As I drive towards Cape Palliser there is a poetry of names that takes me home. Names of farms, hills and rivers that create a rhythm as each one passes, calling me closer to the sea – Pirinoa, Whakatomotomo, Whangaimoana, Hurupi. Some of the names claim their space as if there has only ever been one – The Castle, The Pinnacles, The Washpool. We summed it all up by simply saying ‘The Coast’.
The rugged landscape tumbles down to the sea – to a bay that wraps around itself as far as you can see.
As coast kids, this was home. A red and cream Bedford bus drove us the 45 minutes inland each day to Pirinoa School, but our heart lived at the beach. We came from families that farmed, fished, and simply wanted to get away from it all.
Everywhere there are reminders that this place is older than your imaginings. There was something to learn everywhere and we were encouraged by parents who asked us to look closer. Where else could you park a car on the side of the road and let children climb cliff faces, looking for fossils? Dinosaurs paled in comparison to real shell fossils in papa cliffs that washed out of the grey mudstone after each storm. Sometimes, the rocks offered up fossilised whale bones in their freshly eroded faces.
The lower paddocks stretch out to the sea with patterns of stone that we took for granted. They look like they had always been there and in a way they had. The remnants of pre-European gardens peek through the ground as a reminder that this place has been farmed since well before the landing of the first sheep. Stone lines stretch out to the horizon, marking the edges of garden beds and territories. As children, they made for the best BMX tracks; as adults a solemn reminder we are only here for a moment.
After school explorations of hillsides and valleys created a world where kids with imagination were king. We were continually exploring, with bivouacs cobbled together in the tawini undergrowth. Imaginary townships sprang up as the network grew, and we encouraged our friends to make their own when they came to visit. Shiny patches of flattened grass lined the hillside where we slid down in our smooth bottomed fish bins. Games often consisted of daring each other to launch from higher and higher up on the hills, always on the lookout for the sheep tracks that would leave us tumbling head first.
To the untrained eye, the landscape looks unforgiving. The trees cling to the sides of windswept hills and even the kowhai becomes dwarfed and prone to share the space with us. For us, the coast kids, it was home, a place where imaginations could grow. I count it as a privilege to have been able to grow up here and even more of a privilege to be able to share it, unchanged, with my children.
Story by Amy Williams
Photography by Jannelle Preston-Searle