Last weekend we got our first taste of the loveliness New Zealand has to offer outside of Auckland. Forced to leave our temporary accommodation for a weekend because of a prior booking, Olly and I packed up the car and headed to the Coromandel Peninsula about three hours drive away for some good old-fashioned sun, sea and sand.
The trip couldn’t have come at a better time. I think I had my first wobble last week. It wasn’t home-sickness, more the stress of all the things we’re juggling right now. All the usual things that cause you anxiety – house, money, work, family and the fact of having to deal with them all at once. I decided to make the focus for all this my hunt for childcare, specifically trying to find the ideal arrangement for various hypothetical scenarios which may or may not happen. By Wednesday, I’d got into such a flap, going round and round in circles with various possible configurations of nurseries, nannies and pre-schools that I had to curtail more than one phone call to a childcare provider because I’d started to sob. At that point I decided to give up planning for not yet acquired employment and enrol Elsie for her free place in our local Kindergarten and deal with Belle when the need actually arose. Phew.
The stress wasn’t helped by the fact that we had to pack up all our things and clear out of the little apartment we’ve been calling home but not so that we could move into our new house (which isn’t available until next week). No, just so that some people on a stag-do or similar could come into the flat for a long weekend. This felt like a particularly arduous and unsettling task, which I found myself quite unable to engage with until about two hours before the owners came round to clean the apartment, at which point we had to dash round randomly shoving things in suitcases and black bin bags. It felt like one of those awful flat-moves from your mid-20s, except we piled everything into a people carrier instead of a shopping trolley.
But it turns out we’d been done a massive favour, as we were pushed into getting out of the city. Coromandel, which according to the Lonely Planet is where New Zealanders go on holiday, is absolutely stunning. Covered in forested hills and edged with golden sand beaches, it’s one of those places that makes me want to give up completely on normal life and live in a bender on the beach.
Mind you, it still took us a while to get into it. Olly especially was suffering from a severe case of the decompressions. That is, the need to take a huge sigh and get rid of the stresses of new job, house hunting, home-sickness and all the other mixed-up emotions we might have been feeling underneath the excitement of the first couple of months. In him, this manifested itself as severe grumpiness on day one of our mini break. Admittedly not helped by our misguided decision to stay in a cut-price cabin in a holiday park, which resembled a building site portacabin with bunks that had been conveniently placed opposite the campsite sluice. A setting which was only enhanced by the presence next-door of a chain-smoking forty-something in the process of a difficult break-up, which she needed to discuss at length on her mobile. Sweet.
But after a few dips in the crystal clear ocean none of that mattered. By day two we’d regained our sense of adventure and embracing the Octonauts’ motto (Let’s do this!) did the walk from Hahei, where we were staying, to Cathedral Cove round the coast. This formed an early stage of our programme to get Elsie walking, the overall aim of which is to get her up a mountain before we leave. Walking tracks here are all really well-marked and the Department of Conservation (DOC) usually gives estimates of how long a specific walk should take you. Without kids, on shorter walks, the times given seem ludicrously over-estimated but they come in about right when you’re dragging an unwilling three year old around. Obviously we used all the usual bribes and incentives: snacks half-way, promises of ice-creams, exaggerated claims of potential wildlife spotting opportunities (“Well, I suppose we might see some orcas,”) but the thing that really got Elsie motoring was a couple of boys about her age passing her on the track. Come on, let’s beat those boys, I said and off she went. All complaints of tired legs gone. I feel a bit ashamed to have fallen back on inter-gender competition, but ah well, can’t be any worse than coaxing a child down a track with half a mars bar, can it?
And by golly, was it worth the minor amount of whingeing. A forty-five minute walk through shady ferns and pine trees dropped us down to a beautiful cove, split in half by a spectacular stone arch. The water was just right, cool enough to be refreshing but warm enough to dive straight in. There was a rock about 50 metres out you could jump in from and the water was so clear we spotted little shoals of fish right up close to the shore. There was even shade on the beach where trees were overhanging, so the kids could amuse themselves for a while without fear of sunstroke. Yes it was busy but who cares? It just meant there were other kids for Elsie to play with. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
As Olly said in a Facebook post, it’s times like this that will make all the upheaval worth it. This was what we came all this way for – wrenching ourselves away from dear family and friendships we’ve been nurturing for twenty years – to be able get in a car after work on a Friday and drive for three hours to somewhere so beautiful and life-affirming that you end up not caring that people are emptying their chemical toilets ten metres from your breakfast table.