Gisborne. Where the surf rolls in and the surfies are always out, where the sun shines and the beaches are sandy. And where, the summer I was five, I stubbed my toe in a headlong rush across the road to get to the water. It was a beauty – lots of blood and flapping skin. My Mum was good at a lot of things but not with blood – especially when it was one of her children bleeding. Fortunately, Dad pulled out the first-aide kit and declared himself “Doctor Doug”. It worked. I stopped crying. And my toe didn’t hurt quite so much. But no amount of magical parental powers and Rawleigh’s salve could fix the disappointment of having to stay out of the water for the rest of the day.
Ever since, my ideal beach accommodation is right on the beach – no road to cross. And this weekend we had just that.
Getting to Gisborne is a bit of a hike.
Google will tell you it’s 214 km from Napier and takes 238 minutes without traffic. But what Google reveals to only the careful researcher is that the road is notorious. It’s narrow, it’s winding, and it’s vertiginous. In fact if you suffer from vertigo there are many places where you may wish to avert your eyes or close them – as long as you’re not doing the driving, that is. At the weekends the traffic is generally light. During weekdays there are many, many trucks to contend with. And on the narrow roads that can turn an invigorating drive into what I can only describe as a test of patience. There are very few opportunities for overtaking.
There’s no cellphone coverage along this road. Zippo, zero, nil, none – with one exception – these days I can pick up one frustrating bar at Taumatataua trig, just south of Wairoa. But, frankly, with views like this who can be bothered with a screen?
Remote though Gisborne is, don’t be put off. It might only have a population of 35,000, but it’s a city with swagger. The first to see the light – it’s the most easterly point on the North Island. And it’s full of history. During the Maori migration across the Pacific, this is where canoe landed. And it’s where Captain Cook first sighted New Zealand – more in another post, soon.
And Gisborne has that rare commodity – a safe, sandy beach right in town. This was the view from our accommodation.
We’ve stayed there before. There are flashier, swankier places. But only The Whispering Sands motel opens directly on to the beach.
When we weren’t gazing at the beach we were on it. And, as importantly, the motel is the location of one of my best reading moments. It was a Sunday morning, late autumn. Dark clouds banked up on the horizon, the sea colour changed to a grey-green. A southerly storm was on its way. I was reading Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner. At the moment I realised the true nature of Mr Neville the winds struck the motel, shaking and rattling at the glass sliding door. No wandering along the beach that day. But what reading bliss it was!
This weekend there were people in or on the water from dawn till dusk. There was surf school, life saving school, jet ski school – fortunately, from the noise point of view, that was at the other end of the beach. We watched a cargo ship brought in by a tug, the dredge at work (the harbour is at a river mouth that’s prone to silting), kayakers, and kids playing in the waves.
There’s only so long it’s possible to watch all that before contemplating a swim. The beach is safe, the waves were gentle and the sun was warm. I was tempted. Yes, I really, really was. But one dip of my toe reminded me this is the South Pacific.
Despite what those boys pulling the boat out of the water claimed, the water was icy cold. Next time … maybe.
Instead, there were plenty of opportunities to do my Photography 101 homework, to experiment with light and sometimes get it right, and to relax.