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Shangri-la; Holiday on Waiheke

Jacqueline Crompton Ottaway - 08/07/05

A vivid memory of a holiday in a genuine kiwi bach – a privilege increasingly rare in the twenty first century

The genuine old Kiwi bach where families and friends gathered for a holiday without the household conveniences of home holds a special place in the memories of many New Zealanders. They were mostly beside water – at the beach or beside a lake or river. In most of our memories the sun was shining while we swam, built sandcastles, or went fishing in the clinker dinghy. If it was wet and cold there was a wood fire in the fireplace and everyone was eating appetising hot food and playing indoor games, interrupted only by the needed dash to the “long drop” at the bottom of the garden. As the families grew, extra rooms were tacked on and bunks ensured maximum occupancy. Parents probably remember what a lot of work they had to do to produce these idyllic memories.

Now the shores in many holiday areas are lined with expensive houses with all mod cons, and the clinker rowing boat is replaced by an expensive power boat. The inexpensive holiday in a tent at the camping ground is also under threat as developers offer large sums for the sites of the camping ground and some owners accept.

This makes it all the more important for memories like Jacqueline’s to be on record.


Shangri-la; Holiday on Waiheke

In 1958, when I was in Standard Two, my mother and father told me that we were going to have a holiday on an island. I was really excited at the prospect, especially as it was March and this meant that I would have ten days off school. We took the ferry to Waiheke and this trip took much longer than our usual ferry trips from Birkenhead Wharf to Auckland City. As soon as I stepped off the ferry at Oneroa, I thought that Waiheke Island was a most magical place, second only to Piha Beach, the place where we usually hired a bach for our annual holiday.

Jacqueline with her parents around the time of the Waiheke holiday
Jacqueline with her parents around the time of the Waiheke holiday
Photo source: Jacqueline Ottaway
Click here to view a larger version

We took the bus to the bach that my parents had rented. On the bus trip, I loved the winding, dusty roads that seemed to stretch forever, the patches of bush interspersed with quaint baches and the glimpses of a coastline with long sandy beaches and brilliant blue waters. Already, even before I had seen our bach, I was in love with this magical island, Waiheke.

My parents had rented a bach from an advertisement in the Auckland Star and, as I remember, it was situated somewhere between Palm Beach and Oneroa. Although I never was quite sure exactly whereabouts on Waiheke the bach was, I remember it being on the top of a hill with other baches further down the road, nestled among trees and, somehow, this sense of dislocation added to the mystery and adventure of the holiday.

When we stepped off the bus and found the bach, my mother hoped that we’d got the wrong address. The man who had replied to our letter had written about his place in the most glowing terms and had called the house, affectionately ‘Shangril-la.’ On our trip over on the ferry, my father had explained to me that ‘Shangri-la’ meant heaven, so I had been impatient to see a house with such a special name.

When Dad finally managed to open the front door, Mum was horrified at the dust and dirt inside the house and when we inspected the out-house where I was to sleep, we discovered that my bunk bed had a mattress flung on top of a ripped wire netting that looked as if it could collapse at any time. Dad just laughed when he saw it and told us that he’d taken a look in the ramshackle shed and that there were some tools there, so he would have my bed fixed in no time.

After her initial shock, Mum calmed down and started sweeping and cleaning the place and very soon the bach looked much cosier and more like our home. Later on, when Dad showed Mum the long drop that was perched precariously on a knoll at the back of the house, she started laughing when she saw the huge gap on one of the walls where the wind whipped through. She said that we should call the place ‘Shangri-la-la’. I was slightly puzzled by this name, but Mum told me that the ‘la-la’ was another name for a lavatory and then I understood the joke.

Once we had settled in, Dad got up early, insisting that we spend most of each day exploring the island. Most days of our holiday were sunny and we spent lots of time at Oneroa Beach, where we swam, bought ice-creams from the local store and built sandcastles with large moats around them which we watched as the tide came in and washed everything away. For a change, one day, we walked much further than usual and ended up at a bay called Palm Beach. I thought that this expedition was marvellous as I had never seen such an exotic setting with huge palm trees in the foreground, a great stretch of beach and a small store that sold the most delicious milkshakes I had ever tasted.

Each day I would wake up in my makeshift bed, clean my teeth at the tap outside the house and revel in whatever new adventures arrived with the day. Towards the end of the holidays the weather started to deteriorate and on one windy, wild day Mum decided to stay back at Shangri-la and catch up with her knitting and reading while Dad and I set off to explore uncharted territory. After Mum had kitted me out in warm clothes and made sure I had a handkerchief (Mum’s panacea for all emergencies), Dad and I headed over the long, grassy fields towards the coast. It always intrigued me how Dad never seemed to bother with maps but he always managed to stumble on places that were different and exciting. His catch cry on these expeditions was always, “When you got out with your father, you never know where you’re going to end up.”

This outing proved no exception. After we had walked what seemed to me a great distance, the long grass flattened out and we came across an old gravestone fenced with an elaborate wrought iron surround that was about five feet long and four feet wide. Dad told me that this gravestone would have belonged to someone, possibly a Maori person, who had lived on the island many, many years ago. I looked at him, wide-eyed. I had learnt about Maori customs and their way of life at school and I was intrigued with the stories I had heard, so I wanted to ask, “Are these Maori remains, Dad?” But instead, I asked breathlessly, “Are these the Maori moraines?”

Dad couldn’t stop laughing, as I was renowned for my spoonerisms when I was young, and after that day, whenever we discovered a piece of early New Zealand history, Dad would always refer to our find as some ‘Maori moraines’.

Although the discovery of this ancient burial site had me entranced and I could have stayed here all day, Dad wanted to walk on further towards the sea. As we came closer to the coast, we found an area of old, gnarled pear trees laden with globular fruit and beyond them, the tallest cacti that I have ever seen. These cacti were huge with thick spikes and masses of shocking pink and bright yellow flowers. Dad thought that this place may have been the orchard and garden of the people who had died here so long ago.

On our adventures, Dad always had a bar of Energy chocolate in his pocket. When I was feeling tired after a steep climb or a long walk, he would ask me, “Do you want some energy?”

“Yes, please,” I would cry and wait eagerly for him to pull the chocolate out of his pocket and break off two squares each.

This time, when he produced the chocolate, I felt as though I was sitting in a garden paradise, surrounded by pear trees, cacti with the tang of sea and sand close by. Recently, I looked at a chart of Waiheke and saw an inlet named Cactus Bay and I’m sure that this must have been the beach that we discovered.

As we turned to return home, the wind grew really strong and when we were walking along the cliff tops, Dad showed me how you could lean on the wind when it was raging at its hardest. This was a novel idea to me and we practised the art as Dad described how he’d done this in Fiji during the war when a cyclone or hurricane was threatening.

When we returned to Shangri-la, I ran in breathlessly to recount our adventures to Mum. She was pleased to hear about our discoveries and that night, as it was our last evening in the bach, Mum made a special farewell dinner. The next day we packed up and left Shangri-la. I was very sad to leave our island home and to return to the routines of school and I vowed that one day, I would return to Waiheke Island and visit our special bay again.

For more on islands close to Auckland read Jacqueline’s article on Rangitoto Island.


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