Castlepoint and The Waves of Wrath

Travelling in New Zealand is frequently an exercise in trekking out to the most isolated and extreme locations you can reach. I think Kiwis, taken on the whole, are probably more adventurous than any other country’s population and you can’t really blame them given the range of geographic elements the country is blessed with – mountains, lakes, waterfalls, snow, geothermal springs, forests, and fjords.  One of these remote and gorgeous places is a beach ‘town’ in the Wairarapa region called Castlepoint. It’s a convenient and worthwhile day trip from Wellington if you happen to be in the city.  Aside from the gorgeous and ruggedly cliffy coastline, there’s a lighthouse, a lagoon, the beach, and plenty of walking trails.  Castlepoint is also home to an annual beach horse race, I guess appropriate if you consider the original Maori name for the area, ‘Rangiwhakaoma’, translated as ‘where the sky runs’.  

Kaitoke Regional Park, Rivendell, New Zealand, Forest, River, waterfall
Rivendell Filming Location in Kaitoke Regional Park

My own visit Castlepoint turned out to be less scenic walks and camping than I would have expected when I first heard about it.  Shortly after being told that The Hobbit production was on a hiring freeze/periodically shut down, I went and bought myself a camper van and met a German girl named La Risa with whom I planned a road trip around the North Island.  We left Wellington a day after the massive Christchurch earthquake, stopped in the Rivendell shooting location, and then, on a whim, decided taking a slight detour to Castlepoint would allow us to greet the morning in one of the most isolated of grandiose landscapes.

Though the distance was something you might expect to make in an hour on a US highway, this was a trek up and down hills through the mountains until you reached the valley below where mandatory stopping for the single-lane rickety bridges across trickling streams further slowed our progress. Most of the sunlight was spent by the time we even arrived, but we still drove straight onto the beach and raced with our cameras towards the cliffs in the diminishing light.  I clambered up the ridge outlooking the ocean and saw the waves crashing up against the cliffs. The sight was absolutely breathtaking, though I was disappointed we had arrived ten minutes too late; the light wasn’t sufficient for photography.  For some reason I still insisted on climbing over the ridge onto the precarious edges of the rocks to watch the water washing them with white foam.

I knew it was a lost cause (as you can see from the gallery above), but I was still trying to snap photos when I heard La Risa yelling over the noise that I better come back because the waves were getting bigger. She was right. They were spilling over the edge of the cliffs and gathering for mightier blows. As I began my descent, a giant wave gathered behind me and suddenly the water rose high behind us, forcing us into a sprint down the cliffs for fear of being swept away into the ocean or hammered into the spiked rock.  Our momentum carried us quickly downward. Too quickly, and as the water came coursing behind us my right foot faltered and twisted. I slammed forward hitting my knees, arms, and head on the rocks.  Luckily we had outrun the worst of the wave, though it stil swept around us and I watched in a half delirious state as it carried my lens cap off to sea.   When I tried to get up my entire knee collapsed underneath me and my head was swimming, though I hadn’t quite registered the pain slowly creeping into my arm. I tried again to stand with La Risa’s support, but to no avail.  I’m just over five feet and at the time clocked in at just under 100 pounds, but she wasn’t much bigger and wouldn’t have been able to carry me far.  We were saved the trouble of figuring out what to do because by some miracle two men, on an annual fishing trip, happened to be walking on the beach and saw the whole thing — probably thinking what a dummy I was for standing over the ridge.

To see what waves look like at Castlepoint go 53 seconds into this video:

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To make a long story short, they ran over, scooped me up, and whisked us off the the ranch house they (and six of their best childhood friends) were using for their fishing trips.  Being Kiwis, they spent the entire night forcing cups of tea on La Risa and I, insisting that we drive back and go to the hospital in Masterton.  I spent the better part of the night bending my right elbow and trying to convince myself there was nothing wrong with it and that my legs would miraculously heal over night and we could continue the trip.  I stayed awake long enough to falteringly scribble down what had happened in the red journal one of my best friends, Jonny, had given me before my departure. It didn’t do anything to sooth my worry about losing the ability in my right arm and, consequently, any chance I had of doing Elvish calligraphy for The Hobbit film.  Sleep was going to be the only way to drown everything out and the quickest way to the full recovery I was hoping for by morning.  Needless to say that didn’t end up happening.  Instead I woke up around 3am with earth-shattering pain in my elbow (which I was still bending like some kind of crazed masochist) and when I tried to get up and walk around I basically blacked out and collapsed to the ground.

By the next evening, which was coincidently my birthday, I was back in the home of my fake family where my fake dad had to carry me around for the next couple days while I awaited surgery on the broken elbow (that I kept bending till the moment after the doctor looked at the X-ray and broke the news).   In total I spent six weeks with a cast on my arm and, lame as it sounds, the ‘bruised knee’ left knee and twisted right ankle actually took longer to ‘fully’ heal.   Don’t let that discourage you from going out to Castlepoint if you have the opportunity, just maybe remember that I actually got off easy considering the place tallies up a respectable number of injuries and even some fatalities every year.   And I was somehow covered by the healthcare system because I had a working holiday visa so I didn’t ruin my life trying to pay for $25,000 worth of surgeries and physical therapy.  Phew.  It also set me on the path towards working for Greenpeace (which as a backpacker in NZ is kind of a great gig).

fracture, xray, elbow
My amazing elbow fracture from February 2011.

Furthermore, I could still beat Stephen Colbert at Lord of the Rings trivia.

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