Why do I love Pukerua Bay?

Reflections on my home town.

It is just before Christmas 1988, and you are looking for a nest of your own. You look at townhouses in other parts of Porirua, none of which appeal, and the estate agent suggests you look further north. Somewhere your money will go a bit further to buy something you like more.

“I know a house for sale in Pukerua Bay. You probably won’t like it, but it has character.”

And it does: pinex walls, a sheepskin carpet in the lounge, and a water stain on the hall carpet from when part of the roof blew off in the Wāhine storm in 1968. You love it and it is yours within a day.

You spend the first summer knocking the overgrown garden into shape. You decide to walk around the coast to Plimmerton on a day so hot you have a swim just past Wairaka Rock and go home for a cold beer in the shade of the back veranda.

You quickly realise you are a stranger in a strange town. You don’t yet use public transport to get to work, so random conversations on the train aren’t likely. There isn’t a social scene for young people to get into.

You start having children. Once the first child starts at playgroup, you are in. Any shame about hijacking your child’s social life to boost your own is quickly abandoned. Kindy and school become a big part of your lives, and the circle grows.

You are recruited for the School Gala. You visit every house in the Bay to collect stuff that comes back year-after-year, with the school clipping the ticket each time.

On a good gala day, the sun shines, the wind is a gentle zephyr, and money burns a hole in a thousand pockets. On a bad day, you’re on the BBQ in the rain, working under a tarpaulin that’s too short. You shield the food with your body and use your best fairground barker voice to tempt the hungry punters.

If you aren’t quick enough to look away when they’re handing the jobs out, you find yourself running a stall. Or, you have a brilliant scheme for running a stall better. If you’re lucky, it works. If not, it’s complaint city. You start running a silent auction. You get rid of most of the rubbish you used to try to sell for $2 and make more money selling less. Success.

Working bees become regular weekend events. A big cleanup in the Wairaka Reserve behind the Library clears out tonnes of rubbish. A weak back means heavy lifting is out. You take too many photos and run the sausage sizzle, with a heavy hand on the mustard.

At least you don’t spend another Easter in hospital on an antibiotic drip for a bug you pick up helping to build the school playground.

Local kids want to play soccer. Parents form a club, and kids join to play with their friends.

Some kids are too young for the competition so you offer to take them at the school. Twenty-five years later you’re still chasing five-year-olds around the field. (“I swear to God, this is the last year I’m doing this.” But you know it’s not.)

You graduate to coaching your child’s team. They lose all their games and you remember your own experience of that. Keep it fun, don’t focus on losing, and find a reason to praise each child. Never forget the positive impact of the small gesture.

The club creator retires and delivers a box of records to you. “It’s all in here. It won’t take much of your time.” It does. But you enjoy it. You remember the hours your parents did this and discover why they kept doing it year-after-year. Your kids stop playing but you find yourself still involved until your last gasp.

You’re sitting at Brendan Beach in the warm sun watching a teenage son playing with his friends. They have a rugby ball and are running through the surf avoiding tackles. You take a few good action photos and overhear one of the other parents say they reckon the boys will remember this day forever. You hope so. It’s a perfect experience.

The coastal walk to Wairaka Rock becomes a favourite route for exploration and meditation, especially after you get a dog. Walking along the beach you bump into a stream of acquaintances, many of whom become friends. You marvel at the beauty of the Bay, the ruggedness of the rocky shore, the anticipation of seeing a seal, and stingrays hunting in the shallow pools. You scramble over every new pile of driftwood left on the track after the last storm.

You discover the Residents Association and find yourself on another committee. Didn’t you say you had enough of that at work? But, there you are. They have a Village Planning programme where villages can build the future they want. You feel empowered. You meet wonderful people contributing so much to the community, and think again about your parents. You realise you are just like them, and feel proud.

An enthusiastic resident has a plan to build a permaculture food forest in the Bay. You remember when you were an agriculture science student and how alternative systems excited you. You leap on board to discover council bureaucracy, so you cajole and collaborate to hack through the impenetrable thickets of ‘rules’. But, you get there, a keen group builds up around it, and it becomes something special.

Why would anyone leave this? I’ve long assumed I would end my days here. It looks like that will be sooner than I thought. Myeloma is incurable. After 13 years, the end of the road is very close now.

Dying’s not so bad if you’ve had time to get used to the idea. There is no avoiding it. But, I can’t say I’m not disappointed; there’s a lot to leave behind. I’ve been surrounded by aroha the whole journey from beautiful people here.

That’s why I love Pukerua Bay.

E kore au e ngaro, he kākano ahau i ruia mai i Rangiātea. I can never be lost, I am a seed sown from Rangiātea.