New Zealand is remarkable for so many reasons not least of which is that there are no snakes and while the bumble bees might seem Alice-in-Wonderland large, check out their insects that eat carrots.
Then of course there’s the physical beauty. Each time we go it digs deeper and deeper under my skin.
My handsome husband spent part of his childhood there and the reason we go back semi-regularly is family. But this time we got to spend time with both family in the traditional sense and with what my God mother refers to as family by choice.
We miss our NZ family so much but are always comforted by the fact that when we catch up it’s as though no time has passed at all.
One of my most beloved friends recently moved from Sydney to NZ with her very own handsome husband taking not only herself but my God daughter. Selfish? Yes. Good excuse for another trip to NZ? Yes. Selfish behaviour on part of very beloved forgiven on that basis? Yes.
This was one of those dreamy holidays that was even better in reality than in anticipation. One of those holidays where we took the kids back to the tiny beach community that my husband’s great-grandfather helped found; the place where my husband spent long, happy childhood summers with all his cousins and extended family.
The tiny community of Bethell’s Beach is on the West Coast of the North Island just West of Auckland. My husband’s mum, dad and 5 siblings would move into a miniscule family bach (pronounced “batch” and NZer for a coastal shack) that was, in total, the size of a standard living room. It had no shower, a long drop toilet out the back and the sound of the surf pounding onto the black sand a few hundred metres away to lull the kids into an exhausted, sunburned sleep.
For blissful weeks on end, they passed sandy summer days roaming and exploring.
There were (and still are) no shops, no tv and few people.
Days spent climbing the gently undulating plateaus of black sand dunes behind the bach.
Finally, with burning soles – courtesy of the scorching black iron-flecked sand – they would crest the last dune and plunge with relief into the improbable lake that the precipitous black dune plummets into.
On the other side of the lake, an idyllic, almost English hill rises steeply from the dark water. The contrast takes your breath away.
Days spent hurling themselves down the frighteningly steep dunes,
until, covered in the fine black sand that makes its way into everything, and makes you look like the dirtiest kid on the planet,
they would wend their way down the gentle creek.
There were fiercely contended jandal (that’s thongs or flip flops to non-NZers) races,
and the ever-present allure of the ocean at the end of the creek where this gentle waterway empties into the sea.
A few years ago as we crested the top of one dark dune and looked down at the black plateau below we saw a coterie of Maori men and women in traditional clothes complete with fur and feather mantles.
As we stopped in wonder, the sound of a Maori woman singing a dirge drifted clear on the still air up to us. We all froze, goosebumps prickling our flesh from head to toe.
Of course it was a movie scene being filmed. But for more than a moment I think we all believed we had stumbled on the real thing.
Lots of things are filmed in this strange, haunting landscape: where shimmering lakes meet moon-scape dunes half-way up and little creeks are banked by gentle bucolic scenes at one bend
and temperate rainforest at the next.
Jane Campion’s masterpiece The Piano was filmed here. As were Split Enz video clips and episodes of Xena Warrior Princess. It’s a place that portrays reality in an other-worldly, misty way. If it weren’t so breathtakingly beautiful
it would be disconcerting.
The evenings at Bethells went a little something like this.
And then this.
On Friday evenings a very cool food van rolled into town
and set up shop in the beach car park to dish out the extremely delicious hamburgers and sweet potato fries.
A local band kept the atmosphere going while people waited for their food.
Auckland rocked too. NZ punches well above its weight in terms of design and general awesomenosity. A relatively small population seems to produce a disproportionately cool amount of stuff and great food. Even the homegrown NZ products in the supermarket are noticeably well-designed and fabulous.
We visited the mind-blowingly fabulous Auckland Museum. A highlight was the Maori Cultural Centre.
It didn’t hurt that our friends live in a house that is more of resort than a residence. My beloved friend is the kind who puts delicious lotions and potions and soft, fluffy towels in the bathroom for guests so that the simple act of having a shower at her place seems an exercise in indulgence.
Don’t even start me on her bed linen. I have NEVER slept on sheets that soft.
And yet it’s all totally understated.
I hate her.
And then there were the three musketeers.
Did they get along? Only as well as Jon Bon Jovi fills a pair of tight pants.
We had the very best time.
PS: I know some of you have already read the first bit of this post. Somehow I managed to unintentionally publish my unfinished, unedited NZ post (thanks shortcut keys) the other night, panicked and then updated the post by deleting the text and giving you, instead, a feeble “coming soon” and photo. Sorry about that. (Note to self: do not attempt to draft posts after 2 glasses of red wine).
PPS: Auntie Lorrainebow – it’s only a blog post that was coming I’m afraid – wish it was our actual selves. Miss you all. xx