As the general manager of a surf school I pretty much have the best job in the world. Or course, one of my favorite parts of the job is taking students to new and exciting places…so you can only imagine how pumped I was to be going to New Zealand with some of our awesome iSurf ladies!
Getting to New Zealand is no joke. After traveling almost 20 hours door to door and wrangling everybody once we got there, we were ready to SURF! Our first stop on our epic adventure was Raglan. Raglan is a sleepy little surfing town with just a couple thousand residents but it boasts one of the best left hand point breaks in the world. We went straight to our bach, pronounced like batch, which was a cute, three-bedroom house with wood floors and a wood burning fireplace and got settled – it had been a long trip.
First things first – we went into town to rent boards from a local surf shop and I absolutely scored. I asked the owner about renting a short board and he pointed to a rack of new Hayden Shapes boards and tells me to grab one and take it. I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly so I asked him to repeat himself. And he just pointed and said, “Yep, mate. Grab one of them and you are off.” I couldn’t believe it! I skipped over to the rack with a huge grin and grabbed a 6’2” Hayden Shapes Hypto Krypto, that had NEVER been ridden, stickers on it and all. The girls all grabbed longboards and we headed to the point – we were so excited to see this much-anticipated break.
It was overcast, drizzling, with some chop on the ocean but we were determined to get out there and get a session in before the weather got worse. With enthusiasm everyone got into their suits, waxed their boards and made their way down the volcanic rocks that make up the shoreline on the low tide. After about an hour of trying to get into some waves and having little luck due to the storm chop, the group conceded and decided to see what else this area had to offer.
That night the storm really came in and left the conditions unsurfable for the next two days so on day two of the trip we went for a hike to the local waterfall. That was impressive to say the least. We walked along a lush, fern-lined trail with some gently rolling hills and a few creeks here and there for about 10 minutes and then all of sudden there was a roar in the background. As we got closer the roar got louder until we came to a massive waterfall that was raging due to all the rain that had been falling. It was an awesome introduction to the wonders of nature New Zealand has to offer.
With no surf to speak of we woke up early on day three and headed out to the Waitomo Caves. These Caves are amazing you guys. They were first discovered by the local farmers who were looking for their lost head of sheep and cows that had wondered off and fallen into the caves. When the farmers went in after their livestock they quickly discovered the cave walls were lit up like a starry night. The glow, it turns out, is actually fly larvae (often referred to as “worms”) and they use the bio-luminescence to attract food. This was something we wanted to see!!
We arrived at the location and it was raining pretty steadily. While waiting to be taken to where we get our wetsuits, headlamps, and intertubes we checked out the local gift store which was full of all sorts of regular swag that also happened to have lewd and crude things written on them – we had a good chuckle. Then our driver piled us into a camo painted Volkswagen passenger van and drove us all of 100 yards so that we could file back out and get suited up. We had to laugh since with all the time we had we could have more than easily walked over.
After getting into our gear we got back in the van and headed to the caves. We drove for about 10 minutes into the farmland where we parked in the middle of pasture and got out. After walking through cow pastures we made it to an electric fence the purpose of which was not to keep people out but animals and on the other side of the fence was a pile of 30 old car tire intertubes.
After rummaging through the pile to find a tube that was actually full of air, we turned on our headlamps and descended into the pitch black of the cave, guys – this was a trippy, but awesome, experience. At the bottom is a stream, which was ridiculously cold by the way, and we sat down, turned off our headlamps and slowly floated along the current. Suddenly the ceiling started to look like the Milky Way on the clearest of nights. Spectacular.
At the end of 30 minutes we reached the end of the tour and hiked back out which is a pretty cool experience in and of itself. Something about coming out of the pitch black of the earth into the light is pretty amazing. We followed the caves with hot showers and pizza nearby. It was nearly a perfect day. With our belly’s full and bodies warm we jumped back into the cars and headed to Opunake.
Opunake is a tiny city of barely a 1000 people, which also happens to have some of the best surfing anywhere on the planet. It sits along Highway 45 also known as Surf Highway and let me tell you that whoever named it was right. Our bach was a large three-bedroom house about 3 blocks from town. The host was so nice. They had built a fire and had the house nice and cozy for when we arrived. Talk about service!
The town itself consisted of one place to eat and drink, a local butcher, a laundromat and a few other odds and ends. So we chose to eat at the only place available which was conveniently the bar too. The food was surprisingly good and the drink, well you know, how can you go wrong with a nice drink.
The next day we woke up to pretty heavy offshore winds so we decided to get moving to our next destination, Rotorua, which is in the middle of the island. On our way through the town of New Plymouth we stopped in a great little café to get some coffee and a snack and were greeted by the nicest restaurant owner (are you noticing the theme? Kiwis are SO NICE!). She asked us about our travels and some other small talk. Then when we she brought our drinks out she had inquired about the surf for us and told us that she heard it was really good and that we had to go and even gave us directions where to go. Unbelievable! So, after we enjoyed our delicious drinks and treats we headed straight to the beach!
We could hardly believe what we were seeing when we pulled up to the beach! It was a clean, black sand, beach break with 6’ to 8’ consistent aframes! Only 5 guys out! We quickly got suited up and paddled out stoked to be surfing in New Zealand. Unfortunately, not too far into the session, one of the girls got injured. Luckily she was ok, but done surfing for a while and we all decided to call it a day.
Next, we headed to Lake Rotorua for a change of scenery and activity. About 40 minutes into our 4 hour drive we got diverted by a landslide up ahead. With the help of our trusty roadside map and of a local gentleman we rerouted ourselves through the hills along a very windy gravel road that naturally had no gas stations! After a near miss with an empty gas tank we rolled into Rotorua late that night.
The following morning we woke up to a beautiful sunny day that was going to make for some spectacular white water rafting. We rafted on the Kaituna, which boasts the third largest rafted waterfall in the world. Our guide was absolutely hilarious and the feeling coming off the river was akin to the feeling the best surf sessions give you. We headed out to the Bay of Plenty will the healthy buzz of adrenaline to fuel us.
The Bay of Plenty is aptly named with no shortage of things to do from eating, shopping, hiking, biking, sailing, kayaking, fishing, surfing. Everything seemed to be within a five minute walk – the beach, downtown restaurants and coffee just the way you like it.
After thoroughly enjoying walking the city we headed home early so we could try and get a surf session in on both the east coast and the west coast tomorrow before heading back to Auckland and eventually home.
Unfortunately, we woke up to stormy surf again but were totally determined to surf both coasts so we still paddled out. Having little luck we got out, warmed up with coffee, and headed to Raglan where we heard the surf and conditions were suppose to be pretty good.
Arriving in Raglan we dropped off the members of the group who were surfed out and headed straight to Manu Bay. We were stoked to see good surf lined up the point. With sets coming in just overhead and going for 200 yards there were no complaints to be made. All great things come to an end and we reluctantly got out of the surf to return our gear and head back to Auckland.
With what felt like the 100thcoffee of the trip we headed for the big city, more rain and to our inevitable return stateside. We went to New Zealand on a surf trip and though the surf wasn’t epic, we truly had a magical time. There is something about NZ – maybe it’s the slow pace, the people who can only be described as the nicest on earth, or the stunning scenery (Lord of the Rings was filmed here!) – that makes it so hard to leave.
All I can say is I’m already counting the sleeps before the next iSurf New Zealand trip and dreaming of the next round of magic times to be had! I hope you’ll join us!
Until then, happy trails