A homely holiday

Purakaunui turns on a thousand shades of grey for the summer holidays. Photos: Nathan Me Ikle
Purakaunui turns on a thousand shades of grey for the summer holidays. Photos: Nathan Me Ikle
Heading home for the holidays allows Lisa Scott to disconnect and reconnect. 

Misanthropes aren’t born, they’re made, by jobs in communications. Nothing for it but to load the minke truck with books and boards and head to Purakaunui to unclench.

Three weeks exploring the splay of volcano-made bays that stretch from Waikouaiti to Wareakeake would be an ideal digital detox and, as it turned out, a reminder of the importance of raising an anti-establishment middle finger every now and then.

First stop: Arc Brewery’s first birthday celebrations. Formerly the Blueskin Bay Hotel and then for a long time nothing but a grey blur in the window, Jono and Emma’s renovated brewery, taproom and food truck park-up has fast become the place to pause between hills.

Jono Walker, of Arc Brewery, prepares another satisfying drop. Photo: Supplied
Jono Walker, of Arc Brewery, prepares another satisfying drop. Photo: Supplied
When a craft brewery pops up, you know the trendy people have arrived. However, Arc manages to unite young families, travellers and bayside locals around a glass of APA and a side of Argentinian sausage and the result is a place where the conversation is always unexpected.

That evening’s fun featured Waitati-based Kill, Martha! - punk priests and bishops, lead singer dressed as a nun in a mesh habit, red crosses gaffer-taped over her nipples like a Gaultier model gone bad - had the audience pogoing in raptures.

It was a gig both friendly and feral.

My drink was stolen, twice, by the same person: a tiny house builder (the houses were tiny) who had to be frog-marched to the bar to buy replacements, after which he turned out to be a pretty stand-up guy, despite the minesweeping.

Paddle boarding Purakaunui estuary, flash houses were going up fast on the hillside above, replacing moss-green’d timber shacks whose tenants would sometimes wake in the night to a rat running across their face.

At least I was keeping up my end in the scungy stakes: collecting cockles at low tide, steaming them open on the barbecue and prying from their shells, I was a salt-sticky hunter-gatherer, knickers turned inside out in lieu of washing machine, smoky hair beginning to dread at the back like Shane Carter’s mullet.

The holiday book pile including Dead People I Have Known, by Shane Carter, I found myself playing Pull Down the Shades on YouTube to a country boy raised on Dolly.

A lack of internet meant it lost its thrust somewhat.

Kill, Martha!
Kill, Martha!
We visited Peter Gutteridge in the Purakaunui graveyard - his ramshackle plot still lacking a headstone and prickly with thistles; the paddocks nearby were full of sheep crying for their babies, an apt sound effect to the melancholy of Christmas, a season which only serves to reinforce absences, the children who didn’t call; time’s passing caught in the sudden glimpse of a trembling parental hand; and the importance of holding each other while we can.

The coastal weather set to cloudy/rainy, rinse and repeat, cabin fever set in. Despite having watched with fondness the day before as he beat the cream for the pavlova, like a gorilla peddling a tiny bicycle, Boxing Day gave rise to an inevitable episode of "You’re a dick", "No, you are".

Days fell into a routine of activities incomplete between showers, hailstorms, thunder and lightning.

Shells collected on beach walks, a feather lost by a berry-drunk kereru, a fern frond fallen green side down to reveal a vulnerable pale, the outside came inside as the wind blew, the sun came out, it hailed, rained ... every time I looked up from my book the weather had changed its outfit.

Sleep-ins got later and later, I stopped starting awake in dread of Facebook and started enjoying bird sounds, watching a bug’s progress in the grass, napping in the afternoon and talking about real books.

Being back in your old stomping ground, the place where shed skins remain coiled like echoes, is not without moments of poignancy.

Scrambling up the cliff above the point, only four years ago I would have been one of those bobbing below, out in the waves with the surfers, one of whom was my ex.

Memories without pain create nostalgia, and regeneration with some nature therapy at Orokonui Ecosanctuary "encourages the inner nurturer," according to Tahu Mackenzie, Dunedin treasure and musical bird of paradise, who treated us to a tour.

The writer (left) undergoes some nature therapy at Orokonui with Tahu Mackenzie.
The writer (left) undergoes some nature therapy at Orokonui with Tahu Mackenzie.
A kaka landed, beyond ego, stately amid the antics of the tuis, puffing up at each other like birds who don’t realise they’re endangered and therefore probably should band together, of a feather.

Did you know trees communicate with each other? Seek out their fellows in quiet harmony, reaching out a reassuring root tendril in a social network free of vitriol.

"Returning to the natural world, we remember who we are," said Tahu.

A dream of 30 years ago realised thanks to 2000 volunteer hours a month, Orokonui is named for Rongo, the Maori god of peace. And love.

The mighty fence of defence, 9km encircling 307 hectares, is a protective portal through which visitors travel to our past and future, with one bird straddling both.

Takahe do 7m of poo every day, despite being declared extinct in 1876.

Like the humped backs of great green beasts asleep with their faces in the ocean, these headlands are guardians against a world gone wrong, which is why news that corporate raiders were planning to subdivide Waitati into boat parking and bungalows with swim-up bars set blood boiling and compelled the Waitati Militia to action.

Waitati is up in arms about development.
Waitati is up in arms about development.
Standard militia weapons include yielding elderly fruit, water bombs, porridge, and paper swords. Under no circumstances is biting, hair pulling or eye gouging allowed. Psychological warfare is, however, employed, such as the dreaded Can-Can charge, heavy-duty assault poetry and vicious taunting. Bemused tourists looked on as the pirate queen Mandy Mayhem led her people into battle against Clan McGillicuddy’s corporate raiders outside the Blueskin public library, a Boadicea trouncing bullies.

While giant peas shouted "Give peas a chance!" and warriors were regenerated by a giant vagina, amidst the muck of flour bombs and rose petal’s flung by trebuchet, in the silliness that carried a serious message about the perils of paving paradise to put up a parking lot - surrounded by the pirate people, the Bad Brownies, the rule-bending, technicolour few, I remembered that I was one too. It was nice to be back.

Staying 

Eating
Everything, but a considerable amount of Evansdale cheese and whatever the food truck parked outside Arc is serving. Seafood chowder, using Simon Gault’s recipe and Purakaunui cockles.

Drinking
Arc’s west coast IPA. Strong and bolshie, like a Dunedin summer.

Listening to
A playlist featuring the anarchic head boys of New Zealand music: The Straightjacket Fits, Blam Blam Blam, The 3Ds, Snapper, Chris Knox and modern punks Kill, Martha! On repeat: Kill Martha’s Unf*** my Life, Peter Jefferies and Shane Carter’s Randolph’s going home.

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