I had travelled to a remote corner of Southland in search of uncrowded waves to ride.
A cutting southerly announced my arrival at Porpoise Bay and the premature coming of winter. Low-lying cloud clung to farmland across the bay and above it rose thickset hills of deep-green forest. Apart from the smooth, sandy curvature of the beach, the coastline was rocky, jagged and unforgiving. Through a dull evening haze, I could just make out a small cluster of fishing vessels huddling in the lee of a distant headland.
I rented an old bach right next to the beach, waking around dawn to sublime silence broken only by the high pitch of a dog yipping somewhere. I glanced towards the window. The sky was still overcast and a flat, sepia-toned light filtered through the mouldy lace curtains.
After a decent fry up and a second coffee, I went for a wander along the sickle-shaped bay. The wind still had a wintery bite to it, reminding me that nothing but a few paltry islets separate this coast from the Antarctic. Apart from a couple of bored-looking seagulls and a lone oyster-catcher ferreting in the shallows, the beach was deserted.
This was exactly what I had come for – a soothing, all-encompassing emptiness.
In summer, the local camping ground at nearby Curio Bay proves justifiably popular with eco-tourists, although occasionally visitors get closer to nature than intended. I remember reading in a newspaper how Department of Conservation staff resorted to placing stuffed beanbags shaped as sea lions along the shore. Apparently, horny juvenile male sea lions were bursting into tents and terrorising unsuspecting campers. But the article reported that tourists were the only ones being fooled by the beanbags, giving them a wide berth when going for a stroll along the beach. The left-field beanbag idea doesn’t surprise me. Southland has a tendency to be like that.
I’ve travelled and surfed here a number of times over the years and always found the locals a friendly, if slightly quirky, bunch.
The Southland coastline keeps drawing me back. The weather can be harsh, the sea unforgiving when in the wrong conditions, but for me, this adds to the allure. The untamed nature of the place, as well as the ‘walking to the beat of their own drum’ people who choose to reside here, combines to offer a unique, low-key experience. Whereas other, more polished tourist areas seem superficial – even artificial in their overt ‘friendliness’ – visiting Southland feels as genuinely welcoming as a second home.