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Mount Egmond; normally to be seen from New Plymouth. Now hidden in clouds

New Zealand: surfing in Sandy Bay

After our diving trip at the Poor Knights Islands we’re planning to leave the Northland behind us and go South: to surf in New Playmouth. Jeroen Jongejans, owner of Dive Tutukaka, however advises us not to go South: too cold. If it’s surfing we’re after we might as well stay around and go to Sandy Bay.

We decide to take his advice, rent two big board and head for Sandy Bay with the boards in between us; from trunk to windshield. When we arrive at Sandy Bay we totally understand what Jongejans meant. The waves are as high as our shoulders and are crashing far from shore, giving us a lot of white wash to play in.

Beginners luck in Sandy Bay

Excited and curious if we’ve truly mastered surfing we peddle out on our yellow boards. The first few attempts go as easy as in Muriwai beach, where we learned to surf from Kiwi Mark. It turns out to be beginners luck, because the next attempts we’re all over and underneath the board as we try to ride it. But at the moment we start to wonder why we lost it, the feelings is back and we ride one wave after the other.

Happy as little kids with our progress we decide the next day to make the 540 kilometers trip to New Plymouth as we had planned before. It means heading back to the East Coast. In Europe this would be an easy trip of maximum six hours. In New Zealand it’s a different story. It takes us more than eight hours and rarely we get up to the maximum speed limit of 100 kilometers per hour, because of all the sharp corners where we have to go back to 35 kilometers per hour.

Finally sheep

The views over the hills cover up for it. Especially when we see – close to New Plymouth – finally the green fields full of sheep that we expected to see in New Zealand. Up until now we mostly saw cows. The sheep really make us feel being Down Under. I can’t help it, but every time we turn a corner and I see a new paddock full of the fluffy animals I have to shout: sheep, sheep!

When we wake up the next morning we’re forced to cancel our surfing plans. Clouds full of drizzling rain are making the farmers and locals happy. They experienced the worst drought in 35 years. Today it’s finally over. But it also means it’s over with our surfing plans. We came for the sun, not for the rain. We can’t even see Mount Egmond – 2518 meters high – who normally dominates the skyline of New Plymouth. The mountain is furthermore known as Mount Taranaki. Captain Cook – him again – named it in 1770 after John Perceval, 2nd Earl of Egmont, a former First Lord of the Admiralty. The Maori name was always Mount Taranaki and they kept on using that name. The New Zealand government solved the problem in 1986 in a very Dutch way by recognizing both names as the right ones.

Taranaki seduced Tongariro’s wife

The Maori legend relates that the volcano used to be in the middle of the Northern Island, where it lived together with all other volcanoes. One day, when Tongariro (the mountain that still has its place in the middle of the Northern Island) went away, Taranaki seduced the wife of Tongariro. When Tongariro discovered this he exploded (literally) of anger and Taranaki ran away. The track to the place he’s now can still be seen today, because this is the Wanganui River.

The Maori have declared the top of the mountain a sacred place. The only reason they will climb the mountain is to find red ocher for their paintings or to bury the bones of their dead chiefs in one of the many caves of the mountain.

The first non-Maori who climbed Mount Taranaki were whale hunter James Heberly and Ernst Dieffenbach, a botanic from the New Zealand Company. They succeeded in reaching the top in 1839. By now Mount Taranaki is the most climbed mountain of New Zealand. When the weather is good, it’s an easy climb and you don’t need a guide. But the weather isn’t good. Not today, not in the next two days. And two days of doing nothing is more than we can handle so we decide to pack up Oesga (our car) again an drive on. Mount Taranaki just has to wait for the way back.


I wrote this story in 2008; now I'm finally taking the time to translate it into English.

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