Seeking Seals Along the Seashore

I intended on doing a simple hike to Red Rocks Scientfic Reserve this past Saturday since I was up early enough (5:30 am) to get a head start on the day.

It ended up being the longest, most desert-like, rockiest, and (unfortunately) hottest trail I’ve hiked thus far here. And oops, apparently it was about 2.5 km (1.5 mi.) just from the gate to the Red Rocks point. Add another 30-40 min. to reach Sinclair Head, the main seal colonization point, as well as the previous two hours trudging from my front door to the outskirts of Owhiro Bay, and I felt like the subject of that 127 Hours film. Despite me waking up before the sun was even out, I didn’t get back until past dinnertime…. but then again, who really sticks to a schedule? It’s the weekend.

Just around the corner...

Figures. I gallavant down to the seal colonies when the sun is completely un-shielded by any clouds (thus, no shade, no breaks in between the beaming sun rays). My luck.

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Follow around the green hills for miles to stay on the trail…

About 30 min. in (only past Lyall and Island Bay), I wanted to collapse from the beating sun… too intense. I understand why many residents here don’t really spend a long, continuous amount of time in the sun (especially if white), because the sun rays here are absolutely brutal. I’m sure Australia is even worse, but the sun literally bakes your skin if it’s a fairly hot summer day (I think it got up to only 70 degrees F, but it felt much worse).

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Not a master of the GoPro yet…

However, I’m always amazed by just how different each bay is…. and beautiful in their own special ways. Owhiro Bay is mere minutes away from Island Bay, and when you round the corner, an amazing view of high green hills, colorful homes and sparkling blue waters await. I grabbed a quick snack from The Bach Cafe before continuing my walk, and was quite excited to see that chicken nuggets & fries were listed at the top of their menu (the exact verbiage). The American in me was overjoyed, especially since the chicken nuggets looked like replicas of those from McDonalds (except much, much drier).

Nuggets & fries. SO good, even on a hot day.
Nuggets & fries. SO good, even on a hot day.

I realized that when I reached the entrance point to the reserve, I was yet again without a hiking buddy (story of my life, always wandering off alone on purpose). These large 4WD  vehicles, motorbikes and cyclists rode past me as I read the various DANGER: STEEP CLIFFS. DANGER: USE CAUTION WHILE WALKING. DANGER: SLIPPERY ROCKS. signs around me. Ha. No big deal, right?

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And then I somehow slipped on some rocks and did an awkward side-dive as a couple walked past.

That definitely boosted my confidence as I trekked onward.

But I kept on, especially since I got all the way to the entrance. With the ocean on my left and the mountains to my right, I figured there was no way I could possibly get lost.

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To say that the rocky cliffs and bordering hills/mountainsides were large would be an understatement. No, they were enormous. They made everything seem minuscule (note the size of the motorbike and people in the photo below). Like the rest of New Zealand, this reserve also had about 15 people (at most) wandering the long, rocky trail… but most were ahead of me, since I took my time sifting through sand, rocks, and lots of dirt.

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Sidenote: Frodo, Sam and Gollum were filmed at the entrance to the Black Gates of Mordor somewhere in this reserve as well. Everything looked the same– tall and foreboding– so it was quite believable that the scene was shot here. Well, if you just forget that Weta Digital digitizes nearly every single landscape in the films.

So many rocks, so little time.
So many rocks, so little time.

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RED ROCKS. FINALLY. There weren’t even that many.

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The coolest part of the trail wasn’t actually the red rock clusters (disappointingly, those didn’t even span very far, and you had to walk 1.5 hours first to see them). It was Sinclair Head, this massively tall incline where two large rock structures met at a type of peak. Before climbing up, I spotted a group of people near the shores, standing on precipices… attempting to get the best shots of a seal.

Sinclair Head, at long last.
Sinclair Head, at long last.

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Poor guy, he just wanted to sunbathe in peace. The other little guy I saw farther along down the trail also had his back toward me, and I didn’t bother trying to scale the rough rocks just for a photo. I figured that the magic of Google captures far, far better photos than any I could have taken with my iPhone or GoPro, anyway.

And see? I was right.

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The walk back was far easier than the walk there (as always), especially since it started to cool down and the clouds moved rapidly while covering up the sun (occasionally).

I stopped along the way to dip my feet into the freezing ocean water for the first time, believing it would help soothe my exhaustion. I’m pretty sure my body went into shock, since I didn’t feel anything at first. When the water washed away from my feet, I felt everything below me go numb, including my legs. It was a much different experience from other beaches– the water was pretty from afar, but when inching closer, it was still murky and brown. The sand wasn’t sand here– it was practically black little pebbles everywhere. Made it easier to dry off, but it also took longer for the numbness to go away.

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After much sweat, stickiness, heat, dirt, and humidity, this expedition to and from the Red Rocks was definitely worth it. To all the wary: Just do it. There isn’t anything like this in California, that’s for sure.

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7 thoughts on “Seeking Seals Along the Seashore

    1. Awesome! I HIGHLY recommend you get one before you come out here- mine was $500 NZD, yikes. You can get it much cheaper on Amazon or in stores in Canada/America. The GoPro is ideal for all the hiking trails and the adrenaline/adventure-type activities… takes far better pictures and videos than a phone, too (obviously). Worth the investment! 🙂

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