Grey days, seals and penguins, and a photoshoot
I was walking my dog along the beach last week when a half-naked man darted in front of us.
The day was grey, cold and blustery. Clad only in swim trunks, the man, who looked to be in his 40s, ran across the sand, kicked his way through the incoming surf, and dived under the next wave.
Then he was out, running back up the beach and past me. He threw me a quick, polite smile. I smiled back. I wanted to say, I’m like you. I also wanted to say, Why so quick? You missed the best part! Bobbing around and enjoying the moment. But that’s my experience. Perhaps for him, that two-second dive is the best part. Perhaps it resets him for the day without giving him hypothermia. I admired the simplicity: togs, towel, done.
We were nervous. The air temp was about 9.5, the water similar. Barely any wind, but cloudy, and three days earlier a fierce southerly storm with 130 kph winds had ripped through Wellington, churning up the sea and chilling everyone to the bone.
We stepped in, gingerly. By the time I was up to my waist, my body was shivering, a cold embrace. That waist-level band of ice is always the last hurdle for me. Once I’m past that, I feel great. We bobbed around for a bit and I took a few photos of the snow-dusted Tararua mountains and the flat water.
There were just three of us – several of our crew are back in their European homelands for the summer, enjoying visits that haven’t been feasible for the past few years – and we had a nice chat as we got dressed afterwards. “Brrr!” yelled a cyclist as he pedalled past us on the road above the cove.
I spontaneously jumped in the sea after a workout at home. I only stayed in for a minute or two because I was alone (apart from others on the beach). Apparently the sea was 8.5 that day, but because my body was so warm to start with I didn’t really feel it. Look how dark it was at 1pm as the clouds hung heavy with unshed rain. The sea was still a tad murky from the previous week’s storm.
For my science writing course, I have been describing a leopard seal’s visit to Seatoun last year during Level 4 lockdown. Did you know male leopard seals sing underwater? They trill high notes to defend their territory and attract females. Here’s a YouTube video so you can have a listen. Leopard seals weigh about 500kg and can swim up to 40kph. They usually live in Antarctica but sometimes stray north in the winter, resting on our beaches. They have long, thin, spotted bodies and big teeth. They are the only known seals to kill and eat other seal species (and also penguins). They can be aggressive, so if you see one stay at least 20m away and call 0800 LEOPARD (in NZ) to report a sighting.
Here’s a photo I took of the leopard seal visitor in lockdown 2021 (normally there would be a barrier, crowds, and TV crew).
On Sunday, despite the rain and a week of broken sleep, I went along to a local planting event for the kororā (little blue penguins) with a group called Places For Penguins (Forest & Bird). Planting certain natives along the coast gives the kororā and other birds species such as oystercatchers more shelter, and helps with coastal erosion. Also it’s just generally good for the ecosystem and plant diversity etc. so I was glad I went. The coast gives me so much and this is a small way to give back. Looking forward to visiting ‘my’ little plants in the future and I hope they do well.
Another first today: a magazine photoshoot in my togs.
As an author of maritime history books, I’ve done coastal photoshoots before (find an article about a maritime writer and chances are there’ll be an accompanying photo of them staring moodily out to sea). But I've always been fully clothed in those. This morning’s shoot was for a popular NZ magazine to go with an article about the morning swim group (there’s a cool story there, which I’ll share once the magazine’s out). It’s not about me but I’m in the group photo, perched on a sharp rock in my togs and woolly hat, punching the air (as prompted) with everyone else (about 10 people showed up at 7:15am). I felt a little impostery because I don’t religiously attend every morning swim, but I do go to some of them! Anyway, it was fun. And it reminded me how much I enjoy that early buzz of a pink sunrise and a happy bob and chat in the water. The wind was strong but the water wasn’t too cold, definitely above 10 degrees!
Someone I know was walking past the beach at that time and took a few pics of us just as we were getting out (photos by Suzanne Cookson).
I’m inspired! I’ve just come back from a sweltering Europe and keen to duck under the Sydney waves tomorrow. Bit nervous though haha