My childhood in New Zealand has long since faded into a pastiche of greens: long car trips through the mountains with the windows down; the lowset jacaranda in my grandparents’ front yard and Granddad’s maze of fruit trees out the back; Nana’s lavender hedge and its cult of bees; and the smell of feijoa from my aunt’s verandah, overlooking Hawke’s Bay.
Last time I flew overseas, it was alone — to America. I certainly haven’t travelled with my parents for years. On board, we’re a pressurised mess of sound, light and bacteria. An inordinate number of babies contribute an overture of anguished almost-words as we take off. Dad watches a film that appears to concern a half-mad Oliver Reed escaping through the Black Forest in the company of an elephant. I read Ian McEwan’s Saturday, which begins with an aeroplane crash.
We left New Zealand when I was six and return this year for my grandma’s 90th birthday. It’s a surprise — her birthday, that is — that she realises over and over. That forgetting could beget joy had never occurred to me.
Waikanae, our destination, is a seaside town about an hour outside of Wellington. The Waikanae Beach Motel provides all the mod cons: a cassette tape player, a live wasp trapped inside the toilet, and a goat called Lucy.
Waikanae Beach is cool and dark even in the sunlight. I use a line of sunbathing girls as my landmark (good of them to stay put), take off my shoes, and walk through the pine needles — then back and forth between sand and water. Later, The Front Room makes me this amazing quinoa, beetroot and goat’s cheese salad:
By the fireplace, a weta is warming itself. I have a glass of freshly-squeezed feijoa juice and feel very content indeed.
I farewell Lucy the Goat with all my leftover vegetables. Our last night on the North Island is at an “airport motel,” which translates to “storage box”. We spend the day at Te Papa Museum in Wellington, where I complete my viewing of Phar Lap (his heart and body are in Melbourne), sit with the skeletons of New Zealand’s extinct birds, and finally learn about the Treaty of Waitangi.
We have the “family suite” in the big orange storage box at Lyle Bay, near the airport, which has hostel fittings and a layer of sand and salt over everything. At reception, I meet two hobbits who have flown in for filming.
Lyle Bay may in fact be the blusteriest place on earth. Everything in the bathroom has rusted with the salt. The whole blocky building shudders all night as in an earthquake. Looking out the window is like watching a natural disaster on the news. None of us gets more than a few hours of dappled rest. I read more Saturday. “Sleepless in the early hours, you make a nest out of your own fears.”
To be continued…