Saturday, May 30, 2009

Winding Roads

New Zealand's small population is focused in several larger cities spread throughout the country, separated by geological boundaries limiting population growth. While there is room for more people, the mountainous terrain makes multi-lane highways quite difficult, time consuming, and costly to build, forcing Kiwis to rely on small, windy roads. This lack of infrastructure restricts how large New Zealand can get, and means that traffic jams are inevitable. Gisborne is uaully rather traffic free, but outside of city limits it's a different story.I left Gisborne driving east towards Mahia, continuing until I reached the turnoff for Patutahi. Patutahi is the home to two of Gisborne's seven distinct localities (the Gisborne wine region will be discussed in more depth during a later post). I made my way through the vineyards and past several wineries, all of which appeared to be closed . I snaked along some back streets before finding the first sign indicating my destination.I turned left, continuing away from Gisborne. The inconsistent drizzle, overcast but bright sky, and vibrant color of fall set a good mood for a country drive. I left the flatlands of Patutahi and began winding through increasingly dense forest. I came upon the small rural community of Rere without even realizing it, my only indication the decreasing speed limit and the small Rere School. I turned at the next street, which had a small sign simply stating, "Rere Falls 4 km". A gentle climb up a hillside dropped me into a large valley, covered in shades of green, yellow, and red. I encountered a ute (New Zealand for pickup truck) partially blocking the road about a kilometer further along. I quickly slowed as I noticed the ute's owner was sitting on the tailgate with his shotgun. I looped around another blind corner to find a herd of cattle grazing along the roadside (free cattle feed and free roadside weed-clearing). After slowly making my way through the herd, I finally reached Rere Falls, part of the Wharekopae River and home to a lovely park that is a popular summer destination.The recent rains had the river and falls flowing quite strongly. I walked around the small park and enjoyed the soothing sound of the waterfall before continuing further northeast to Rere Rockslide. After hearing about this natural waterslide, my first thought was Slide Rock, a natural waterslide I visited years ago in Sedona, Arizona. I must admit that Rere is a bit more impressive, consisting of a 60-meter rockface covered with a thin layer of rushing water that terminates abruptly in a small pool of water. To exit the pool, one must beat the river's current to reach a small path lining the slide (the picture below was taken looking down the falls).
I pulled into the carpark to find I was the only potential slider. Though Rere rockslide recieves visitors throughout the year, it is primarily a summer venue. The water temperature gets rather cold during winter, requiring those entering the water to wear a wetsuit (most sliders wear wetsuits despite temperature to protect themselves). The rain ceased as I walked down the path to the slide's peak. I decided I should suit up and slide, regardless of the uninviting conditions.Since I had never visited the slide before, I wasn't quite sure how things worked. I entered the water cautiously a few meters behind the slide's edge, intent on crossing the ten meter wide river before sliding down since it looked like a smoother ride. About midway across, I stepped off a rock ledge into deeper water and the current grabbed me and swiftly dragged me down the falls sideways over several large rocks before I awkwardly found the pool at the bottom. I made my way up the foot path and completed a few more successful slides before hiking back to the car, changing back into my warm clothes, and making my way back home. I past through Rere and back onto the flatlands, opting to take the longer route connecting to Ormond, then back into Gisborne.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Surfing Town

Gisborne is a surfing town, through and through. After a few days of big swell and poor weather, you can tell its starting to bring the town's spirit down as everyone anxiously awaits cleaner conditions (the forecast is calling for offshore wind switch Thursday). Here are a few shots from last week's swell (1. gloomy day, 2. evening at Wainui, 3. big set at Chalet, 4. waiting at Waipiro).

Saturday, May 23, 2009

L.A. Cetto 2002 Nebbiolo

This is the first of several reviews I plan on completing on wine, wine-related products, and other interests. They will be under "Review" in label menu. The shot below shows the Guadalupe Valley, the home of the first wine .
L.A. Cetto has been producing wine for over 30 years and has earned numerous accolades for its efforts. With over 840,000 wine produced per year and 2,500 acres of vineyards, Cetto represents nearly half of the Mexican wine market. Besides Nebbiolo, Cetto produces wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Grenache, Petite Verdot, Petite Sirah, Malbec, Sangiovese, Mourvedre, Syrah, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscat Canelli. L.A. Cetto is located in the Guadalupe Valley, just east of Ensenada in northern Baja California. Wine was first grown here in the late 19th century by missionaries, but only began attracting attention recently. Winery - L.A. Cetto
Location - Guadalupe Valley, Baja California, Mexico
Wine - 2002 Private Reserve Nebbiolo
Appellation - Guadalupe Valley
Alcohol - 14%
Price - $15-20 USD per 750 mL bottle

