Sunday 29 March 2015

On Waitangi weekend, Jesse and I went to Russell. It’s a small town in the upper North Island. We’d visited there for about an hour last year. I don’t know if it was the sunshine or the beer or the feta-pea-and-rocket salad we shared, or that it was the last day of our holiday, but I never wanted to leave. Never.

So we went back. It’s hard to go back to a place you love, unwise to expect it to be unchanged, but Russell was wonderful. 

It’s a tiny town, with wide streets and weatherboard cottages with Historic Place plaques on their picket fences. 

The first evening we were there, we sat near the beach with a beer, and watched the sun go down. 

We stayed in a motel with a clowder of cats, and I insisted we take a walking tour of historic places. 

We wandered through the cemetery, and i switched my camera to “art mode”. 

There was a party in the bowls club, and I wondered, What if we stayed? Setting aside the pressing who would employ us, what if we lived in a cottage near the beach and raised a family of cats and tasted wine at the vineyards and bought a kayak and went to the bowls club but never anywhere else. “This is nice,” I said aloud. 

We went on a dolphin tour. It was meant to be swim with dolphins, but the dolphins didn’t want to play and we couldn’t get in the water with them. “They’re sleeping,” said the dolphin guides, “Sleeping as they swim.” It’s hard to imagine it being more amazing though. We spotted more dolphins, ones that were awake, and lay on the bow of the ship and watched the dolphins leap just past our noses. “This is magical!” I said, and it really was.

That afternoon we swam in the clearest water I have ever seen. It was as warm as a bathtub. We swam out to the raft anchored off shore, and dived from it into the ocean as a cruise ship drifted past, heading out to sea.  

There were crowds at the waterfront on Waitingi Day. i watched the navy frigates pop pretend cannons at each other. Jesse missed - he was looking at the postcards and laughing at a dog who was scared of the noise. He asked the lady at the ticket office what was on, at Waitangi, and she looked down her nose. “The Treaty?” she said. "It’s the anniversary.”
We know. We knew that. But specifically? We bought tickets across the harbour. 

It was hot and raining. There were stalls full of food, and bouncy castles. It was a family, celebration atmosphere, nothing like you see on the news. We listened to the banter of a musician (‘When the pakeha came, they rowed backwards. The Maori, they thought they were ghosts! Maori, and everyone in the Pacific Islands rows forwards, so everyone can see where they’re going. It’s only Pakeha that rows backwards, with only one man steering.’)

There were three stages, and we paused to watch the poi. Nearby, there were four policeman around the flagpole, watching. A hiko filed past, waving flags high. 

When we waited for the ferry back across the bay, children dived from the bridge into the harbour - dozens of them, first a handful in unison, then one after another, like heartbeats.

When we checked out of the motel, I held a kitten. “You can take that one home,” said the landlady, offhand. 
“I wish I could,” I said. “But I can’t.”

We took the long way home, via Opononi and Tane Mahuta. Back to being employed and beers on back decks instead of beaches. Who would ever leave a place like that?


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