I grew up by the ocean., on the East Coast of the South Island near a sleepy little village called Motunau. It’s a kind of well kept secret: there are no shops, no tacky souvenir stores, no cell coverage and the camp site boasts no showers. It has a very nasty sand bar that rookie boaters often find themselves embarrassingly wedged upon. It is historically and geologically rich: There is a very small island that was once commandeered by the pirate Bully Hayes in the mid 1800s, to be recovered by local farmer John Caverhill, along with a young boy the pirate had kidnapped, who Caverhill persuaded Hayes to part with for a bag of flour, saving the boy’s life. The ship wreck of Kaiwarra lays beneath the waves, strung on a reef since the 1940s, still gifting up nuggets of coal onto the shore line in a king tide. Fossils lay trapped in small circular boulders, waiting to be cracked open like some kind of Jurassic kinder surprise. As children, an old lady who lived in the village would take us fossil hunting, cracking these bowling-ball like rocks with a seam around the edge open with a hammer, often revealing a fern or some other ancient plant perfectly imprinted inside. It is not the kind of beach that appears on post cards with golden sands and tanned, bikini bodies. It is much too wild for that. Big chunks of cliff regularly fall into the ocean. What was once coined Plum Pudding Hill by the locals now looks more like just a slice, with erosion having eaten away most of the landmark. On a good day, the easterly wind can be cold enough to freeze your bones to solid ice. It is absolutely, utterly perfect. It is my favourite place on Earth.
In this wild, unpredictable land we call home, we are never more than 120km (and that’s worst case scenario) from the ocean. We can be on top of a mountain and swimming in the surf on the same day, which is a very rare and precious thing. Everyone who lives here has a beach they feel is ‘theirs’, a place usually with childhood memories, a beach they identify with. New Zealand has 15,000 kms of coast line., so it is unsurprising that the ocean is a huge part of our lives and our culture. It is, of course, essential for life, producing 50% of the oxygen we breathe, but it also has a profound effect on our mental state too: it has unique meditative qualities, forcing our brains to switch off – a state author and marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols calls ‘Blue Mind’. This almost hypnotic state, induced by the sound of waves and the vastness of the horizon, is the perfect antidote to our busy, device filled lives. Swimming in the sea adds to the calming effect: ocean water is rich in magnesium, a mineral that is absorbed through our skin, reducing stress levels and improving insomnia. Early last century doctors would literally prescribe time by the ocean as a treatment for a range of illnesses, and with todays epidemic of anxiety and depression, it makes me wonder if they were onto something. When we talk so much about struggling with mindfulness, we could all find at least some of the answers by driving to the nearest beach. It’s surprising what time by the ocean can fix, or at the very least, improve.
John F. Kennedy wrote “It is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea -whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back to whence we came”. Once we are connected to the ocean, once we fall in love with it, it pulls us toward it forever.
To read more about the history of Motunau, read “Motunau or The Hills Of Home”, by T.E Roberts.
To learn more about the Kaiwarra : https://nzshipmarine.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/832