We moved out here from the UK twenty years ago last month. We had the option of Auckland, Christchurch or Wellington. Of course in retrospect Auckland would have been the better bet from a property perspective but we chose Wellington over Christchurch, the city my wife was born in.
We were back there last week driving in from the West Coast over Arthurs Pass where we enjoyed watching the Keas keeping a beady eye on us as we filled up with petrol and then coasted down through the mountains past Castle Hill. I‘ve always wanted to stop there and this time we did. Originally I’m a Devon boy you see and Dartmoor is my Turangawaewae.
Most New Zealanders will understand this Maori term, my interpretation is that it’s the place where you come from, where you feel at home. Up on the Dartmoor Tors is where I feel most at ease. I’ve long conceded that I can’t think of a better place than Eastbourne, the New Zealand one that is, to die. Just so long as it is not any time soon. But I can’t help feeling that Dartmoor is where I’m from. It is just an issue you have to face when you marry someone from another country. One or both of you will end up out of place.
Castle Hill though is like a Dartmoor Tor on steroids, true its Limestone rather than Granite which takes it down a peg, but these stunning grey outcrops stand at the top of their own hills. Unlike Dartmoor they are surrounded by big proper mountains covered with snow, complete with ski fields. It was a fine Saturday when we were there and they were over run by tourists; local and foreign, rock climbers, picnickers, a wedding party, a young lad thirty years out of date with a ghetto blaster and then there were the strollers like us. There’s plenty of space though and it didn’t feel crowded. If you ever take that road I urge you to stop and walk.
We stayed with a good friend in the middle of the city that night and walked on the Sunday through Hagley park. Through the trees and the blossom, the daffodils and bluebells, the ducks, dogs and golfers. We’d walked here a month or so before when it was cold and grey and icy and very uninviting. It’s a bloody good park – on a good day.
For most of the week though we stayed in Sumner in the very street my father-in-law has his earliest memories, sitting on the step outside his parents’ dairy, talking, no surprise there, to all and sundry. I’ve promised I’ll take him back in a month or so when it warms up properly – and I will. Sumner is a nice little surf village just on the edge of the city. Slightly buzzier than Eastbourne and rebuilding nicely after the earthquake, with a lovely new library for example.
I walked up in the hills behind the little village, up Captain Thomas’s path to the pass and then followed the Crater Rim track out to towards Godley Head. When my wife wasn’t working we drove out to the Head itself and walked back along the cliff path around the WWII gun emplacements. It was all very reminiscent of the South West Coast Path around the bottom left tip of England that I walked three years ago. We dropped into the beach at Taylors Mistake past the tiny cottages and through all the wild, beautiful, perfumed, pestilent flowers imported from foreign countries. It’s named after a ships’ captain ran aground in the mid-19th century, mistaking the beach for the river mouth at Sumner. If the surf is right the beach is full of wet suited, board toting youth. It wasn’t right and there was a Donald Trump lookalike in speedos sunning himself, a close enough resemblance to be disconcerting.
We went to a movie at the creaky old cinema, played tennis with friends, drank coffee at the cafes. I had a chilly sea swim. I could happily live in Sumner. So, if we went back twenty years would we change our decision and move elsewhere. Possibly. Too late of course. The road forks, you make your choices.