Sinclair Head, New Zealand – June 2, 2018
Yesterday, Leslie and I wanted to take a walk. It just so happens that I had looked at the Red Rocks area the day before. Mr. Google indicated it was nearly 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) from the parking area at Owhiro Bay to the Red Rocks formation. Since that was about one mile less than our recent walk toward the Pencarrow lighthouses, I thought it would be a pleasant walk for Leslie and me.
As we drove to the southern end of the North Island, we saw large clouds building. We were not sure what the weather might have held in store for our walk. When we arrived, we saw the clouds were across Cook Strait, hugging the South Island. As I parked the car, we saw a man walk from one of the camping vehicles out onto the rocks at the seashore. He stood there, soaking in the view toward Sinclair Head. He looked tiny and insignificant in comparison to the scene before us.
It was a chilly morning because the breeze was coming from the south – the Antarctic south. That translates into the Antarctic. Regardless, we were sure all would be fine once we began our walk.
Our first obstacle was a stream crossing the “road.” It was fairly deep, maybe 18 inches or so at the deepest point. It was also wide at this point, as much as four or five times the width of the road. We encountered the stream about 100 meters from the parking area. That made me glad we decided to walk and not drive.
We were some of the very first that morning to walk on the road. It was very serene. We almost felt alone in a vast wilderness. As we had thought after walking some ways, we began shedding some of our cold-weather gear. It was not bad when the sun was out, but if we found ourselves on the shady side of a hill, it did cool down considerably.
Not long after setting out, we saw an Interislander ferry out in Cook Strait, making its way to Picton on the South Island. We also noticed a fishing boat going back and forth. We were both curious to know what they were trying to catch.
The beach became rockier as we continued along the trail. If we had been beachcombing, I am sure we would have found lots of paua shells. They love rocky shorelines. At times, it did feel like we were walking on the beach. The road was very sandy. There were several points along the way that made me glad, once again, that we were not driving. I am reasonably sure we would not have made it back without some towing assistance.
The road was wet, so where it was hardpacked gravel, there were numerous potholes filled with water. There were two other points where we had to ford small streams. Neither of them was as sizable as the first. The other surface we encountered was water washed rocks, each about four inches in diameter. It looked like river rock that had been trucked in and dumped along the road. I am sure that was to overcome some of the more difficult, sandy portions. There was even one stretch of a couple-hundred meters that was covered in seaweed. That really smelled bad.
As we walked along, some people did pass us on foot. Periodically a vehicle passed us. One couple asked as they passed if we were going to Red Rocks. Of course, we said yes. The woman went on and on about how colorful the rocks are. They also added that if we continued for about a kilometer beyond Red Rocks to Devil’s Gate, we should find some seals. That extra distance was not originally in our mind, but we both mulled it over as we continued to Red Rocks.
When we arrived at Red Rocks, a family was sitting there. They had been ahead of us on the trail. The family was a man and woman with three very young children. I guess the oldest might have been six. We were surprised they were able to walk so far. Approaching them, Leslie asked if they wanted me to take their photo. They were happy with the offer. They posed while I used the woman’s cell phone to capture the shot.
Finished with that, we marveled at Red Rocks. They are only in this one location along the coast. There are not endless meters of the rock, but rather a very concentrated area. The stones are there as a result of the subduction of two tectonic plates; the Pacific Plate and the Australian Plate. As parts of the plates washed away over the eons and other portions were pushed up, the red rock formations became visible. The rocks are between 200 and 250 million years old. I am glad we were able to see them. They were stunning. We were also lucky that we arrived while the sun illuminated the rocks.
In several places along the beach, we saw private baches. I am sure they have continually wonderous views of the Cook Strait; however, they appeared quite primitive. I did see one that had a satellite dish, but the others did not even seem to have electricity. Neither of us aspires to live off-the-grid, so we do not plan to buy one anytime soon.
From our vantage point at Red Rocks, we could see Devil’s Gate. We looked at each other and said what the heck! So, the march continued. As we walked on, a couple of 4X4s went by us. We saw them drive up and through Devil’s Gate. That was when we first noticed just how steep and rough that portion of the road was. There is absolutely no way our vehicle would have made it through the “gate.”
Shortly before we got to the “gate,” a man passed us; walking with his very young daughter. On his back, in a backpack-contraption was his even younger son. They walked on through the “gate” while we continued up the grade. Nearing the top, I had to stop and offer a hand of assistance to help Leslie up; it was that steep. On the other side, it was steeper yet. Both of us had to go very slow and carefully.
Once we were on somewhat more stable land, we saw the seal colony. The man with the two children asked us if we were visiting. We told him we were. His advice to us was there was no need to walk much farther along the beach. He said there usually are not more seals beyond this point, Sinclair Head. We heeded his advice and spent our time looking at the seals there.
The seal colony at Sinclair Head does not match the numbers of the seals we have seen at Cape Palliser. Regardless, they were just as easy to see and access. There was one seal in particular that rose from a nap long enough to yawn and then lay back down. Obviously, the seal’s back needed to be scratched. The seal rubbed its back over the rock for a couple of minutes.
When we tired of watching the seals, we made our way back up the incline to the “gate.” When we got to the point where we could see through the gate, we realized just how far we had come. I know our car would not have made it, but I sure wished it was there.
Just at the base of the incline on the other side, we saw some vehicles approaching. I decided to wait for the cars to drive through. I wanted to get some photos. As one can see from the sign beside the “gate,” even the authorities deem the passage “extreme” requiring “suitable driving skills.” They even refer to the road as a “track.” That is a very descriptive word.
Two of the vehicles just contained a driver each. They seemed to be friends. Both cars parked at the base where the incline begins. One of the drivers jumped out, ran to the top of the “gate” and stood there to guide the other driver. That first vehicle was a VW Toureg. He did not make it up and over on his first try. The car slid back about halfway down the incline. On the second try, he did make it over. That driver came back to the top to guide the other. The second vehicle, a Toyota, made it over on his first try.
During this activity, Leslie sat on a boulder near the road. Suddenly, I noticed there was a seal very near to where she sat. Neither of us had seen it before. We probably would have stepped on it as we left if I had not spotted the animal. I took the opportunity to take some more photographs.
At one point, the seal raised and coughed a few times. One of the things I noticed when this happened was just how big the teeth are. It would not be a good idea to get too close to one of those wild seals.
During our walk back, there were many more people and many more vehicles. Because of the narrow road at points, it was a challenge to navigate. I think we both thought we would never make it back to our car. We just kept putting one foot in front of the other.
Ultimately, we did make it back to the car. From the parking area, I took a photograph of Devil’s Gate. We both could only marvel at just how far we had walked.