Most of New Zealand’s special coastal spots are marked by lighthouses. Castlepoint is no exception.
Named because the rock formation on the skyline above resembles – surprise, surprise – a castle when viewed from the sea, it’s one of the wilder stretches of the North Island coast.
The lighthouse is erected on a low, rocky islet that is intermittently connected to the mainland by a causeway of sand, depending on prevailing wind and tidal conditions.
The scramble up to the lighthouse and around the weathered sedimentary rock of the islet itself is well worth tackling. On a good day, you’ll get a matchless view of the sunrise from here.
Inside the barrier formed by the rocks, there’s a lagoon and a fine, hard, flat sandy beach, used for the Castlepoint Beach Races which happen every March – in theory, at least, as fairly often a spell of easterly weather arrives with tiresome bad timing to strip the sand from the beach and expose the rocks.
The lagoon is a popular swimming spot with day-trippers and those lucky enough to have access to a bach in the little settlement of Castlepoint. It’s also the boat harbour for the local fishing fleet, for whom each excursion necessitates a complex ballet of seamanship and bulldozer driving.
The swell washes incoming boats through the gap between the headland and the island (dubbed ‘The Gap’ by men with more on their minds than fancy, romantic sobriquets) like a cork from a bottle, and as the skipper works his engines in the tricky tidal maelstrom, a crewman leaps onto the island and jogs around to fetch the bulldozer and trailer. Then, judging his moment, the skipper drives the boat onto the trailer, the dozer driver guns the machine up the beach and boat, crew and catch are all safe ashore.
Of course, if you feel the urge to watch this process up close, you can always sign on for a fishing charter. One benefit of working so inhospitable a coastline is that the fishery here is comparatively unspoiled and angling fortune certainly favours those brave enough to ply these waters.
The stretch of beach opposite The Gap receives a hefty swell which is surfable in the right conditions. And even if the weather cuts up rough, there’s the walk in the nearby scenic reserve to Castle Rock itself (you can view a little yellow daisy unique to this area on the way, in late summer), and the booming spray on the rocks will certainly keep you entertained.