Waikawa Beach is littered with driftwood all year. Sometimes it turns up in the form of a thick mulch of tiny fragments. Mainly though it's variously sized branches and logs and chunks of wood, generally dark, sometimes light, lying hither and yon.
At this tail end of winter that can be a problem, as from around July we start to see seals on the beach. From a distance they closely resemble bits of driftwood, and you may have to watch carefully to see that dark lump at the water's edge is moving independently of the waves.
Even harder is when they tuck themselves into the cleft of a branch so you can walk past and not even realise they're there until the return leg of your seaside stroll.
One morning I watched a small dark brown odd-looking dog, or so I assumed, make its way down from the dunes, across the breadth of sand and into the water. That was when I realised it was a seal that had presumably been enjoying a quiet rest and coincidentally crossed paths with the dogs and me on its return to the water.
It's uplifting to spot the seals, but also a concern. The beach is a wonderful place for dogs to run off-leash, but not if they may encounter a tired seal pup. Not only are there strict laws about staying away from and not harming seals, but as I understand it a seal could inflict quite some wounds on an imprudent dog.
The other concern is with vehicles. Thank goodness the speed limit on our beach was not long ago reduced from a mind-boggling 100 Kph to a much more reasonable 30 Kph. That's still plenty fast for an inattentive driver to collide with an animal that closely resembles driftwood. Even more to the point, there are plenty of drivers who regard that speed limit as a mere curiosity and cheerfully race between Ōtaki and the Waikawa River.
This season so far one resident has spotted a live seal near the river, and another reported a dead seal at the base of the dunes. That one was more than a metre long, so it wasn't a juvenile.
The Kekeno, New Zealand Fur Seal is one of our taonga. Keep your eyes open on the beach this month and you may be lucky enough to spot one.
Published in Ōtaki Today, August 2020, Page 22.