Sunday, April 13, 2014

Exploring New Zealand's East Coast

Does this count as a selfie?
It had rained as I slept. The sky was still overcast and threatened further downpour as I pulled out of the turnoff where I had spent the night. Ocean Beach was my first destination, as recommended by a local out of Napier the night before. Hopefully I would score.

Ocean Beach is hardly what I expected. It consists of approximately 5 permanent residential structures and two to three more trailers, all parked in front of a rather desolate stretch of beach, lined by green grassy hills from horizon to horizon. There were certainly waves. And current. Lots of it. The swell had arrived as predicted, but the wind was uncooperative. For those of you who don't surf, that means a near impossible paddle through heaving white water. There were no clear sets, just choppy white caps giving up their foam to the stormy skies. I decided to brave the paddle in hopes of finding that single drop in.

I didn't make it very far. The disorganized waves seemed to conspire to push me back to shore as my shoulders burned with futile effort. The current swept me down the beach several hundred yards in a matter of minutes. Exhausted and panting, I finally left the water and trudged back up the beach. And tried again.

This time, I waited and watched the waves first. I did what I should have done from the beginning: Observed the ocean before choosing how to attack. I found what looked like a patch of deep water that might provide a rip out past the breaking waves and waited for a lull in the sets. My patience paid off and I was soon past the white water, waiting for my first wave.

There were no clean lines, no curling lips. Only moving peaks that might provide a drop and a two or three second ride. But it was enough. I was in the water. Looking back at shore provided a beautiful if somewhat gloomy backdrop of ominous sky and mountain tops.

As I waited for a wave to come my way, I began to notice that the rip that had so conveniently taken me past the break was now dragging me even farther out to sea. Already tired from the exertion of making it this far, I became nervous about being taken out so far. I began to paddle back towards the beach and found it almost as difficult to make it back in as it was to get out. But an obliging wave came through and provided me with both my exit and a fun little ride back to the beach.

Surfing wasn't so successful, but this log provided a few good long exposures.
I decided to call it quits, based on the conditions and opted to use the morning for exploration and photography of the beach before driving on to Waimarama.

A 15 second exposure from Waimarama Beach towards Bare Island.
Waimarama was only slightly more surfable than Ocean Beach and it wasn't long before I was out of the water and taking pictures again. I was able to take the picture below using my new 10 stop neutral density filter from hitech. Unfortunately, there was a lot of light leak, something that the filter received mixed reviews about online. The corners of the image were covered in flares of bright vignetting. I was forced to crop a large bottom section out and spend a lot of time with a healing tool to fix the top corners. The end result was still quite satisfying for my first try at a daytime long exposure.

I spent a good portion of the afternoon walking up and down the beach, drawing curious looks from locals as I waded around in my wet suit with a heavy tripod and camera. As the afternoon grew to a close, I stripped out of my wetsuit, and prepared to head to Castlepoint 4 hours down the coast.