By Lachlan Forsyth
It would have been a beautiful scene. The sky glowed pink, the sets rolled on off the Pacific, and a lone gannet gracefully skimmed across the top of the water.
But out on the horizon, we could see the Rena stuck fast on Astrolabe Reef.
We were doing that night's Campbell Live show from the Papamoa Surf Life Saving Club, and from there Shaun had been watching the day's events as he tried to coordinate things.
"Those army boys may have been a bit slow to arrive, but once they get going they do a hell of a job. And they take orders," he said with a tired grin.
We talked about how everyone hoped that would be the end of it, all the oil had washed ashore and there would be no more arriving with the next high tide, but we all knew that it wasn't, and it would.
For two days running the beach had been scraped clean of the tonnes of oil washing up on it. Shaun knew it may be a scene repeated for months to come.
The night before we'd watched from our position overlooking the beach as a large silvery slick approached the coast. As it washed up on the sands a nauseating smell washed over us. The fumes from the oil were familiar now. Thick and noxious, it was impossible to breathe them in without developing a headache, and the back of your throat starting to burn.
I went down to inspect the sand after the days clean-up. Although it seemed clean from a distance, small particles of oil were still scatted everywhere, and the stain of the slick was impossible to remove completely.
A few hundred metres away something washed up on the sand. It looked like a dead bird, but I couldn't be sure. To be honest, I didn't want to know.
After a week of worrying, oil had now been washing ashore for two days, and the residents of this coastline were experiencing an unquestionable environmental catastrophe.
For a week we'd been walking the beaches. As we spoke to people over the course of that week, their responses all started to sound the same. Saddened. Shocked. Angry. Speechless. This was their beach, they said, and it had been destroyed by incompetence. First from theRena running aground, and then from the response that followed. They felt they had been lied to, that information had been kept from them, that officials had not worked hard enough, or quickly enough, and that no-one had planned ahead for such a disastrous event.
On Monday night my phone had rung just moments after Stephen Joyce, speaking on on Campbell Live, had said Friday had been too choppy to attempt salvage operations. It was Graeme Butler, our Skipper from the Gemini Galaxsea. The conditions on Friday had been near "bloody perfect!" he thundered, and he was right - we had been out on the water that day, and Friday had been almost as still as you could hope for.
They were comments we heard time and again. Everyone, local or not, was furious at the lack of rapid action. Nevermind the excuses being offered up - whatever actions had been attempted hadn't worked. This was a manmade disaster. It should have been - it WAS - entirely preventable.
The mood was one of despair, and disgust, and outrage.
We met one man who had taken the day off work to clear a few square metres of sand, using his child's spade and some plastic rubbish bags. Another couple worked away with shovels digging thick black lumps off their once golden beach. They knew their efforts were largely futile, but they couldn't stay home. Scraping the black from the beach was better than doing nothing.
As we spoke, more waves washed up, staining the sand darker still.
I spotted a beetle, about 3cm long, struggling through an oily patch of sand. It was coated in black, and struggling to move with all the sand particles stuck to the oil on its body. I moved it over among the tussocks on a clean sand dunes. Two of its legs were stuck together and it rolled on its back, struggling to right itself.
It tried opening its wing covers, but they too were stuck. Before long it would be dead.
I walked away, angry and upset that I couldn't help a tiny beetle.
I wasn't alone. Everywhere we went people were distraught with a feeling of helplessness.
It was raining heavily that day, but the people still came down from their cars. Most just stood, and looked on in disbelief. One woman wiped away the tears that were silently streaming down her face before she placed her head on her partner's shoulder and sobbed.
A man in a suit and tie stood on the oily sand and stared silently out to sea. After several minutes, he slowly shook his head, and walked away.
There was little else that could be done. Forced to wait on a beach as more oil washed up, bringing with it more toxic gunk, more that same sickly smell, and increasingly, more dead birds.
Two days later, as we searched out the shipping containers cluttering Tauranga's busy shipping channel, we spotted a little blue penguin bobbing in the swell. It had tar all over its feathers, it was struggling to swim, and it constantly bobbed its head under the water, trying to clean itself of the strange substance that coated it. It was all alone out on the waves, no-one coming to help it.
My first instinct was rescue it with one of the nets we had on-board and deliver it to one of the onshore wildlife rescue teams back on land. But the penguin, unable to know that we wanted to help it, kept its distance, darting away from our boat whenever we got close. We could only hope it would make it ashore and be found by rescuers.
So we left it there, in the rolling swells.
A small bird, struggling to survive in a sea of black.