Chasing the Sunrise

Kaikoura Seward Range
The Kaikoura Seaward Range

In New Zealand there was something magical about the sunrises.

I remember countless mornings when I would wake up before my alarm with a sense of urgency, sit up in bed, and pull the curtains away from my window to peak outside. I felt like a child on Christmas morning, checking to see if there was snow. Except, in this instance, I was looking for the telltale streaks of pink or gold clouds that would tell me if there was an epic sunrise happening on the other side of the house.

View from the Old Convent
View from the People's Room
My window faced west, but even without my glasses on I could usually determine if the white house across the street was turning pink. A rush of excitement would well up within me, knowing that something brilliant was happening just outside that I couldn’t fully see. It’s like that brief moment at wedding when the opening lines of “Here Comes the Bride” begins, and before you turn around you catch a glimpse of the groom’s face. Excitement. Expectancy. Something wonderful awaits, and it’s right behind me.

After determining that, yes indeed, there is a pretty sunrise outside, I would throw the covers off my bed, pull on a sweatshirt and slippers, and slip out my bedroom door to get a better view. I had a couple options: rush to the north facing windows that had a view of the mountains, whose white peaks would often turn pink, or to the windows facing east towards the ocean. Often I’d try to do both, and if both offered competing views, I’d head straight outside where I could spin around and watch the whole morning sky in all of its glory.

I once lost a dare (actually, a “what are the odds” if you know it) and ended up biking to the beach at 5:30am one morning to watch the sunrise. It was still very dark, being early in the spring, and I sat listening to the waves for over an hour before seeing any sort of progress. In fact, the sunrise took so long, I almost missed it! I watched the sky lighten up, but then a huge cloud blocked the horizon. Thinking the sun must have risen behind it, I started to bike away when a minute later I spotted pink clouds above me. I quickly turned around, and just caught the fleeting beauty that lasted only minutes, but for me was still worth the wait.

Because during that time of waiting I was able to experience hearing Hutton’s Shearwaters fly directly over my head. An endangered seabird species that primarily nests in the mountains of the Kaikoura Seaward Range, Hutton’s Shearwaters are known to gain speeds as much as 150 km per hour (93 mph) on their dive down from the mountains to the ocean. All you hear is a “whoosh!” over your head as they make their daily commute to the sea. After a few perplexing (and slightly terrifying) “whooshes,” I finally spotted two objects flying away over the ocean before they disappeared from view. It was the only time I ever witnessed the bird flying.

Sometimes I would take my small group of college students to come along on my morning outings, planning a breakfast sunrise on the beach. We’d lock our bikes to the fence, use the steps to hop over and through what presumably was a spare cow pasture, and then head onto the gravelly beaches of Kaikoura. I would bring a camp stove and pan to make pancakes, and more than once during our relaxing Saturday morning we would spot a pod of playful Dusky Dolphins or the more rare Hector’s Dolphins just off shore.

panorama of the Kaikoura Seaward Range

My time in New Zealand, though brief, helped me appreciate the beautiful gift that is a sunrise.

It’s a gift you can unwrap every day. Unlike the sunset, which I love too but schedules and work can interfere with, sunrises are usually during a time that we are free to enjoy them, if we are willing to wake up. Even though my days in New York now can sometimes be cloudy, and there’s no ocean or mountains or pods of dolphins to tempt me awake, I find the excitement has reawakened in these fall months. Sunrise bodes the promise of new adventures, new beauty, and expectancy of what awaits in this new season. 

It’s like Christmas morning, every morning. You’re not exactly sure of what you are going to get. But if you time it just right, you might just receive the gift of watching the golden rays of first light filter through the trees and alight the clouds in color, as you sit holding a steaming mug of tea and embrace the potential of this new day.


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