Color
- Garnet, with a slight brickish tinge.
Nose/Aroma - White pepper with strawberry rhubarb and a hint of toasted oak.
Palate/Flavors - Blackberry and currants, white pepper, toasted oak, tobbaco, and a touch of vanilla. Not a traditionally fruit-forward wine, secondary characteristics have dominant presence.
Style - Typical hot climate red that seems a bit over-oaked. Definitely a very clean and well made wine, though slightly out of balance (acid and bitterness seem a bit overpowering).
Food Pairing - Would go well with red meats and tomato-based dishes. Maybe carne asada fajitas with tomatillo soup or lamb shanks with garlic mashed potatoes.
Comments - A good value wine for the price. Shows an old world winemaking approach in a new world region, still a bit surprising that L.A. Cetto is the largest Nebbiolo producer outside of Italy.

Friday, May 22, 2009

East Cape Exploration

A beautiful Tuesday was quickly followed by a cold Wednesday with poor weather including a lot of wind some rain, and bad surf. As winter continues to bear down, the house gets increasingly cold. It reminds me of San Luis Obispo home, where I've been able to see my breathe before getting out of bed in the morning. It doesn't get particularly foggy in Gisborne, but it will typically hang low in the valleys on a cool morning. Thursday morning saw cold, onshore wind at the house. Since the swell was quite easterly, my friend and I decided to explore north once again. We followed the coastline to Tolaga Bay before continuing north another 100 kilometers to a small bay. The clouds disappeared and gave way to sunny, blue skies as we arrived in the small town of less than 500 residents that's best known for its beaches and fishing. The beach break is known for its reliable sandbars that produce great waves under the right conditions. The primary break of the area is a right hand point break rarely mentioned and located just in front of the town's Marae (sacred place used for religious and social events in Maori communities). Both the beach break and point work best on ENE swells with SW winds. Small waves at the point meant the beach break was the only option. We watched a handful of makeable waves come through but the overhead barrels breaking 20 meters from shore looked a bit daunting. We decided we could find better and headed further north 10 kilometers to another secluded bay. A small, indescript side road winds its way down the cliffs towards the ocean and terminates in another small beach community rarely discovered by travelers due to its remote location. We road several kilometers down the valley before turning off towards the beach. We hit the coast traveling back southeast. As the road turned to dirt, we passed peak after peak of fun beach break with no one out. After a kilometer of empty waves, we got our first good look at the point just as a set rolled, gleaming in the sunlight and feathered from the offshore winds. We soon reached the point to find a beachwood fire blazing in a clearing and six surfers already in the lineup (in the picture shows the point from the cliff; you can see a wave breaking on the inside in between the rocks). The wave is a relatively short, punchy right that provides a critical drop, usually followed by a short barrel section or a solid wall for a couple of turns. The wave abruptly ends into a boulder-rock shoreline, so kicking out earlier than later is the best way to avoid damaging board/body. Overhead sets and low tide made for pretty ideal surf conditions. The crowd quickly diminished, leaving us with just two other surfers from Gisborne. As the sunset, we caught our last waves before making our way back home.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

All Time

Now that I'm on holiday, I have all my time to myself and I'm enjoying it. After a good weekend of swell and the promise of more to come, I was ready to find some more surf. By Tuesday, a fresh swell and offshore winds were promising conditions. I awoke early and walked across the street to check the surf. Pines was breaking poorly, but I could see some good waves come through at Stock Route to the west. My friend Brent and I pulled into the carpark by 9 AM just in time to see a perfect overhead right come reeling through. We quickly put our wetsuits on before hurrying down the path and onto the sand. There were already several photographers setup on the beach and several local pro's in the lineup.
Since my flatmate Pete came down to surf, Ana came along and took some photographs from the beach. The first photo is local ripper Bobby, the second is unidentified, the third is Pete, and the fourth is me.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

First Weekend of Freedom

After three months of arduous work, my vintage duties have been fulfilled. After wrapping everything up on Friday (completing work updates, passing along my programs, cleaning out the desk, saying goodbyes, celebrating with the winemakers and a few bottles of wine, etc.), I was excited to have some freedom. I awoke Saturday to blue skies and offshore winds. The surf at Pines was small, so we decided to drive around the corner to Makarori's to check it. We found perfect conditions with chest to head high waves. My flatmate Ana came along and took some photos. Here's Leo below on a nice one.
A handful of surfers were up the beach surfing the point itself, but it looking pretty inconsistent. We decided to sit a bit further north at Centres, which was breaking very clean and only had a couple surfers on it. The forecast is calling for 6-8 foot southeast swell this week couple with offshore winds and sunny skies. Looks like I may be staying in Gisborne a bit longer than expected. I've been planning on heading to the west coast to revisit some of my favorite spots from my last trip, originally this upcoming weekend, giving me almost two weeks to enjoy Taranaki and Raglan before I leave for Bali on the 5th of June. Well, I guess there are worse things to be worried about...

