We were not a wealthy family by any means when I was growing up but our dad, through sheer hard work and his contacts, always managed to take us on holiday every year to Whangamata where a mate of his had a block of flats down near the wharf. Our uncle, auntie and cousins from Auckland would join us there for two big weeks over the summer and we had the best of times.
Uncle Brian was this huge athletic man who ran marathons, did karate and had been a surf-lifesaver – he had a great sense of humour and he really loved my dad and all of us. His son Graham was a couple of years younger than me and my best friend on these holidays – he was an odd kid but we were really close.
Whanga had all these different features – there was the great surf beach where Uncle Brian taught me to body-surf and feel the ocean, the island you could get out to at low tide, floundering at the estuary after lights and the tiny movie theatre that showed films like Soldier Blue, Tora Tora Tora, Little Big Man and Zachariah. The town itself was still small in those days before it became what it is now.
Dad had a friend with a boat, another old Scot and he would take us out on day long fishing expeditions near Mayor or Slipper Island. We would catch bins full of snapper and terakihi that we would unload at the wharf into a trailer and were sold on to the fish shop.
It was a great place to fall in love as a young teenager and I did one year – a golden summer romance that was a big deal to me even though it was doomed. She was absolutely gorgeous with hair so long I called her Rapunzel and she was way out of my reach but she did spend some time with me and was kind to my broken heart.
I also helped Dad build a few houses there over the years in school holidays. One August we were there and heard of Norman Kirk’s sudden death. I came to write my first song there too that same trip. It was unconnected to that event but it was a sad song called Human Failing that I wrote in the sand dunes at night.
My sisters still go there with their families and tell me about the massive changes that have come to the town since the seventies but I’m happy with the place as it still exists in my memories – where I did a lot of my growing up.
They found the body of one of the Swedish tourists buried in Wentworth Valley some years later. It was a famous case in NZ history and it’s hard to think of such a horrific crime being associated with such a beautiful place.