Walking with Giants: Cape Palliser

I recently read a wonderful article by fellow writer Sara Kempner on the Faroe Islands. It got me thinking about a trip my husband and I did a few years ago while traveling in New Zealand. Granted, not quite as remote, but just as enthralling an adventure for us. So I thought I would dive back into my memory box and share it with you.

Cape Palliser, New Zealand

We had already been in New Zealand in 2019 for a few weeks when we woke to rain, cold and of course a blinding gale. We had wanted to drive out to Cape Palliser, pretty much the Southernmost tip of the North Island of New Zealand. Due to the bad weather we almost didn’t — THAT would have been a huge mistake! Eventually decided to make the drive anyway.

It continuously rained and there were such low clouds, we could barely see. At one point the temp dropped below 9°C/46°F (it was Summer!) we were not really equipped for those kinds of conditions. It is about a 45 km dead-end road to the Lighthouse. We made it and ended up photographing the Lighthouse and the Coastline from inside the car in the pouring rain. We had to wipe down camera gear and the inside of the car with towels each time we opened a window, it was thoroughly miserable!

Sights in the rain

We stopped at a spot near the beach hoping for a break in the pouring rain. At first, I thought I was going mad, the large rock in the near distance was moving. Then I realized it was not a rock but a seal on the rocks. Between blending in with the rocks and the torrential rain, we almost missed him. Then we saw another, and another and then more. We drove a little further along the coast — seals everywhere, 100’s of them. Just to sit in the car and watch them, was a sheer delight.

Then the rain stopped and the sun came out ever so weak and brief, but enough. We drove back and then got out of the car and really started having an adventure. There were so many Seals and so close, you really had to be careful. If we got too close they barked (sounded like a cough) to warn us, but they were never afraid, even the Nursing Mothers. Occasionally we would get a little too close by pure accident, I mean they were everywhere and so well camouflaged against the rocks!

This is reportedly the largest fur seal colony on the North Island. New Zealand fur seals have pointy noses, long whiskers, visible external ears and bodies covered with two layers of fur. The breeding season is from mid-November to mid-January. Pups start to feed on solid food before weaning and spend a large proportion of their day playing with other pups and objects such as seaweed and reef fish. We were in a nursery!

The Lighthouse

We also went back to the lighthouse while it had stopped raining. Don’t get me wrong it was still very cold and windy, but by now we just didn’t care, after spending several hours watching the seals we were on such a high. I never planned to climb the 250 plus steps to the top, I was very happy down at the bottom. Although I am sure the views from the top would have been amazing. This is their shipwreck coast, losing more than 20 ships in Palliser Bay.

Stunning landscapes

We stopped at the quirky little fishing village of Ngawihi, managed to find hot chips and hot coffee to warm up a little. Fishing boats on handmade trailers are so big they can only be moved by tractors from the black sand beach. Heading back, on the long road toward Wellington we stopped at The Pinnacles. We did not get far as the rains came back and we were mostly walking on dry creek beds, already filling with water. We were not prepared for flash flooding.

As wet and cold and miserable as the weather was that day, I have never had so much fun in my life. Hands down the best day we had in New Zealand. Amazing landscapes and our seal encounter were awesome in every sense of the word.

Sometimes, when out in nature, you simply just have to breathe and live in the moment. These are the kind of moments that are meant to be felt on a spiritual level as well as photographic.