The Art of Living Passionately
Words by @josh.hallam & photos by @ellgrayphoto.
As surfers, travel is embedded into our thoughts every day. Whether it be going on little missions with friends, chasing big slabs, or trying to chase the perfect surf trip...which ranges differently for every surf traveller out there.
A recent trip to New Zealand gave me a new perspective on my travel and the experiences and expectations that come with it...
It started on a cold Monday morning. I was in Ocean Grove catching up with good friends Cam Greenwood and Elliot Grey. We were down at the local surf shop when Elliot came in frothing on this idea. There was a swell heading to New Zealand and the flights where cheap, so I instantly jumped on the idea of exploring some places I'd never been before and had instant excitement running through my body at the thought of getting waves for a week straight. As usual, I started packing and already had expectations for the trip. The expectations and hopes were generally surrounding slabs and potential waves we could be getting and finding. I was really excited to discover waves and surf as much as we could each day.
We arrived in Christchurch, picked up our van (a Toyota HiAce) that had a dodgy white paint job and what seemed to be a little extra room welded on top that was a second bed for whoever wanted to sleep up there. First thing I thought of is what we could name this noble steed that was going to get us through the highest roads on the South Island and to the coldest parts of the coast. Elliot and I looked at each other after the first few bends and paddocks full of sheep (that we were beeping the horn at) and realised that this dodgy, over weighted, shuttering car was named Russell.
Arriving in Greymouth that first morning after battling sub zero sleeping conditions was a relief, although there was something about the landscape and the way this country looked that really got me excited. We'd been told about beach breaks around this area, although as we checked each one we realised that Greymouth was definitely not the spot for this particular swell. So we dropped into the local electrics shop, bought an auxiliary cord for old Russell and headed south. We were in search of that place where everything aligns and you score that dreamy setup for only you and your mate.
Heading down the west coast of the south island was fun. We were still fresh into the trip so we had plenty to talk and get excited about. We stopped at countless river mouths, climbed over countless electric fences and went through a bunch of cow paddocks while using the horn to scare thousands of sheep. We covered our boots in mud to check endless amounts of surf spots, in search of the ideal setup. Many of which looked good on google maps but were doing absolutely nothing with this swell. So we came to the realisation that maybe the west coast was just no good for the swell that was hitting or we didn’t know any locals to point us in the right direction, which is a pretty big factor when going to new areas to explore. It's funny how after countless disappointments in checking so many beaches and getting nothing you still have this sense of excitement, adventure and anticipation when you arrive at each spot. I think that's what makes us as surfers continue to explore this globe just for the possibility of stumbling across that once in a lifetime experience of getting that session you have always talked or dreamed about.
"maybe this trip was going to give me a lot more than just the usual surf mission I had always been on."
After hunting for waves all the way down to Haast it was time to head inland to check out some of the towns of the high country, as we were crossing to the east coast for the next stage of this swell. Waking up 30 mins out of Wanaka, I had a moment where I started to really appreciate this world and the beauty of its landscapes. The shift of my consciousness in that present moment was one of the best feelings I’ve had and it started to shift that full focus of just surfing to actually really wanting to experience this place, and maybe that this trip was going to give me a lot more than just the usual surf mission I had always been on.
We chose a hike to do, laced up our boots and headed off. About 10 mins into the climb we both had the urge to get off the beaten track and the desire to check out something that not everyone gets to check out. We decided to hike off the path and directly up to this Ridgeline. I have no idea how high it was but after about 45 mins of going directly up (almost to the point that we had to be climbing with our hands) we had blisters covering the backs of our feet and as we got to the peak we first looked up and what we saw was nothing short of amazing. The sheer size of the mountains and area completely blew my mind. At that moment I had such a pure joy with no distractions from anything going on in the world. It was just Elliot, myself and one of the best views I had ever seen.
"At that moment I had such a pure joy with no distractions from anything going on in the world. It was just Elliot, myself and one of the best views I had ever seen."
Shortly after our decent we jumped in Russell and started to make our way to a beach that one of the local surfers had told us about. Battling sub zero temperatures again with almost all my clothes on, it was a rough sleep. The wind had picked up over night to almost gale force and it was raining but not proper rain...it was hail and almost sleet with the rain. I was so happy when the sun started to come up and after rubbing the ice off the window I could see that we had made the right call. Even though the wind was extremely strong and it was still raining at times the surf was a pumping 4-5ft heavy, hollow beach break with one of the most amazing back drops I have seen. After cooking up a quick breakfast in the back of Russell, Elliot was in his suit and running out. I was a little slower and after unpacking my stuff for the first time I realised the 4,3 had a massive hole in it so I had to use my 3,2. By the time it took me to get into my booties, gloves, hood and wetsuit I was already freezing, couldn’t feel my hands and my feet were hurting. Unsure if I was even going to be able to surf, I sat in the car for 20 mins with the heater on until I was unbearably hot then made the run to the lineup. Once I was in the water the cold didn’t seem to bother me as much, as it was super consistent and there were plenty of heavy tubes to get excited about.