Friday, May 8, 2009

Rainy Days

Gisborne's weather has slowly been changing. Now, rainy days are becoming more common and cold nights are signaling the beginning of winter. The water temperature has also been dropping, growing colder with every new swell. Large south and southeast swells bring icy water up from Antartica, much like northwest swells in California originating near Alaska. After failed surf missions out of town two weekends in a row, I've been able to track down quite a bit of good surf this past week. Despite some rain, Mark and I decided to drive just south of town past Midway Beach and the airport to the Waipaoa Rivermouth, a rather exposed and secluded beachbreak that lies about ten kilometers east of Midway. We shared a few hours of overhead waves by ourselves. The rain continued through the beginning of the week, but the swell continued to pump and conditions were relatively clean. I got a couple of good days at Midway's Pipeline that were well overhead and uncrowded. After several days of closed out surf along Wainui, a drop in size brought much better conditions. I surfed Stock Route, located at the southern end of Wainui, the last few days of the week after work. Cold weather made uninviting conditions but fun shoulder high surf with offshore winds can make one forget about the temperature outside (particularly if that person is used to surfing in Central California).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Turning Around

After an unsuccessful but enjoyable surf check north of Gisborne, I decided I should turn around and head home. Poor surf conditions in Gisborne the following day meant a trip south may be the only chance to find some decent waves. Once again, I loaded the car with surf gear. Gio wasn't doing anything, so she decided to come along. As we drove through the city center, it felt as if the town was hungover from the night before, with only a few people meandering the streets full of closed shops and empty parking spaces. Grey skies and a slight drizzle added to the ambiance. Closed shops faded to shuttered homes, which faded into open fields. Almost 90 kilometers South of Gisborne lies Mahia, a mostly uninhabited peninsula. Though a significant portion of the coastline is accessible, some is privately owned. Since it was a southeast swell, we checked the southside of the peninsula first, which includes such breaks as Blacks Beach, Rolling Stones, and Mahia Reef. We followed two cars from Highway 2, which seemed promising since they both had surfboards. Two surfers were out at Mahia Reef, but the rest of the coastline was empty despite the clean conditions.The surf was much smaller than in Gisborne, but was far cleaner. A slight drizzle began to fall. We decided to check the other side of the peninsula to see if the swell was getting picked up a bit better. Passing back through town, we passed the Mahia Beach carpark, where I was the only guest during a massive rainstorm a couple years before. The waves were small at Last Chance and almost completely non-existent at Mahia Spit, the most infamous break on the peninsula. The road eventually curved inland and turned from paved road to dirt as the drizzle turned to rain. Coming down the hill towards the Table Cape area, a series of reefs on the eastern side, the waves seemed significantly larger. Cold onshore winds made the surf look uninviting. After exploring some side roads and finding nothing, we returned to check the south coast, which looked even smaller than before. Another failed surf mission. As we left the peninsula, we stopped at the petrol station to get some gas. Unfortunately, it was closed. With the gas light already on, Gio and I decided to head the opposite direction 30 kilometers to the nearest station in Wairoa. Finding waves isn't always easy.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Heading North

Big swell doesn't always mean good surfing conditions. With the forecast calling for a 3-6 foot southeast swell, I was keen to track down some surf. Many of Gisborne's beaches are best on SE swells, but this one came along with some poor weather, including relatively high winds. I checked the surf across the street at Pines, but it was too onshore and mixed up. I decided to head north to explore the coast and see if I could find some waves. My flatmates Ana and Gio wanted to join, so I threw the board in the car and we traveled over the hill. Makarori lies just on the other side Okitu, 3 kilometers up the road from my home. It consists of four different spots: Makarori Point, Centres, Creeks, and Northerns. Makarori is one of the most popular spots near Gisborne since it offers a variety of breaks and has a large swell window. The stormy conditions were unfavorable at Makarori as well, so we continued on. After passing by Tatapouri, Pouawa, and Whangara (where Whale Rider was filmed), we turned off at Loisell's Beach. Loisell's is a relatively secluded break 25 kilometers north of Okitu and almost 6 kilometers from the highway down a rugged dirt road. The turn off is completely unmarked and requires a bit of direction and luck to find. Slowly winding down the hill, we were surrounded by rolling hills and beautiful paddocks dotted with sheep. Towards the bottom, we came across a small cluster of homes just before the road dead ended into the beach. We drove straight onto the sand to take a look at the surf. Finding poor conditions again, we did a bit of exploring before continuing on. Our next stop was Tolaga Bay.Another 20 kilometers north of Loisell's lies Tolaga Bay, a small town originally only accessible via boat. The largest wharf in New Zealand juts a kilometer out to sea at the bay's southern end. The shoreline was riddled with drift wood, mainly sourced from the Waiau and Mangaheia Rivers which flow into the bay. The East Cape region has a well-developed logging industry, which is highly visible at most beaches. Gisborne Harbour has a consant stream of logging ships to load. Though Tolaga Bay isn't best known for its surf, there are several good sandbars that form up and down the beach, primarily near the wharf and rivers.After fighting the wind all the way to the end of the wharf and finding no decent surf to speak of, we decided to head back home. Maybe we should've headed south instead.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Road Trip to Raglan

