June 19, 2007

Bruce Elder, a journalist writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, has I think, the best job in the world – reporting on anything obscure, fun, intriguing, captivating or otherwise whatever takes his fancy as he travels around New Zealand. Those following his travels are occasionally invited to suggest places to go or to see, and I recently suggested he drop in and have a look at Akaroa (Google Earth lat=-43.8032578797, lon=172.967248723). Which in turn prodded a flood of memories.

It’s a small village on Banks Peninsula. My grandparents retired there, and as kids we used to gratefully lose two weeks of our summer holidays somewhere and everywhere in the village. I am pleased to add that thirty years later I revisited the place and, unlike some other places of my childhood memories, it was as delicious as I remembered it. Even if we were a couple of months off summer.

It is an interesting place, in part because it is the only French colonial settlement in New Zealand. Perhaps in all Australasia – I am not sure about that. The local legend we heard as kids had the French emigrants, heading up Akaroa harbour, beaten by hours to their settlement “claim” by a British runner sent with a flag from the other side of the peninsula. Whatever the truth of that, the French set up home here and as kids we ran around streets named Rue this and Rue that.

And summer at Akaroa was about running around. Eating apricots from the large tree that grew behind the post office. Nicking purple plums from off trees hanging over someones fence. Spending hours in the water. Jumping off Daleys Wharf. Fishing of the main wharf. Eating crayfish – thanks to my grandfather’s part time job at the small fish processing plant on the main wharf, before he gave that away for his bowls. Digging pipis out of the beach and cooking then up in a billy fired by driftwood. Picking our way down to the beach from the camping ground on soft bitumen melting in the heat. Damming the creek that ran out across the beach. Swimming to the diving platform anchored off the beach. Collecting shells among the rocks. Lying under canvas (you can still smell it) in stifling heat and listening to people walking past late at night. Scones and cream (and raspberry jam) at Nanas. Kiwifruit vines growing wild over the powerlines and there for the taking. The sweet smell of passionfruit. Running all day. No parents – they were around somewhere. We usually caught up with them at meal times! Otherwise we ran loose. Huck Finn, eat your heart out. Another lifetime. Another place. A world away.