surf breaks to life and spits angry venom along shorelines. Ask any seasoned Christmas camper on the Coromandel what it's like when things get biblically wet and wild. One of the few places in the country where, in just a matter of hours, the boundaries between water and land can become blurred.
I still remember vividly Cyclone Bola in 1988 and being evacuated to high ground for five days in rural Gisborne. Hunkering down with other families in a property now famous for hosting the RNV music festival, we listened to nature do its worst outside, while inside the gathered parents drank the house out of all its alcohol. People still talk of the waves Bola generated, the mess it created and, in the aftermath, the huge crayfish that were caught, having been flushed out of lifelong hiding holes.
Whatever your coast and whatever the weather, trapped Kiwis are finally becoming more adventurous in their own country, now actively looking for those places to go beyond the usual. There has never been a better excuse to be bold and now mix things up. Perhaps its time to even do the unthinkable and cheat on your regular coast of choice.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
From a 4WD trip down Muriwai Beach, a walk around past the seaweed pickers at Ahipara or finally ticking off that Raglan surf trip. The west coast on a good day is a marvellous joy of unlimited potential, and that's before we even get to Taranaki.
Head east and the choices are even more ridiculous, from the pure-white silica sand beaches of Pārengarenga Harbour housing year-round turtles in the north, to the Māhia Peninsula, a place almost an island of beaches, dive and surf spots - and if that wasn't enough, it now has rockets.
If you are feeling particularly greedy though, the Far North even allows you to pick and choose between coasts with ease. A drive up Ninety Mile Beach on the west gathering tuatua can then be switched across east at the top to enjoy a swim at Houhora Harbour, even trying your luck catching a john dory from the wharf.
As holidays approach and people spread themselves around liberally, I can't encourage enough the chance to take that turn off you've always driven past, to visit that relative on the "other" coast and to put aside extra holiday days to explore where you haven't been before.
With luck, you'll soon be adding the knowledge of these new places to the grand sum total of what you understand this blessed country to be.
Clarke Gayford is the host of Fish of the Day, tonight at 5.25pm on THREE