My last visit to New Zealand was in 2006. After landing in Auckland, I traveled south along the west coast to Wellington, then up the east coast to Gisborne before crossing back to Auckland via Whakatane. I spent my first six and last two days in Raglan, a beautiful little city of 3,500 people located about 160 kilometers south of Auckland. The renowned surf breaks of Indicators, Whale Bay, and Manu Bay are the pride of the area which some argue are the best surf breaks in New Zealand. When I heard Easter weekend meant four days off work, my flatmates and I headed west.We left Friday morning and took Highway 2 across the country to Raglan. The beautiful scenery made the six and a half hour drive seem much shorter. My friend always says that New Zealand is like a giant farm. I think of it as a giant garden. Well planned farms and estates blend in with the natural scenery, making homes almost invisible. I began reminiscing of my last visit here as we made our way down the valley overlooking Raglan's harbor. Despite being told that Easter weekend symbolizes the end of summer tourism in Raglan, I was surprised to see a crowded Manu Bay parking lot. When I was in Raglan three years ago, I only met a handful of tourists and it seemed rather empty. Even though waves were smaller than expected, it was a nice sunny afternoon. We headed out for a surf before we made our way to the holiday park back in town. Here's a picture Ana took of one of my waves. We headed back into town and checked into the holiday park, a campground with shared facilities including a full kitchen, bathroom, and game room. We pitched our tents and setup for the night before we cooked dinner and relaxed with a nice bottle of wine. We awoke early and headed to the points to check the surf, but found it was even smaller than the previous day and quite a few surfers were already out. We continued around the coast to Ruapuke, a beach break swell magnet thirty minutes south from Manu Bay via a dirt road that winds along the coastal cliffs overlooking the ocean. We only saw one or two cars during our entire drive since only a few people find themselves on this road. I was reminded of my last drive along this coastline when I barely made it through muddy roads in my campervan before I ran out of gasoline. Ruapuke produces powerful waves breaking along the black sand beaches. A light offshore breeze and head high waves greeted us as we made our way down the cliff to the beach. We suited up and paddled out, surfing well into the afternoon when the wind finally switched onshore. I was finally starting to feel comfortable on my new 6'1'' epoxy I picked up to replace my destroyed 5'10'' KR (sorry Kurt, wish I could've gotten boards from you). Ever since I was 16, I've been riding fiberglass boards, so getting used to a standard epoxy board takes some time. While it's an awesome board, it still doesn't compare to the boards I've been getting from Kurt. Our next stop was Bridal Veil Falls, a magnificent 55-meter waterfall just outside of Raglan. We made the fifteen minute hike along the Pakoka River to the falls viewpoint before we hiked to the base. We headed back to the holiday park and walked to the local fish shop for fresh Gurnard and Kumara chips. After showering up, we walked across the bridge into town for a night out. We had heard Evidence, a New Zealand reggae band, was playing that evening at the Harbour View Hotel. We arrived just as the opening act started playing. A healthy crowd and good music made for a great night. The next morning we decided to explore north to look for a legendary beach break across the harbor from Raglan. It took us almost an hour to loop around the harbor and back to the coastline. Along our way, we came across an interesting little creature, a hedgehog. Hedgehogs were introduced into New Zealand as a means of pest control. Unfortunately, this one had been hit by a car and was on was not in good shape when we came across him. With little we could do to help, we decided we had to allow nature to run its course.We managed to track down the street but found it dead ended into private property. While a significant portion of New Zealand's coastline is privately owned and beach access is not required, many land owners will allow others to pass through their property if they enquired politely. Unfortunately, the locked gate and NO TRESPASSING sign made it clear that passage was not easy to get. We decided not to bother and explored further north before deciding we were out of luck. We headed back for a quick surf at Manu Bay before the sunset.The next day we packed up our things and headed out early. We stopped off in Tauranga for a bit of sight seeing. Tauranga, also known as Mount Manganui, is a rather tourist driven town with lots of shops and cafes lining the main streets. After walking the streets for a couple of hours, we made our way back to Gisborne. After living in Gisborne for three months, it's begun to feel like home. Our road trip to Raglan helped remind me how soulful and meaningful travel can be and made me look forward to the weeks ahead after I finish my winemaking duties for Montana.