Leaving Waiheke was tough, but the transition to Auckland city life was made doubly so by the first and only truly awful lodging experience we had: a tiny AirBnB apartment (more like airless) downtown with dirty sheets (shudder). Our flight to Fiji being the following afternoon, we decided to hightail it as early as possible and squeeze in one last New Zealand adventure. We left in the dark wee hours, weaving our way out of the city and across the top of the island to Piha Beach.
One of NZ’s famous surf spots, Piha is a gorgeous black sand beach with reliably vicious break and a rugged but friendly little community (as a metric, this community of 600 supports two official surf clubs). After our brief, disturbed sleep, Piha coffee tasted like black gold and, munching happily on a savory scone, we headed down to the sand.
Piha’s iconic landmark is the aptly named Lion Rock. A partially eroded volcano of some 16 million years, Lion Rock divides Piha and North Piha beaches. A short trail up the lion’s hindquarters offers brilliant views and a chance to see why the rock was used as a citadel of last defense by the Te Kawerau-ā-Maki. Perhaps you can make out the crouching lion below:
Despite the somewhat humorous warning signs, it pays to be careful on the hike up Lion Rock, as not a few deaths and injuries have occurred over the years.
The views, however, wipe out any thoughts of danger and had us reveling in the warm sunrise and sparkling surf.
From the rock, we spied what must have been North Piha’s point break, already thronged by a flotilla of early-bird surfers.
Making our way down, we sat for awhile, watching the riders flashing through the foam, carving serpentine trails across the azure barrel curves. It felt like a fitting end to our time in New Zealand, so full of friendly people, craggy landscapes, hot sun, and salty sand.
Thank you Aotearoa for an unforgettable experience. Tēnā rāwā atu koe, tēnā koe i ō manaakitanga.
To be continued in Fiji…