Good bye to Hoki Hubby.
As the new year rapidly approaches, Wifey and I split open box after never ending box, setting up our old life in a new environment.
We are still in Northland, not all that far from the place we called home for the last couple of years. The Mighty Hokianga Harbour, only an hour and a half or so up the road, suddenly feels like a world away. Because, it is.
On the outskirts of Whangarei, we are setting up in a house further away from neighbours than we had in the old place. But here, they feel so much closer. Less cars seem to go by, not like they did on the main drag of Rawene, on the hour every half hour. Here, there is no race to catch the ferry, a leisurely chug with or against the powerful tidal currents of the harbour waters, leaving behind the backdrop of New Zealand’s thrid oldest European settlement.
Better yet, approaching it, the joys of the boat shed cafe or No.1 Gallery cafe at the start of Parnell Street, a convenience store conveniently located on poles, balanced out over the ever changing tide, a pub with more history than you can shake the proverbial stick at. For a town with nothing going on, it is all happening.
But this is not a travel blog. I am not here to sell you on the wonders of the Hokianga, as you cruise through Rawene after alighting the ferry, head for the beaches of Opononi and Omapere, go further over the bumps and twists of State Highway 12 and delve into the native forests atop the hills, home to Tane Mahuta.
I don’t need to point out the stunning views, from sweeping sand dunes to glistening waters, the tempestuous Tasman Sea, making its presence felt on the wild west coast. There is no need to make mention of the native flora and fauna and in particular, there is nothing I need say about the dusk after dusk after stunning dusk, full of the most spectacular sunsets.
In it’s heyday, the Hokianga must have been a spectacular spot. That harbour, so alive and vital, surrounded by a crop of native trees the likes of which we will never see again. Because, sadly, crop is what those forest giants were viewed as and like so much of Aotearoa New Zealand.
This isn’t an environmental rant either. Nor is it a dig at the perils of post-colonization. So many wrongs were done, to the place and people of Aotearoa and so many of those wrongs will take multiple generations to put right, if ever. So many good things were achieved too but sadly, much of that either never reached the Hokianga, never took hold if it did, or was resoundingly rejected.
It’s easy to romanticise the region, casting it as some sort of frontier, shrugging off the trappings of a modern world as much as possible. Last of the wild west, NZ style.
The reality is, the Far North in general, and the Hokianga in particular, are forgotten zones, abandoned by central and local governments alike.
There are no rate payers, not many voters. Just miles of sandy beaches, warm blue waters and the homes and abodes of the disenfranchised.
Even that is a stretch. Never ‘franchised’ in the first place. Lost and forgotten peoples. And in many instances, that is just the way they like it.
Life in the Hokianga is maybe best described as relaxed. There certainly isn’t the pressures of city or metropolitan living, no commute from the burbs, no queuing.
The trade off? A lack of infrastructure and what there is, maintained at a bare minimum, if at all. The trade off is unemployment and therefore, poverty.
But hey, it’s the Hokianga. If you can’t afford a warrant on your car, don’t get one. If you can’t afford to register it, don’t bother fretting over it. While it is a shame there is runoff issues effecting the harbour waters, swim in it anyway. Eat from it anyway.
Relax. That is what the Hokianga seemed to be telling us, so that is exactly what we did.
We stayed relaxed about the holes forming in our children’s education. No hokey teams, no volleyball or netball or football or tennis or cricket or whatever other sport an energetic young kid might want to turn those energies to.
However, there were whole new avenues of learning being opened to them. Culturally the kids really swelled, embedded in an old school Kiwi culture and a deeper Maori one. We stayed chilled about the lack of childcare, the lack of employment options, the near non-existence of extra curricular activities for our kids and for ourselves.
Like the populace around us, we were nonplussed. Maybe not as laid back as some of the locals…we put our kids in car seats and seat-belts, life-jackets and all the rest.
The trade off? Off they went, a little crew, down the street on their own, unaccompanied by adults, Number One in charge. No drama, no fear.
Safe. Everyone knew our kids and they knew most everyone. No motorways to go play on, no concrete jungles to get lost in.
Kia ora, G’day, Howzit, Hi.
Most everyone said hello, most everyone asked after your well-being and most everyone genuinely wanted to know. Maybe the guy asking if you needed a hand was diabetic, maybe he drank too much, maybe his diet was shocking, maybe he fished illegally. The point is, he was offering you a helping hand.
In the Hokianga, you pick people up and drop them down the road. You help lift this, carry that. You give of what you have no need for and people gladly take it. Koha. All that is asked in return, if anything is asked at all.
No one turns a nose up at the next-door neighbour. No one looks up or down at the next person. A handshake and hongi means something.
There is nothing golden, no matter the nostalgia, about the Hokianga and her people. Nothing special, or endearing, nothing wonderful going on the world could learn something from.
In fact, the place is broken, to an outsiders untrained eye flawed, badly in need of this, that and the next thing, to make it even close to ‘normal’.
I miss the place.
I miss the scenery, I miss the vibe, I miss the remoteness and I miss the smiles and laughter and good-natured jesting. I miss the helmet-less kids on bare back horses, the king tides and the pelting rain, thunder storms and lightening and sodden ground, water bubbling from beneath its surface everywhere. I miss the fresh air and the strong, drying winds and the birdsong, from nesting Herons to the silent, reproachful gaze of a perched Kingfisher.
I miss the spontaneity, the freedom, of having nothing particular to do and being able to do it where no one else is. I miss no one caring, no one around really giving a shit what you were doing or why. You just got on and did it, where, when and how you wanted to.
I miss the smiles and the open, gap-toothed, head back laughter.
I miss the sunsets.
Fix the Hokianga.
Never change the Hokianga.