East Cape and Urewera: Escaping Cyclone Cook, and a different sort of Easter

In 1968, New Zealand experienced one of its worst recorded storms when the Wahine ferry tragically sank close to the shores of Wellington, partly as a result of human error, but mostly because of the horrendous storm in which the boat was caught (thank you Jen, our teacher of all things Kiwi).

Last week, we north-NZ dwellers were warned that Cyclone Cook was set to be the worst storm seen since that terrible day. I was frogmarched out of Auckland Council, a hot cross bun in one hand and my work laptop in the other, at 10.30am on Thursday morning in order to get back to the North Shore before the harbour bridge closed at midday, meetings were cancelled, the council was empty by mid-afternoon, and even the university closed at 11am. Slightly worried by all this, and the many, many emails I was sent throughout the morning warning me to ‘stay safe’, I made it home by 11 and got on with working, waited for the rains and winds to come, feeling disappointed that the Easter weekend would bring on an early hibernation, and… nothing. Blue skies and warm weather continued for the entire weekend, and it appeared a whole lot of fuss had been made over nada as the bridge was never even closed!

Not that I’m complaining- I spent Good Friday morning doing one of my very favourite activities: brunching in the sun with my wonderful sister Rona and dog-nephew Rufus. And all this is not to say that the storm didn’t leave its own path of destruction outside of Auckland (although thankfully nothing like its 1968 Wellington predecessor), as once we headed off in our friend the VW Golf for the long weekend we came across blocked roads, fallen trees, and mini landslides all along the highways.

But you will know by now that we do not let a bit of poor weather spoil our fun. If we did, we would have had far fewer adventures these past 4 months- thank you, worst summer in NZ history (maybe don’t fact check that one).

All signs pointed to more wind and more rain, and just as I was wishing we’d stayed in sunny Auckland for the weekend we realised the good weather had followed us all the way to the South-East coast as promised (my life’s path has often been determined by checking the weather for the sunniest destination, it’s how I ended up teaching English in the south of France, meeting Adrien, discovering I love teaching… but that all seems like a story for another day), and minus a rainy night in a condensation-filled Golf in a campsite, we spent a beautiful day in the sun on the coastline around Gisborne.

Wainui Beach 

We followed our trusty off-the-beaten-path guide book to Wainui beach where a beautiful coastal walk to a derelict lighthouse accessible at low tide was promised- and NZ Frenzy, you delivered yet again. A small bach community to the left and rugged beach wilderness to the right met us when we walked down the sea-battered wooden steps to the shore, after having made a pit stop at a neighbour’s avocado stand- payment via honesty box.

Take a bag, leave a fiver! 

When avos in the supermarket cost up to $3 each, and here you can grab a bag of 8 for $5, you can be pretty sure you’re getting a good deal (or extremely ripped off at the supermarket- but let’s have a glass-half-full sort of day).

Avocado shopping done, we began the lighthouse walk which was simply beautiful, remote, empty, wild, with the waves lapping and me tripping over driftwood… blissful. It wasn’t possible to reach the lighthouse by foot at mid-low tide, so we made like mountain goats and scrambled up the hillside- and scrambling it truly was, as the soil crumbled below our feet and I felt slightly like I might cause a landslide and find myself rolling down into the Pacific.

Impersonating a goat

The adventurer in me wants to climb to the top- the rest of me would rather hide. We’ll never know which me would have won this battle!

Some time was then spent splashing around in waves like a child (my idea), followed by a drive up the coastline, lunch on a surfer’s beach, and a walk at the renowned mile-long wharf at Tologa Bay (not really a mile long- I feel like I’m often clarifying this sort of thing, the NZ settlers were into exaggerating distances it would seem).

In my happy place

Unofficial Surfers’ Paradise

660m long “mile-long” wharf

See a ladder, must climb it. 2nd questionable fact of the day: Adrien was a monkey in a past life.

Late Saturday afternoon we decided to visit Urewera National Park (translation: Burnt Penis National Park- I kid you not) and drove to a free campsite on the shore of Waikeremoana Lake, an enormous stretch of water caused by a landslide over 2000 years ago (not one of Cyclone Cook’s masterpieces). In the morning we, and by we I mean Adrien, carried my 25kg paddleboard bag up a fairly steep incline to another, comparatively tiny lake next to Waikeremoana, snappily called Waikereiti, in order to paddle out into the water (both aboard the board, kayak style), find an island in the lake with an access route and within that island, another mini lake. Confused? Think of it this way: we had our picnic while floating on the paddle board, and we were essentially an island in a lake, on an island in a lake, on an island. In the South Pacific. It was a cluster, in the very best of ways.


It was also one of the most magical experiences of our time here, having this entire lake to ourselves to paddle through, and then eating a delicious picnic while floating on the tiny Tamaiti lake on the almost equally as tiny Rahui island. It felt so remote, so untouched and unique, and we thought that maybe we were the first to lug a paddleboard up the hill (the reason for that probably being it was a bloody nightmare to cart up and down- but definitely worth it). A passerby did ask if we were carrying a dead body in our giant black bag, and I think she was joking, but my reaction was, of course, to blush and laugh nervously, and I felt the need to clarify it was “only a paddleboard hahaha awkward laugh”. It’s like when the police walk past- the most innocent of us feel inexplicably guilty and no longer know what to do with our faces.

Forget the Olympus, this is the Go Pro’s time to shine!

And that sums up our Easter weekend! No chocolate eggs were consumed, and bizarrely in this upside down life the trees are turning red and orange, rather than blossoming pink and yellow, but in the name of #tradition I serenaded Adrien with high quality renditions of any and all hymns I could think of on the way back to shore on the paddleboard, which he adored of course.

Thanks for reading lovely friends!

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