The day was sunny, but cool. A strong wind was buffeting sand into our faces, so that it crunched when we closed our teeth together. And Andrea and Jamie were using the floormats from our rental car as make-shift sand sleds.
This last part, of course, was not going to plan. Other than a faceful of sand and a bit of uncontrollable laughter, my friends’ efforts to “sand surf” at Castlepoint were unfruitful.
Good thing we didn’t drive all the way from Wellington just for this.
Instead, we had woken early to make the 2 ½-hour drive across the bottom of New Zealand’s north island to visit the rock formations and sea cliffs known as Castlepoint.
As evidenced by the sand sledding attempt, the day leading up to our Castlepoint adventure had already been rife with silliness. I suppose it was largely my fault, as I had kicked things off by driving down the Wellington motorway with the parking brake still firmly in place on our rental car, as Jamie and Andrea nearly peed themselves with laughter. In my defense, they couldn’t figure out what was making the loud squealing sound, either.
After getting our car issues squared away, Jamie’s morning became torturous, as Andrea began taunting her with a questionable piece of something that had been found in her Subway sandwich. It looked like a bit of burnt cheese, but Andrea was insisting it was a chicken liver, and proceeded to try and touch Jamie’s face with it. Jamie ended up huddled on the floor of the front seat next to me as both of us cried — she out of fear, and me from laughter.
This was all taking place, of course, as I navigated the narrow, twisting road along the edges of the Rimutaka Range just outside of Wellington.
Somehow, we made it to Castlepoint in one piece, after cutting through the Wairarapa wine region with only a few “Don’t-make-me-turn-this-car-around” moments. What had already began as a fun day only got better when we finally came within sight of the coast.
Castlepoint was breathtaking.
Or perhaps it was only so because we had to hold our breaths in order to keep the sand out…
After posing for photos with the lighthouse perched upon Castle Rock (the large stone formation jutting into the sea that Captain James Cook named centuries ago for its resemblance to a castle battlement), it was time to tackle Castlepoint itself.
This was where the floormat-sand-sledding came in, though the complete failure of the venture meant it only lasted about five minutes. Even if it had worked, however, I doubt we would have spent much time sliding down the small dunes. There was far too much to see!
We began at the lagoon, which was a brilliant turquoise color beneath the blue sky, but didn’t linger because of the sand collecting in our eyes and ears. We contemplated trying to walk out on the rock/reef that separated the lagoon from the sea, but decided to forego it in light of the gale-force winds that kept us walking bent-double.
Instead, we headed up into the cliffs, where at least we escaped the sand. The wind, however, would blow our hair around in funny ways for the rest of the afternoon. But, with the sorts of scenery we were surrounded by, this didn’t seem to bother us too much.
Once up in the cliffs, the silliness prevailed. Jamie and I discovered a high, slanted rock that jutted out over the water. We decided it looked like Pride Rock from “The Lion King,” and proceeded to take turns climbing it, pretending to hold up an imaginary Simba high above our heads.
Andrea and Jamie then climbed another large rock nearby, where they proceeded to sing — and dance to — “Macho Man.” Why this particular choice of song, I have no idea.
All the hijinks must have inspired us to be a little more adventurous than usual, however, because before we knew it, we were scooting along a rock ledge about four inches wide, hugging a sandstone cliff and trying not to look at the 15-foot drop below us.
While safety certainly isn’t a joke in New Zealand, many areas of the country – most in fact – are sort of “at-your-own-risk” ventures. Even twisty mountain roads lack guardrails. Maybe New Zealanders are simply smarter when it comes to safety. Maybe they’re just more badass than the rest of us. Either way, some of this sense of “I laugh in the face of danger” must have rubbed off on the three of us at Castlepoint.
After making it across the ledge, we found ourselves atop the cliffs at the head of Castle Rock, below the lighthouse. Here we had unlimited views of the white-capped South Pacific on one side, and the rolling green hills of New Zealand on the other. I couldn’t dream of a more perfect setting.
We lazed in the sun for a bit, watching a lone seal rolling through the water, and then decided to take some photos. Utilizing a flat rock and the timer function on my point-and-shoot, we joked that the wind was going to pick up my camera and throw it into the sea before we could get our group shot on the edge of the cliff. Half a second later, a gust blew my camera over, and I dove for it before it tumbled over the edge. We made a note not to tempt fate again.
We continued on to the nose of Castle Rock, where plenty of “I’m being blown over” photos were taken. I know I keep going on about the strength of the wind, but, seriously, Castlepoint is by far the windiest place I have ever experienced. As we trekked up the lighthouse path later, Jamie lightly mocked the little fence that lined only one side of the trail. Once a big gust came along and forced us into said fence, however, we were much more grateful for it.
And as we stood near the lighthouse, gazing out over the wind-swept rocks and cliffs that had been our playground for the afternoon, I think the three of us had a little moment. Yes, our adventure had been rife with silliness. But it had also been full of amazingly beautiful scenery in a natural environment that we had been free to explore.
In the end, the memories we made that day were worth the poundful of sand in our hair and the folds of our clothing. Sand can be shaken out of clothes and washed out of hair.
But fond memories… well, those are a lot harder to get rid of.
If you've been to New Zealand, did you have a chance to visit Castlepoint? If you've never been, would you be game for climbing in the sea cliffs?