After an hour or so in the water I started losing feeling to my hands and feet so it was time to head in, warm up and head north to explore more parts of this coastline. Driving up to Dunedin the scenery was beautiful, the rain fronts were still coming through and as the sun was about to go down we set up camp on the top of a little hill on the coast. That night was noticeably colder, the van felt like it was going to be blown over with the wind and constant shivers interrupted any sleep that we wanted. As the sun was coming up I instantly jumped out of bed to warm up with a coffee only to see the windscreen covered in snow and the temp being below zero. As any surfer knows the feeling, a new swell had arrived and it was time to head out in search of new waves. As we were driving around we started to notice all the surrounding hills were covered in snow. We spent 2 days battling blocked, snow covered roads checking surf breaks all day and were given everything from blown out 15ft beaches to corners with protected waves lapping the shore. Being stuck in a populated area, getting no waves and battling the snow started to get to us. Being stuck in populated areas and getting no waves, wasn’t our idea of exploring New Zealand. The sense of adventure had started to leave the trip so it was time to head south to check a couple point breaks, knowing it was going to be colder didn’t bother us because the potential of uncrowded perfect point breaks was high.
Arriving in the Deep South was refreshing. Snow capped mountains reaching 2000m into the sky surrounding the beaches was a sight to be seen, that over whelming sense of joy was back just at the fact of how amazing this place looked. We checked a few points that were too small and the last one we stumbled across was perfect. Only problem was it was 1ft too small to surf. We then realised we were a day late. If we had of been there the day before we would have had a perfect chest to head high point break all to ourselves. Although we were disappointed with not scoring it, it was exciting to see a wave work that mechanical and good in that area so we marked it down and it's going to be a destination we will visit on a bigger swell. At this point I learnt that it is actually okay not to be getting the best waves possible on a trip. The adventure and what you learn about yourself suddenly became just as rewarding to me and this trip made me really identify that.
Travelling back into the high country for a couple of walks we wanted to go on was amazing. I have never seen such amazing mountains, black granite cliffs reaching into the sky, snow covering paddocks and Russell rattling his way around every bend was one of the best parts of this trip. We found a carpark that night after driving on roads that had warning signs of black ice everywhere and set up camp. We looked at a couple of hikes we could do and there was one that caught our eye so we decided to get up before sunrise and make the walk an hour into the mountains.
6am our alarms started going off, the night sky was full of stars and I don’t know what the temperature was but I had all my clothes on and I still couldn’t feel my hands. We set off for this hike having to run just to warm up and it almost got to the point I couldn’t hold my water bottle because it was so cold!
Walking through fern forests covered in snow having kea parrots follow us (one of the last prehistoric birds left in the wild with only 500 remaining) was an amazing experience, one ill never forget. A good friend had told me while I was on this trip “don’t worry about the path travelled or the road ahead. Appreciate everything you have right in front of you in each present moment”. Too often we cloud our present moments with worrying about what we can’t change in the past or what is in the future. What is in the future is just what will happen in the time after the present moment and what's the point of ruining the present moment with worrying about what could or could never happen. When we got to the destination this realisation really hit home with me as it was a sight I can’t even explain. For me it was more than just a glassy lake surrounded by glacier capped black granite mountains that were so big I couldn’t even comprehend. At that moment Elliot and I looked at each other and said “photos will never do this place justice” so we put down the cameras and just appreciated everything that this place had to offer.
Shortly after our decent back into the car park we fired up Russ and headed towards Milford Sound. I had been told about this area of the Deep South but didn’t know what to expect. Winding through the mountains looking at glaciers was another experience ill never forget. We went through a tunnel that was made by hand and carved directly through the mountain. As soon as we arrived at Milford Sound there was a cruise that was leaving so we jumped on with all the foreign tourists and began a boat ride through the valley of this amazing place. The gorge is 300m deep, that's 200m deeper than any part in the Bass Strait. Its highest peak in the area is 2014m above sea level and it has the highest mountain to come directly from the sea floor was stretched 1800m from sea level, the black granite cliff was almost directly vertical that reached straight into the sky. This was another moment Elliot and myself just realised no photos will ever do this place justice and we just had too sit back and appreciate the beauty that was in front of us.
After our 50 min cruise it was time to fire up Russell and drive 10 hours to Christchurch to catch our plane that next morning. On that drive we just laughed and shared stories of the trip. Nothing compared to what I got to see on that south island of New Zealand, we didn’t get the best waves in the world but what this trip has done for me personally was much more rewarding.
As a surfer, this trip has changed my perspective on this world and reminded me to really connect to the present moment away from the distractions of society. Identifying what I really want and the impact I want to have on the people around me has been far more valuable than any old surf trip just focusing all my energy to the search of pumping waves.
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