Caroline Bay, Timaru, New Zealand
What fun to be back in the waters I grew up in, I stroke down to the far end of the bay that used to scare me as a kid, I pull up and my feet touch down on a soft sandy bottom, looking up I see a cliff face, there are rugged rocks at very the bottom of the cliff and then golden warm sand, there is the remnant of some wood from something built in the bay long ago, it is half exposed and looks like perhaps an old dock or jetty, for now it is the perfect turnaround marker, with that I turn and swim back parallel to the Bay, I notice I have to pull a lot harder on the way back, a sure sign that the water is moving in a northerly flow up the coast, I am currently swimming south.
I am safe and secure in Caroline Bay, not was the case back in the 1860’s when the first ships began using Caroline Bay to transport goods such as frozen mutton, beer, timber and coal, to name a few to and from the growing settlement of Timaru, there was no Harbor and the ships would anchor in Caroline Bay, the cargo was then loaded into landing boats which were hauled up to the beach by a man-powered cable, in later years by a steam engine. Here was the issue, many Captains refused to observe regulations and would anchor too close to shore in order to load and unload their cargo’s faster, there were not the long range weather forecasts of today, this lack of warning of bad weather coming and raging seas led to 29 wrecks in 20 years in this very Bay, the northerly flow of the water combined with raging weather would smash ships into the very cliff face I was below.
The strange thing is I never knew this as a kid growing up.I continue to swim laps of the bay down and back to my wood turn around marker, after 4 laps, my watch tells me it is time for Dad to pick me up, I walk out of the water on the soft, golden sand, scoop up my back pack and there is Dad, perfect timing. Oh and the wild life at Caroline Bay, Blue Penguins, adorable, they are white on the front and look like they are wearing a men’s long formal dinner jacket made of denim.
A Hometown History Lesson…..
I stroll up to the car ” Hi Dad, how was your meeting?” I smile as I ask Dad the question, it is so great to see him, and just days before his 80th Birthday celebrations, we are treated to a rare one on one chat, I love a bit of a “chin wag” with dad. ” Dad, do you know what the cliffs at the end of the beach are called?”, I ask, ” They are the Benvenue Cliffs of course, named after ” The Benvenue” a ship wrecked at the base of the cliffs, 1882 it was, do you want to drive down and take a look?” he replies with a wide grin, Dad loves history and I am discovering I love it too, “Yes, let’s go” , I reply jumping into the car.
Before we know it we are driving by the new Aquatic Center en-route to the Benvenue Cliffs,” I used to swim here as a kid, all the time, remember?”, I gaze at the pool as we drive by, ” Yes, I remember” says Dad,”we used to buy you a seasons pass, your hair was always wet”, I smiled, it was, I remember going to Piano lessons and making my teacher cross when my pigtails would drip on the piano keys and my wet bathing suit would leave a big wet patch on the piano stool soaking the attire of her next student, when I went to ballet the ballet teacher would get cross when I would drip water from my hair as we galloped around the room to warm up at the start of our ballet lesson ( well I galloped, the other girls seemed to be pointing their toes)
We pull up at the top of the Cliffs, there is an informative information board about the Benvenue, of course Dad has the full story…
” At midnight a curiously heavy sea rose, the roaring of the crashing waves could be heard miles away, the day, strangely was bright and eerily full of sunshine, not stormy at all, there were 5 vessels lying at anchor, The Benvenue began drifting to the beach at midday with a cargo full of coal, her crew took refuge on another vessel “The City of Perth”, which also began drifting, volunteers launched surf boats to rescue the crew, the boats themselves got in trouble, boats had to go to rescue the rescuers, all the time a horrified town’s folk stood above on the cliffs watching the horror of drowning men at sea, all and all 8 men drowned, afterwards ships were anchored 1.5 miles off shore, The City of Perth was re-floated and renamed, decking from the Benvenue was taken to build a house, after other wrecks hundreds of people would drive to Caroline Bay to collect cargo washed up from the beach, after one wreck 11,000 frozen sides of mutton ( sheep) were scooped up by the townsfolk”
So, Dad, here is my question, ” the cliff doesn’t look quite as high and the rocks not as rugged as in the photos on the information board, and I am surprised there are not more remanemts of the wrecks here in the Bay, where is all the wreckage?” I ask puzzled.
“Under the sand”, he replies as if it is the most elementary of answers, indeed the answer was staring me straight in the face, ” it’s all under the sand, how can that be?”, I exclaim. Well Charlotte, this did not used to be a sandy beach like it is today, after the Timaru Harobor was built, shingle carried on ocean currents hit the man made breakwater, the pulverised shingle carried northwards to the other side of the breakwater as sand and settled in Caroline Bay covering the rugged rocks and eventually creating a long sandy beach, it continues to reclaim land well over 100 acres has been added to the beach, I have a book at home on the settlement of the area if you want to read it?”, Dad asks,, ” Yes I do, and that explains to me why the beach looks so much bigger and unfamiliar, it is essentially a new beach since I was a kid!”
We start the drive back to Dad’s house from Timaru, I look at Dad, what a lot of knowledge in that brain of his, I spend the drive home imaging him as a kid on Caroline Bay, making discoveries and watching it change over his lifetime just like I have.
What’s up tomorrow?Another Open Water swim, a trip to the new Aquatic Center & a search for New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels