By Simon Arnold, with help from Jane Woodhall
Aristotle wrote: “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.” Aristotle had to wait another decade to get his hands on me, but the New Zealand rural lifestyle didn’t.
I don’t much remember Mangaweka, but Tinui stays with me. It wasn’t just the large open spaces in which to roam, but also things like the regular trips to Castlepoint and Riversdale on the wild east coast, the new two-roomed school and the excitement (for me) of flooding routinely isolating the community.
I also remember the importance of Anzac Day to the small community, but without understanding the context of the Tanui-Taipo cross, or the rawness of a war that had ended only a decade before.
Even Wadestown in Wellington, where we moved in the late 50s, still had a village feel. Where we lived overlooked the hills of what was to become Chartwell, and we got to roam from Wilton’s Bush to The Crows Nest and down to the Ngaio Gorge where we played dodgems with the trains on the Johnsonville line.
Jane grew up in Alexandra, the fifth generation of her father’s family at the local primary school among the children of farmers and fruit growers. As well as small rural town living, her memories are shaped by living on the banks of Clutha and Manuherikia and the seasons: ice skating in winter, hard frosts, blossom, and long hot summers. But for family ties in Wellington she would have readily returned to the homeland of her youth.
So perhaps it isn’t surprising that nearly a lifetime later, selling up in Wellington to encourage the last of the children on their way, and heading up the coast for that elusive 2 degrees of warming, we should find Te Horo Beach.
It’s one of the rare places within a train commute to Wellington (and family) where semi-rural living close to the sea is possible, near a significant river, and at least occasional snow on the Tararuas and foothills.
For Jane to find somewhere with huge skies, a dry blue and gold landscape, frosts and a small community has been a great joy.
“I love the silence, the solitude, the swans overhead, the mountains, and above all, the wild empty beach. Whenever I’m away I hightail it home as fast as is possible . . .”
So Te Horo has given us a place to put down our roots, away from the size and busyness of the city. In doing this we’ve discovered regenerating coastal ex-farmland supports only a limited palette.
Even with that education, we’ve hardly made a dent planting hundreds, if not thousands of wi wi, flax, ngaio and cabbage trees (h/t Tinui, although it’s the poplars I remember) and encouraging the muehlenbeckia and taupata to return. A lifetime’s work awaits.
Despite the space there are still people around when needed. Te Horo has a good mix of long-term and newer residents, and regular community events. This has made for a surprisingly easy transition on the social front.
The active Kapiti arts and crafts community means Jane has been able to grow her professional links. Business for me has been rewarding, too. I’m constantly impressed by the practical ability of local businesses just to get things done with whatever is to hand.
Ōtaki and points north are where to look for industrial activities; one would have to go south to Porirua to better it.
I also have no difficulty running a national organisation from the Beach. There’s reasonable internet and a train to town that allows an hour’s work each way (at least off-peak). A decade ago it wouldn’t have been possible on either account. It will only get better if we got some public transport and access to the expressway at Peka Peka.
But compromises remain. While I still get to play dodgems with the trains when we venture to the other side of the tracks, progress looks set to take that particular childhood pleasure away.
Simon helps commercialise industrial technologies and is chief executive of the National Energy Research Institute; Jane is a textile artist.