Aotearoa – the North Shore
There it was, “the land of the long white cloud”, gleaming on the surface of the ocean. I watched its shores get closer and closer.
Thirty hours of travel were about to end. London was now the dot out of sight, and there below was the upside down, lumpy exclamation mark that I’d peered at so often on our map on the kitchen wall.
There was no doubting how far away it was, nor that when Covid-19 crept around the world, New Zealand had locked its doors so tight that the haka became a whisper. Now, finally, the country’s borders were open again.
I watched the land approach beneath its cloud, filling the horizon at last, then attaching with a bump to the aeroplane wheels. It was a weird sensation, like surfacing from underwater.
Aircraft hum filled my ears as I dragged my hand luggage towards the scrutiny of visored customs staff. Stern warnings about importing honey marked out the walls behind them, and an announcement reminded us not to forget our Covid test welcome packs in the biohazards section.
Then I was out into Auckland’s winter sun, and the longed for real contact with family who’d been out of reach for over two years.
For my first days I stayed on Auckland’s North Shore, part of the city itself, a suburb that sprawls along the inletted coastline, separated from the city’s university, most of its hospitals and business core, by Waitematā Harbour and the bridge that crosses it.
The houses around the area where I was based were mostly wooden, bordered in green lawn, and individual in design. I stayed in a family home full of life and welcome. Pets, teenagers, parents, and a grandparent, came and went, and with them a shifting collage of art, study, part-time work, washing, cooking, dog-walking, the frustrations of rising fuel prices, and the challenges of nurturing a young seaweed business.
I walked and talked, loved family meals, and ate Kiwi fruit, home-made marmalade with cardamom, and discovered the textures and tastes of different seaweeds, eaten as curled strips, or sprinkled with spices into cooking.
Life felt familiar, alive and looking for opportunity, despite the cling of Covid. The only significant difference was the luxury of having the sea not far from the house.
In the mornings, which were sometimes cold and wet, and sometimes as sunny as summer, the dog and I would walk through the houses, with their lawns of unblemished green, and down through the trees to the shore. At the bottom of the shallow cliffs, rock and sand curved away into distant bays, dotted with walkers and dogs.
The mornings, apart from one, were peaceful and perfect. The only not-so-peaceful one, was marked out by a helicopter that appeared above our beach not long after the dog and I had returned. I wondered what had happened, thinking of London and the omens that spin from such blades. On this occasion it turned out to be the same in New Zealand, the helicopter marking out a random knife attack, close to where we’d just walked. The locals were truly shocked. Such events are rare, I was told.
I remember that day because it was so unexpected – a slash to the corner of the North Shore canvas I knew, with its sky-coloured sea and lawn-lined homes, sketched between with strips of shops, dog walkers, cars, and the twisting branches of the pohutekawa trees. A place of calm, and views of blue.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2022