Watch for boars mate
Watch for boars mate
Road trippin’ up the west coast of New Zealand is beautiful. Waterfalls, lush forests, and seemingly endless beaches grace this country, making for unbelievable views and adventures. New Zealand also has boars, lots of them, and they are big, up to 200kg (440 lbs). When we tramped off on a six kilometer trail, we had no idea just how close we would get.
After a few weeks of skiing in Wanaka, my travel compatriot Sean and I decided to hit the road and spend some time on the beach and visit a few towns along the way. We strapped our ski gear on the roof of a rented Toyota Vitz and pointed it towards Punakaiki, a quaint little surfer town located on the outskirts of Paparoa National Park on New Zealand’s beautiful highway 6. After a few hours of driving we pulled into a hostel we heard about from some friends in Wanaka. Appropriately named “Beach Hostel”, it was located about 50 meters from the beach breakers and housed 32 travelers when packed to capacity. We were greeted by Hans, a German transplant who moved to New Zealand in the 1980’s in search of adventure and a change or pace. In the main office, where Hans spends most of his day, were hiking maps for different beach trails both inside and outside the national park.
We asked Hans to let us in on his favorite hike, telling him the more distance and physically challenging the better as we had been driving for hours and needed exercise. He told us about the Secret Beach Trail, about 12 clicks round trip. At the end of the trail is a beach that is only accessible by this one trail or boat, but given the violent waves that commonly besiege the area a boat was really out of the question. Surrounded by 100 meter cliff faces you have to follow the trail through a cave that drops you in elevation to the level of the beach. Also this particular jaunt featured everything from boulder scrambling, beach traverses, and even world class rainforest. Hans pointed the objective out on the map, and wished us luck saying if we’re not home by dark he’ll “have a beer in our honor” as we’re probably dead. Thanks for the encouragement, Hans. As we walked out of the office he added one more thing, “watch for boars mate” in a half German half Kiwi accent which still echoes in my head, even to this day.
We hit the trailhead just meters from the doorstep of the hostel and trekked into the dense rainforest. The trail gained considerable elevation right from the get go. We soon found ourselves on a cliff overlooking the Tasman Sea. The trail took us back into the woods and over a couple gnarly suspension bridges that shouldn’t be attempted by those fearful of heights. New Zealand has a lot of these. Five kilometers in we began to lose elevation as we descended to beach level. We then we were faced with a huge boulder scramble, the only way we were able to stay on trail was to follow cairns placed every 20 to 40 meters. Spotting the cairns in the boulder field was a little tricky as they tended to blend in perfectly with the larger stones that we climbed over. The kilometer long boulder scramble ended at the entrance of the cave which would take us to Secret Beach. We had one flash light between the two of us which made us wary of dropping into the cave, but as soon as we entered, we, thankfully, saw a speck of light at the far end. We made our way through the cave which was echoing with the sound of waves breaking against the shoreline. Hans would later tell us that the cave walls are full of cracks and tubes that help carry sound inside the limestone caverns making for very interesting, almost haunting acoustics.
At the end of the tunnel palm trees and sand awaited; although we were in New Zealand’s rainy season we happened to catch this place on a dry, mild day. We didn’t bring our board shorts however and had no intentions of swimming. Not that we could have anyway. The size of the breakers pounding the walls dismissed any thoughts of enjoying the water. We are elated; in front of us is a few hundred meters of empty beach, soft sand and palm trees. At least we thought it was empty. We ditched our North Face packs under a tree and threw the Frisbee around, a trademark event for Sean and me on our travels. You should always have a Frisbee when you travel, everyone around the world loves throwing disc, and it’s a great way to meet new friends in random corners of the world.
After a bit of tossing the disc we found a little lookout peninsula that required about a 25 meter climb to get on top. Nothing crazy, maybe rated a 5.6 at your local climbing gym. Sean ascended first. I followed. Up about 20 feet we heard a noise so foreign neither of us could place it. The only thing we could decipher was that we were in something’s territory and he or she was not stoked about our presence. The sound was of a large dog who had just swallowed something terrible, a mouth full of razors perhaps. It was horrendous. A combination of barking and squealing. Sean decided the jump from 20 feet to the sand was safer than any encounter with whatever was up above. He launched himself off the wall and landed hard on the sand. I decided that being about 15 feet off the beach wasn’t necessarily the worst place to be, especially if the creature (where ever it was) decided to bee-line it to the beach. The wild pig didn't jump, instead it decided to show itself and traverse long a little path down to the beach. My first thought was that Sean was about to get totally destroyed by this pissed off wild boar. As the boar got closer to the sand Sean began yelling and clapping, trying to make himself seem large. We both had read that this technique works for wild cats, maybe it would work on this thing. In the cave I had picked up a walking stick as a cane to feel for unseen obstacles. I left the stick at the bottom of the climb and could only reach it if I dropped down into the danger zone. The pig was not buying Sean’s threatening claps, yells and jumps. Looking at the situation, which was quickly deteriorating, especially for Sean, I could tell the boar had not seen me. Super hero time. I let go and dropped to the beach and grabbed the stick. Suddenly the boar saw there were two of us, and I was armed. I broke the stick in half and hurled one piece at the wild pig. It stuck in the sand right next to it. This left an impression. The advancing swine stopped. I broke the half stick in half again and continued firing. The boar, understanding the threat, retreated. Unfortunately for us, it ran straight into the cave. It chose the same cave we needed to go through to escape this paradise that was disappearing under the rising tide.
Just like that, the immediate threat was gone. With the pressure off, we broke into laughter as neither of us could believe what had just happened. How absurd! Sticks, a wild boar….how primal. Truth is stranger than fiction. Our celebration was short lived. We still had one big problem. To hike home, we had to go back through that cave and we had to do it soon. The incoming tide was on the way. We decided to walk through the cave making as much noise as possible. I grabbed my throwing sticks just in case. Screaming and blowing the whistles on our packs made the cave louder than a Punk show. If the pig was there it wasn’t in the mood to challenge us again. It stayed in whatever hole it was hiding. Perfect.
Upon our return to the hostel we told our tale to Hans. He was so excited about two of his guests almost getting murdered by a wild pig that he grinned ear to ear and cracked open a round of beers. The very beers he was saving to drink in our honor in the event that we didn’t return.