Wild Beaches and Sharks
The last thing you want to see when surfing is a fin, but that is exactly what someone saw the day I headed out surfing at Piha. My surf trip was cut short, as the beach was evacuated, and people pointed and stared as helicopters and boats scoured the waters for the offending creature. They found it, too. It was a rather large Great White Shark.
"Wow!" I exclaimed as I heard the news.
"Not another one," I heard a laconic New Zealand accent say nearby. "We had one of those last week."
Piha is a beach located to the west of Auckland, New Zealand's biggest city. The road to get there is windy, narrow, and rugged, but the beach itself is well worth the drive. The Tasman Sea relentlessly bashes the rough coastline, and treacherous currents and tides often sweep swimmers and surfers away to their deaths.
The town of Piha is made up of little ramshackle holiday homes, their weather-beaten boards a lasting testament to the wind and the waves. In between these reminders of the country's golden past are the big new mansions commissioned by the rich, who only make it out to the beach once a month, and wouldn't dream of dipping their toes in the water.
Just South of Piha is another wild and windswept beach, Karekare. It is a place to inspire artists, and indeed it is artists who make up most of the population. New Zealand film director made "The Piano" here, and Crowded House recorded their "Together Alone" album in somebody's home.
To the North of Piha is Bethell's Beach, devoid of tourists and sight-seers. It was a home to the Maori people for hundreds of years, and I am sure I saw their spirits howling back at the ferocious wind, their spectral screams whipped away before leaving their long dead throats. Beyond Bethell's is Muriwai, where thousands of seabirds hunker down, hiding within their own feathers, to keep out the cold and the spray and the wind.
These beaches are all within an hours drive of Auckland, and are the perfect place to experience the wild places that make up New Zealand.