Buffalo Beach

it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, but New Zealand has a booming timber industry – has had for quite some time. prior to Maori arrival on the islands approximately 1,000 years ago, forests covered nearly the entire landmass. using fire, Maori cleared about 15 per cent of those forests prior to the arrival of European settlers in the 1770s. timber proved useful in ship repair – a constant necessity for vessels stopping on their way to or from distant ports. in the early 1800s, the population explosion of New South Wales further increased demand; and the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, which paved the way for rapid European settlement in New Zealand, increased the pace of deforestation with thousands of acres being burned to clear farmland or clear cut to fuel the timber industry.

Looking southeast along Buffalo Beach at low tide
Looking southeast along Buffalo Beach at low tide

we saw evidence of the timber industry – past and present – nearly everywhere while traveling. one of the more interesting sites (which, to be fair, we didn’t observe ourselves) is the wreck of the HMS Buffalo at the bottom of Mercury Bay in Whitianga. the area around Whitianga was once thick with kauri forests, trees useful for their gum and resin, and the harbor on the northeast of the North Island somewhat sheltered from the Pacific Ocean useful for hauling them to distant destinations. ships came from as far away as Norway, Sweden, France, Italy, and the UK to collect some of the 500 million feet of kauri harvested in the region.

the Buffalo (originally named Hindostan) was built in Calcutta in 1813 as a food transport vessel and subsequently acquired by the Royal Navy for use (initially) as a storeship. over the years, the Buffalo also served as a quarantine vessel, convict ship (carrying 180 female convicts to Australia in 1833), transport for colonists bound for Australia, and finally a timber carrier.

Looking out over Mercury Bay from Buffalo Beach
Looking out over Mercury Bay from Buffalo Beach

in this last capacity, the Buffalo came to be anchored in Mercury Bay in July 1840. while today the harbor has moved into the mouth of the river (significantly more sheltered though perhaps impractical for vessels that size), in the 1800s the dock and pier extended out from what is know known as Buffalo Bay, near where our first hostel was located. on the 28th of July in 1840, a storm blew into the bay and parted the kauri-laden Buffalo from its anchoring cables. when it became clear that the ship could not be saved, the captain steered onto the beach and the crew abandoned ship. it sank and remains where it went down. in 1996 a team of maritime archaeologists and volunteers from Australia located and charted the site of the wreck and in 2009 the New Zealand Navy investigated the wreck using snorkels; much of the ship has broken up due to storms and spending more than 150 years underwater though the hull, reportedly, remains in good condition. at low tide on a day with exceptionally clear conditions you can see the wreck from above; the weather never got truly clear while we visited Whitianga and, more to the point, we didn’t get directly above the site, but neat to consider all the same!

Minard Castle

one thing we kept realizing during the course of our hike was how much more spectacular the terrain proved on a daily basis, compared to Spain. we certainly saw some incredible, remarkable, breathtaking things in Spain, but there were also a lot of long, dull, unremarkable days. the route of the Camino was about getting from point a to b to c to d to z, more with a mind to the least arduous and most expeditious route. even if you set out on a pilgrimage with an eye to commune with a higher power or to explore and express your faith in religion, you don’t necessarily want that to take longer than it absolutely has to.

hiking the Dingle Way was completely different. the point of the hike is to enjoy it, to see the views, to take it all in. you’re walking in a loop! starting out you know you’ll end up in precisely the same place (quite literally, in our case). that makes the unexpected discoveries that pop up along the route all the more exciting — you’re supposed to be finding, seeing, and enjoying these things and when there’s no pressure to get to your destination at a certain time (*ahem* securing a bed in an albergue), you can take longer to enjoy them.

one of those places was Minard Castle, perched on a hill a few kilometers outside of Anascaul on an inlet overlooking the Iveragh peninsula

a and a remarkable large-stone beach. it was built during the 16th century by the Fitzgeralds, merchants and traders who controlled much of the region beginning in the fourteenth century, of sandstone and mortar. remains of three stories remain today, though a fourth story or attic space likely existed at one point. in the 17th century, Cromwellian forces detonated charges at the base of a corner, damaging but not destroying the building. subsequently, all the residents were killed in skirmishes with Cromwellian forces and that, coupled with the damage done by the explosion, meant no one made an effort to rehabilitate the structure. today it’s stands, technically out-of-bounds and unstable, though next to such a picturesque beach, it’s hard to imagine that everyone stays out.

