Country Living - Maiden voyage

By: Julie Cotton

My husband will bust his balls on a still day to go for a kayak on our beloved Kaipara Harbour. I had never really concerned myself with her ebb and flow times of day. For me, she has always been like a big organic bed, and when she decides to roll her sheets back and awaken is a luxury for her to keep. Unlike so many, my relationship with the harbour has always been on a visual and emotional plane. My 180-degree view has enabled my child-like escapism and fantasy. My eyes are six years old and the harbour is my lolly shop.

Noel Wineera’s boat was full of Kaipara treats.
Noel Wineera’s boat was full of Kaipara treats.

The reality of the pandemic has now allowed me to question the raw fragility of my being and has awakened a modest sense of urgency to have more of a physical relationship with this body of water that gives me much happiness. Last Sunday, on a crisp and cold morning, I went for a kayak on her for the first time.

In the bright orange kayak, I gently glided onto her, plunging my paddle deeply and slowly so as not to disturb her. Through the inlet we glided and then, reminiscent of a scene from On Golden Pond, I found myself in the middle of her massive expanse, visually feasting on a smorgasbord of landscape I had never allowed myself the privilege of before. The forever-ness and the magnitude of the water caressing the green farming landscape raced my heart and my warm breath steamed my glasses.

While gently hugging the shoreline of the Tapora Peninsula, the myriad of little bays rising up to the farmlands reminded me of the pretty edge of a finely scalloped lace skirt, with native bush etched along like fine embroidery and little shelly beaches like perfect pearl embellishments. Skimming across the rocks, her waters were clear and transparent, sparkling and glistening in the morning sun, her gems of life exposed like an open jewellery box.

Perched high up in the trees along the shore were royal spoonbills and their neatly formed nests about to burst with new life. I pondered how fitting was their name as they flew high above me, watching over this majestic lady. Moving along the shoreline, I passed towering smooth  rock faces. The layers of colour were so beautiful, earthy tones of browns and golds scattered with well-worn holes and caves comforting and warm, not unlike a hand-knitted jersey that Nanna made that kept us so warm. Cradled within the arms of this jersey lies the recent sleeping carcass of a whale, which must have found solace and peace in her final moments on this earth wrapped up warm in a cave.

Leaving behind the protection of the shoreline, we headed across a more open and exposed body of water. The wind was now stronger in its exhale, and her fluttering sheets of water began to romantically peel back her tide – she was awakening. With tired arms and freezing fingers, we headed around the last knoll to the calmer waters at the front of our farm. To my stunning delight, our friend Noel Wineera was perched atop of her fishing.

His little boat full of her treats, respectfully caught by this local lad, who has spent his entire life gathering the jewels she offers up to share with his whanau.

After polite conversation in a moment that felt like we were the only people in the world experiencing this wonderment, Noel gifted us a whole snapper for dinner. My final glide home was full of regret for all the physical time I had missed on this harbour, but excited that the Noels in the world have so much knowledge and wisdom to share to make up for it. My herb encrusted whole-baked snapper for dinner that night preceded one of the sweetest desserts I have ever had – candy-covered memories dripping with a toffee-like desire to embrace her more, learn from her more and thank her more.

Julie Cotton


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