29 Aug 2023

Carved skull turns heads at Waipipi Beach in South Taranaki

11:51 am on 29 August 2023
A skull carved into the sandstone cliffs at Waipipi Beach.

Waipipi Beach local Ralph Jellett says it's 'strange' to have the skull carving at the entrance to the beach. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Mystery surrounds the appearance of a stylised skull carved into the sandstone cliffs at Waipipi Beach near South Taranaki's Waverley.

The carving - which has materialised over the past few weeks - is chiselled onto a finger of headland at the bottom of a boat ramp. Fresh cuttings lie at the base of the cliff.

About two metres high by two metres wide, the skull's hollowed out 'eye sockets' stare out over an expanse of black sand to the Tasman Sea beyond.

The creation is reminiscent of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards' famous skull ring or for millennials - the skull emoji.

Ralph Jellett lives in one of the 18 homes at the Waipipi Beach gated community.

He was unaware of the skull carving until shown it by RNZ.

"It looks okay from what I see of it, but I mean it's strange to have it down on our beach I have to say. It's not the sort of thing I would do, but some younger people obviously might have done it."

On social media, some people have described the carving as 'desecration' and Jellett could see their point.

"Fair enough too if they are. You know, I mean, it's not natural to have it down there so I think perhaps they have something to moan about."

A skull carved into the sandstone cliffs at Waipipi Beach.

Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

He did not know who was behind the carving, but said anyone upset with it would not have to wait long before mother nature erased it from existence.

Bunty Karen was aware of the carving and said she loved it.

"I mean somebody's got to be passionate enough to spend all that time. Time doesn't come for free and it makes it look better than a graffiti on the wall and those walls are going to wear off one of these days.

"It erodes away, what does it matter? I think it's awesome when walking out there."

Karen said she did not know who was behind the carving either.

"We don't know. We keep it that way I reckon. Maybe somebody out of the ocean. I think maybe a local. If they don't want to be known, who am I to tell?

"It's just art. I think it's just beautiful. Art is beautiful in any form."

A skull carved into the sandstone cliffs at Waipipi Beach.

Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Tiffany was familiar with the skull, she saw everyday when she took her walk down the beach.

"I think people like carving their names and drawing things in the cliffs and yeah, they've been down there as long as I've been here and they evolve overtime - they get washed away and dug out again."

The skull itself had changed over time, she said.

"I think visitors to the beach have a good time making them, creating them. That one's been there for a few months."

Tiffany was also in the dark over who the artist was.

"No, just visitors to the beach. It's a bit of a mystery and there's lots of names down there as well, so everyone likes leaving their little piece of art behind."

She understood it might not be to everyone's taste.

"I could see how that might offend some people, but you can't stop people from putting a little bit of art work down at the beach, can you?

"People visit down there all the time. It is what it is. I've never ever seen anyone doing the work down there, but there's names in the cliff and everything. You could call it graffiti you could call it art. It is what it is."

South Taranaki District Council planning and development manager Jess Sorensen said a sulpture such as the skull was something new for her.

"This is an interesting one that we've never come across before. Technically this does trigger the need for a consent under our District Plan - so we'd like to encourage other artists to have a chat to us first about any large scale ideas within the coastal protection area."

Taranaki Regional Council and Ngā Rauru have been approached for comment.