I was painting a house on a hill in Newtown one hot summer. It was for the first violinist in the NZSO and his wife who was a high-powered lawyer and they wanted it done in blood/fire-engine red entirely. It looked amazing and you could see it for miles. As usual I got paint all over my clothes.
In those days my little family would go to Ocean Beach every holiday and bliss out in the Hawkes Bay sun. An incredible white-sand beach and our batch was right on the shoreline – timeless days of body surfing, barbeques and beach cricket. I’d take my guitar along to work on songs and my partner would invite a couple of her girlfriends to stay. Fresh water was all down to a rain tank and we had to limit its use so every now and then we would drive back up the hill and visit a place called Maraetotara Falls.
It was few kilometres up dusty roads and an oasis in that parched area. A big waterfall and pool and then a more gentle stream that flowed out of it. The falls themselves were usually busy with locals swimming and jumping off a big dangerous looking rock and we would follow the water down to a more private pool with a little island.
We’d set up a minor picnic on the bank and I’d play some blues then wash off all the salt in the cold fresh pond. We would swim out to the boulders in the middle to sunbathe or wash our hair in the rapids near the mouth. I have vivid memories of those times – surrounded by beautiful women in paradise.
One summer it was agreed I’d paint the batch – kind of a working holiday. I really loved that little dwelling and put a bit of work into sealing it up from the elements and making it look nice. I was just finishing up one afternoon and there was the call to go to Maraetotara.
There were only a few kids and a couple of families at the main falls that day so we swam there in the big pool under the rushing water. A group were doing jumps from the rocks and having a great time.
There were two layers of rock that the water gushed over and I worked my way up beside it through the trail the kids had used. When I made it up there I found it higher than I had thought and I tried to make my way to a rock halfway down.
My bare feet hit slime and I lost control. I was haring down the side of the first part of the falls like slalom. I was moving fast but time stood still almost and I tried to slow my momentum on various slippery rocks on the way down to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. I managed to grip before I went tumbling into the second section and scrambled up on a big out crop. I stayed there trembling for a minute then performed a poorly executed swan dive into the pool.
I think half the people watching thought I was showing off until I walked up out of the water in my blood red splattered painting shorts.