Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Trip Story: Porangahau

The stated purpose of our visit to Porangahau was to allow me to sample the "traditional New Zealand beach holiday." Apparently, many New Zealand families spend a week or two in a small beach town every year. I had been told about how relaxing this was, and was looking forward to experiencing it for myself. In theory, Porangahau was an excellent place to do this- it is a small town far away from the big city and has a big sandy beach. In practice, it had some flaws: no dairy (the New Zealand term for a small corner shop, which was to be our source of the ice creams I'd been told we would eat daily) and no bakery (which was to be the source of our daily meat pie lunch). In their place, there was a tackle shop that also sold the afore mentioned essentials as well as the equally essential bottles of beer. The pies were mass-produced frozen things that were reheated in a microwave and/or pie warmer and the ice cream selection was limited to prepackaged bars and cups. Neither the pies nor the ice-cream were bad, but they didn't quite live up to be pre-trip hype.

The other problem with Porangahau was the weather. It turns out that "Porangahau" roughly translates to "a big wind" (at least according to Hubby's aunt, who lives there). It certainly lived up to its name. This meant that it was usually too cold for me to consider going into the water, and often too cold for me to sit on the beach without long sleeves. To be fair, we were there a little before summer truly hit, and it is definitely a beautiful beach- long, wide, and mostly empty. You could easily find a swath to call your own and avoid any worries about anyone overhearing your conversation (not that this is usually a big worry in New Zealand; see the previous post). We did, however, have to worry about being run over by kids on bikes, both the motorized and pedal powered variety. Apparently, the large stretches of mostly empty sand are too tempting to resist. The bike-riding kids made me nervous, but we never saw anyone get run over. At least we didn't have to contend with the larger version of these toys, i.e., the tractors the locals use to tow their boats into and out of the surf. The fishermen went out long before we made it to the beach, and came back in well after we had packed up for the day. I could see the practicality of using large-wheeled tractors to tow the boats across the sand, but I still found the sight of a row of tractors parked on the beach pretty funny.

I spent quite a bit of time one day standing in the shallow water, watching little fish swim around my ankles. There were at least three different varieties, but all suffered from the same tendency to get caught by surprise when a wave receded, causing them to suddenly swim like mad back toward the deeper water, occasionally jumping out of the water in their haste. I found this hugely entertaining to watch. At one point, while chasing after the panicked fish, I realized I had gotten the true New Zealand beach holiday experience despite the sub-standard pies and limited ice cream selection. The most essential part of the New Zealand beach holiday is the long stretch of days with nothing much to do except sit on the beach, walk on the beach, or, in my case, stand in the water and watch little fish get surprised by the way receding waves make the water suddenly get shallower. Our trip to Porangahau had been a success.


  1. I was just reading some of your early posts and saw that the photo on your header is of Porangahau. I thought it looked familiar! (although I have to admit I didn't pick Porangahau, I actually thought it was further north - towards Mahia)

    I once had the great good fortune to spend several days driving around the Hawke's Bay 'groundtruthing' aerial photos for a coastal hazard study. From that trip, I have a bunch of stones I picked up off various beaches, some driftwood and a kete sitting in a vase on my shelf.

  2. Mildred Scholl5:43 AM

    I have never been to New Zealand and I imagine that's how the perfect beach life looks like! I've read a lot at and can only dream about visiting such a place!

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