A jewel in the crown

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Gillespies Beach is an absolute gem. I can’t believe I’d never heard of it before; I only ‘discovered’ it during my Tasman researches.

Gillespies Beach campsite

Gillespies Beach campsite

On my first day I had settled in, and done the filming on the beach that required midday to afternoon filming… this was the aspect that put me straight-on in the sun with the mountains behind. It was a beautiful warm day, so I shot the three pieces of dialogue in shirt sleeves and shorts.

It wasn’t really quite warm enough to justify that, but it would link better to all the other material I had if I could do it. I was however concerned about the weather holding for the next day’s shooting, as I was now committed to shorts and shirt (the pieces from the two days would end up interleaved) … if it clouded over, I was going to get very, very cold.

I needed have worried as it turned out. The nights at Gillespies were clear and cold, the coldest I have been out in, but that resulted in wonderful night skies… and warm sunny days (once the frost had melted). The cool had an added bonus.

This coast is famous for its sand-flies (like ‘midges’ for the English folk reading this). In summer they swarm in huge numbers and get in your eyes, mouth and up your nose… and they have an incredibly itchy bite. The cold nights, and cool but sunny days, kept them mostly at bay, and while I was at Gillespies, they were rarely even a nuisance.

My second day at Gillespies required morning filming. The shots for today needed me to be on the beach, but without the mountain backdrop. The background for today was tree strewn beach and surf.

I moved down the shore a little and set up. I would not be filming alone this day… I was accompanied by 2 dolphins, feeding just 50m off the shore from me. They made the ideal audience… they were entertaining company, but never made me feel self-conscious.

By one o’clock I had what I needed ‘in the can’, packed a picnic and set off up the coast. The information signs at the campsite said there was a lagoon about an hour away, and everyone returning from that particular track had said how spectacular it was. Gillespies Beach was such an idyllic place that I wasn’t going to move simply because my work there was done, I was going to stay to enjoy it while I could.

Southern Alps from Gillespies Beach campsite

Southern Alps from Gillespies Beach campsite

The track ran northwards along the line of the dune tops, ocean on the left and mountains on the right. All along the track the gorse grew rampant. Gorse isn’t native to New Zealand, it was introduced as fencing for livestock, but it has thrived here… and today, in full bloom in front of the snowy skyline, it didn’t look one bit out of place.

At about halfway the track turned down onto the beach, before following a small river inland. There, behind the stone beach sat the lagoon, calm as a mirror, Its stony beach ringed by bush, which opening up in places to frame the grandeur of the Southern Alps.

Wonderful…. just wonderful.

I sat on the beach, and looked, and looked. The noise of the surf was suppressed by the bends in the river between me and the sea, and there beside the lagoon it was utterly calm. The sound of the Tui’s seemed to highlight, not interrupt, the scene of total tranquillity. Even the occasional tramper… and I only saw three, passed in complete silence, not wanting even their footfall to disturb the perfection of the place.

I will never forget it.

Later in the afternoon I took myself back to the campsite and the beach and began setting up for the evening’s fire… I would have a bigger one tonight.

Fire and sunset on Gillespies Beach

Fire and sunset on Gillespies Beach

About half an hour before sunset, I lit the fire and settled in, facing the setting sun, and fully equipped with Swandri, repellent, coffee, and chocolate biscuits. I was joined by a couple from Austria, and we watched in silence as the sun set over the oceans, and then the peaks. Then we sat and talked softly as the sky began to sparkle; planets first, then stars and then the Milky Way.

It was a sensational show, the finale coming when the moon finally set into the jet black sea.

It was very cold that night, but the next day, the fine weather held.

Fire and sunset on Gillespies Beach

Fire and sunset on Gillespies Beach

When I’m writing, it doesn’t matter where I am. I could be in a town, or I could be on a beach… and given my current location, I simply couldn’t choose the ‘town’ option… I would stay while the weather held.

In rotation, I wrote about Abel Tasman, drank coffee, ate cake and custard, and walked up and down the beach.

The fire that night was my biggest. I had enough wood to fill a regular sized car trailer. By the time I left Gillespies there wasn’t a piece of wood worth burning within 200 paces of the campsite.

Fire and sunset on Gillespies Beach

Fire and sunset on Gillespies Beach

That evening around the fire I had company from all over; Kiwi (just the one), American, Indian, French, Dutch, German and Chilean. Several times I was asked where my favourite place in New Zealand was… and I had to tell them that this place took some beating.

I had deliberately stayed a day longer than was strictly needed, but Gillespies Beach was simply too good to leave… however, the forecast was now saying that rain was coming, so the next morning I packed up and moved out.

I stopped again at the Aoraki Lookout on my way out. As the skies to the west darkened, I enjoyed the mountains, bright, sharp and clear, one last time before moving on.

Then it rained for 5 days.

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