On the final day of summer holidays, I almost died... Matapouri, Northland, NZ

On the final day of summer holidays, I almost died.  My name is Zara Jillings, I am 16 years old.

It was a king tide when my friends and I ascended the rutted clay cliffs, using twisted tree branches for hand holds as we scrambled to the top. Surrounded by the familiar sounds of waves crashing below me and birds singing, the banter of our group carried on the wind as we journeyed to the Mermaid Pools – a cluster of tidal rock pools I had visited every summer since I was a toddler.

The pools are just a 20 minute walk from picturesque Matapouri Bay where day trippers and locals dot the idyllic horse shoe shore. Some complain about the walk – it’s a relentlessly steep and uneven climb - but for me it is always worth it to plunge into the crisp waters waiting below. As we crest the hill the ocean seems eternal and on the horizon the Poor Knights islands form a silhouette against the azure sky. The world renowned islands are a major tourist draw card as the spot is considered one of the top ten dive locations globally.  

Sitting on the rock boundary between the ocean and the pools, I contemplated what a perfect holiday it had been – unaware it would be my last thought before the afternoon took a drastic and life threatening turn. Out of nowhere, a rogue wave smashed me onto the jagged rocks two metres below. I had no time to react as the oceans brutal force cascaded upon me, tonnes of frothing white water violently threw me head first. I took the entire impact on my shoulder. As the surging wave receded I was battered against the rocks sparking more searing pain in my hip, knee and head. Fighting the churning white wash and filled with dread I managed to battle my way to safety.

In shock and unsure how serious my injuries were, I had no choice but to start the climb towards home with my shaken friends supporting me. With no cell phone reception, one friend sprinted ahead to get help.

Now instead of the laughter and easy conversation that had punctuated our journey to the pools I cried, my golden summer tan stained red with the blood spouting from my multiple wounds. Salty tears rolled down my checks marking tracks in the bloody sheen that covered the left side of my face. Looking down at my shoulder I finally saw the mess of torn skin and exposed bone, littered with rocky residue and salt, blood flowing down my body in a steady river.

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On the final day of summer holidays, I almost died. Now I truly respect the power of the ocean and know how lucky I am to be alive.  

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Fun and friendship in Northland, a backpacker's story

Auckland - Summer 2014 - Our Journey Journal

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Zara, we are so glad that you survived this accident and have shared your experience with us as part of our Summer Holiday Writing Competition.   

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