Inch Beach

growing up, beaches for me were usually narrow strips of sand eked out along occasionally weedy-looking lakes. when we went to Daytona on spring break my senior year of college, it was completely novel that people were driving out onto the sand and parking. why would anyone take up precious beach space by parking on it?! well, when you have so much of it, it’s less of a concern.

towards the end of the trip, I joked that we spent more time on beaches in Ireland than we did on our “beach vacation” last year to Key West. miles and miles of long, sandy stretches with surprisingly warm water. the water in San Diego certainly wasn’t this warm to wade in while I was there last month! (apparently the gulf stream keeps the water around Dingle peninsula warmer than elsewhere, and keeps the climate more temperate throughout the year.)
the beach is backed by a series of dunes — reminded me a bit of Coronado beach — but is on a peninsula jutting out at an angle from the Dingle peninsula. Inch Beach is popular with surfers, apparently, and we saw several surfing schools soliciting participants. 
we arrived a bit early in the day for beach-goers, apparently. it was a Sunday and people hadn’t yet arrived for their afternoon lounging. we saw one hatchback get stuck in the soft sand just at the edge of the marked lane onto the beach, though by the time we headed back up the hill to return to the Dingle Way after lunch they’d managed to extricate themselves. during the course of the time we sat, enjoyed Bob Marley, half pints of Guinness, and filling meals, a fair number of cars made their way onto the beach. lots of families, some with vertical windbreaks of a style we saw a lot of during the course of our trip. maybe we’d just arrived to early for families — lifeguards supervise the beach from noon to 7:00 p.m. in July and August.
apparently part of the film “Ryan’s Daughter” was filmed at Inch Beach. as I’ve never seen it, I kept confusing it in my head with the horse race scene in “The Quiet Man,” which I know was filmed farther north in Connemara as I’ve driven through the village that claims the film. the pub we ate at in Dunquin also claimed some of the filming; part of me feels I should now watch it. (apparently it’s an adaptation of Madam Bovary?! set during the 1916 Rebellion …) the beach also served as setting for a film adaptation of “Playboy of the Western World” as well.
ultimately, Inch was the only beach at which we put our feet in the water. it was early enough in the trip that the more persistent and problematic blisters had yet to form, but far enough in that taking off boots and walking along the sand to put our feet in the water was an imminently satisfying thought. it was also the one on which we spent the least amount of time, as the Dingle Way does not actually intersect or follow along this beach. just the ones at Ventry, Smerwick Bay, Cloghane, Camp …

quirky Key West

you hear it everywhere from everyone — Key West is “weird”. residents pride themselves on being weird, being counter culture, thwarting expectations.

maybe it is and maybe residents do. if you get rid of all the tourists. or get away from Duval Street and Mallory Square. when we saw what were obviously native islanders, they certainly seemed a little off — exactly what you think of when you think of someone “quirky.” mostly, though, Key West is a slightly offbeat tourist magnet with kitschy gift shops, touristy museums, overpriced sights, and plenty of street performers. I cannot imagine being on the island during the summer or in the height of Spring Break season. it must a different world.

we did manage to get slightly off the beaten path, thankfully. after our attempt to eat at a very Popular Spot was thwarted by a 70 minute wait, we walked the mile and a half to its sister restaurant on Higgs Beach. in the end we probably didn’t get our food any sooner than if we’d waited at the first place, but the walk afforded us with an alternative view of Key West that we hadn’t yet encountered on our shuttle rides or walks around the northwest end of the island.

on Higgs Beach, despite the wind coming off the water, a group of leathery-skinned locals sat on chairs in the shade of a palm tree, chatting. a sign warning of jellyfish danger greeted you on approach to rather murky-looking water. and, perhaps the best example of Key West’s alleged “quirkiness”, a peace sign composed of coconuts that had fallen from a nearby tree.

in spite of the crowds and aggressively touristy nature of Key West, there is a lot to recommend the place. the off-the-beaten-path places that are truly unique and don’t try to foist themselves on you and whose merit speaks for itself, for one thing. and the sunsets, for another.

Bettystown Beach

on my last full day in Ireland, in addition to browsing in three bookshops (one used, two new) and buying three books (Waterstone’s was having a three-for sale, how could I resist?!), and not seeing Saint Oliver Plunkett’s head a second time, I took the bus out to the beach at Bettystown. it being a) the first week in September, b) after kids had returned to school and c) rather chilly, there was hardly anyone on the beach. as in Florida (and unlike San Diego), you could drive out onto the beach. since there weren’t many people on the beach, more than a few of the compact little cars went tearing up and down, thorugh the pools of water that had gathered along depressions the sand as the tide receeded, sending water spraying fifteen and twenty feet in the air. who knows, maybe they do that even in the height of tourist season?

in any case, the quiet made for a good stroll and time for mulling all of my experiences in Ireland. I even sat for awhile and read the campy book I borrowed, getting my butt rather damp in the process from the still-damp sand. not as damp as if I’d sat on the rippled surface seen in the second pic (that’d just be silly), but mildly uncomfortable all the same. the damp didn’t help my core temp, either, and I was thoroughly glad to get a cup of tea in a cafe around the corner from where the bus was to pick me up. good thing I asked in the cafe where the stop was — no sign, just an understanding that anyone loitering around in front of the laundramat at the appropriate time would luck out and the bus would stop. in most small towns there was a small post with a little Bus Eireann sign at the top, but for whatever reason, this particular location (in the middle of Bettystown, the closest stop to the beach!) had no signage.