The geography is extraordinary. A long, fossil-filled reef juts from the sea and, at the end of it, Castle Rock thrusts up, a massive buttress between ocean and sky. To the north and south sandy surf beaches sweep to infinity. Between the reef and the rock there is a sea-keyhole to Deliverance Cove and a lagoon, a rare calm haven on this often wild coast.
And, as if this combination isn’t spectacular enough, a lighthouse high on the reef adds a tall, elegant, white exclamation mark to the
Scenery as spectacular as this inevitably creates stories. Kupe, the great Maori explorer, followed a large octopus to the reef, discovered the cove and replenished his supplies of food and water here. He named the area Rangiwhakaoma, where the sky runs. Perfect. I’ve been here on days where strong winds bluster and tug, chasing clouds at sprinting speed across the sky.
In 1770 Captain Cook, a pragmatic adventurer and explorer, spotted the rock from miles down the coast and named it Castle Rock; it looks like defensive battlements of a large castle. He anchored off the point but didn’t land, noting there was a large Maori population in the area.
Archdeacon William Williams and William Colenso, an explorer, were on a voyage from Gisborne to Wellington in 1843 when they struck terrible weather. Their schooner, Columbine, was in danger of sinking. They discovered the gap between the Rock and the reef. Williams fell to his knees, thanked God, and named it Deliverance Cove.
I have stories, too, from my teenage years, when my parents, who lived in Wellington, kept a caravan here. There were storms so strong that the caravan rocked, the canvas awning flapped, and we stumbled about in the rain with torches battening down. And summer night beach walks, moonless but star-spangled, where we ran through shallows alive with phosphorescence, creating hundreds of stars of our own. And zooming down sand hills at high tide, straight into the sea – on plywood sledges that Dad had made.
It’s four decades since I’ve been to Castlepoint and I wondered if, over time, my memories amped-up this place and made it more magnificent than it is. But I’m not disappointed.
The reef, Castle Rock, Deliverance Cove and the land behind is now a scenic reserve. There is a proper path along the ridge, fenced from the farm, and people and sheep no longer scamper all over the dunes and damage the vegetation.
The path ends on a promontory at the foot of Castle Rock; I lean into the wind, watch three seals lolling about in the blue below and look south down a straight stretch of beach, ocean and farmland. There are more seabirds, now, with trapping and predator control, and bird fanciers can often spot white-faced terns, red-billed gulls, black shags, reef herons and black-backed gulls.
And summer night beach walks, moonless but star-spangled, where we ran through shallows alive with phosphoresence...
I walk back along the edge of the lagoon paddling. Though not prepared for swimming, I can’t resist the pristine, silky water and swim in my clothes. A crayfish boat zooms through the keyhole and meets its tractor and trailer at the lagoon’s edge, recreational fishermen try their luck on the ocean side of the reef and families walk up the path to the lighthouse.
Besides often being visually interesting, lighthouses are heart-warming in their role of keeping mariners safe. This light shines three fast flashes, 30 kilometres into the night, then hesitates before doing it again.
I walk north along the beach to the sand hill we used to slide down and, sure enough, it’s busy with kids. These days the corrugated plastic that real estate signs are made from is the favoured sledge material and, for novices, flattened cardboard boxes. Some whiz down the hill gleefully; others get stuck on patches of damp sand; and older boys slide down while standing, sometimes crashing spectacularly. When they tire of sliding they run straight into the sea, flushing sand out of hair, ears and creases.
Mums and dads keep an eye on what’s happening, consoling littlies who have copped mouthfulls of sand and watching the water to see the swimmers are safe. These kids are making magical Castlepoint memories, just as I did. Nothing much has changed – in the nicest way.
Reported by Liz Light for our AA Directions Autumn 2019 issue