Northland: Baylys Beach—A Living Sandstone Sculpture

We’re already missing New Zealand, and we haven’t even left yet. Baylys Beach is the kind of place I will miss the most—the West Coast beaches piled with miles of sand dunes. The gullies and cliffs, beautifully etched by wind, water and time, feel like a gargantuan sandstone sculpture.

We headed north after an overnighter in Auckland for art exhibits and newspaper research. Baylys Beach was our first stop along the Kauri Coast route to NZ’s northernmost parts. It was also sadly—sniff—the beginning of our last weekend getaway before we prepare to return home to the states in two weeks.

Baylys Beach is spectacular … and was gloriously deserted.

Gateway to the Ripiro Ocean Beach, it’s NZ’s longest driveable surf coast, stretching more than 100 kilometers, longer than the more famous 90-mile beach on the North Cape. Though it looks peaceful enough, over 150 shipwrecks are buried in offshore sandbars along this treacherous coast, including a three-masted, 36-gun French man o’war.

The hardened sand dunes are embedded with layers of lignite, petrified kauri trees and compressed rata tree leaves.

Lava from Miocene volcanoes, which dramatically shaped the geology of NZ’s north country, solidified along these shores, which were once swamps that sloped gently to the sea. Oxford University scientists are racing against time to extract data from the layers, which hold clues to climate fluctuations dating back to the last Ice Age.


The patterns etched into the sandstone by wind, water and salt dazzled and seduced me. I’ve been daydreaming about these “sand paintings” for days now, wondering how to capture the inspiration in future artwork.

I think of the water lines as undulating timelines. I think about the waves, tangling with the sandstone, seeming to breathe heavy with here-and-now energy—and the other kind of energy, the red-brown dance of life and death.

I think about the word forever.

Continue Northland: Kupe’s Home at Hokianga

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