The smell of hot and wet tar-seal after summer rain, the noise of a petrol powered lawn mower, the feeling of plucked Agapanthus flowers in your hand, the familiar sight of a timeless bach, the taste of a cold beer thrust upon you, kind and candid conversation from strangers, that indefinable sense of wholeness granted from being somewhere you …belong.
I awoke this morning with a compulsion: a need to try and explain, to my imagined anonymous audience out in the ether, the sense of the Kiwi bach, caravan, tent, and beach experience. So I borrowed a camera (my father seems to have acquired a very capable Canon compact in my 20 month absence) and I walked this beach-town. I engaged in badinage and tried to capture what my mind’s eye was seeing. I arrive back here, the extended Versatile and Ideal (actual manufacturers) garages that form the beach bungalow where my father lives, and sit at the dusty old compaq in the corner. I have a camera, computer and a compulsion.
I have been holidaying in Whangamata for 23 years. First in a tent with a utility shed - a small 6’ x 8’ building with a washing machine, fridge, shower, toilet and power outlets. Then a 4-berth Oxford caravan arrived. Later the family beach-home moved to another section with an outside toilet and an ancient caravan on site - our family caravan followed, and then later a 20’ x 20’ garage was built. This converted garage now forms the sitting room of my father’s beach bungalow. This precis of my family beach life can be reflected by many Kiwi beach goers.
The process of beach-building-evolution is followed still to this day, our family history is relatively recent. Caroline and Kelvin next door have been coming here since 1976 and know a gent up the road who has 70 years of this place within him. I learnt this as I threw out a cheery wave and asked to take a photo of their caravan (ours is long gone). Before I knew it I was viewing the family photo album of nearly 40 years of holidays and their own construction process. I have never met these people, and here I am, engaged in conversation and smiling at 40 years of their family. (There is a whole other blog post in trying to explain the community Kiwi spirit). They have never crossleased nor subdivided their section, so have room for bat-down-cricket in the front and 3 tents, a caravan, a boat and a couple of cars in the back.
So what is this hiraeth and hywl? My two favourite Welsh words… The search and longing for something about or at home that actually may no longer be there, and the visceral wholeness that can be topped up or drained by time in or away from home. I have appropriated a Welsh saying: “I am going home to get some hwyl.” Here I am, cricket on the TV, summer rains falling, humidity approaching dew point and 28˚c in the shade… I have found hwyl in spades. My hiraeth is sated: some things never change; the blue bach on the corner of the 9-hole golf course is timeless; the lack of footpaths and the tenacious kikuyu grass everywhere.
I have topped up. It has taken 62 hours of being here. It took 30 hours to get here and 62 hours of occupation to make sure my cup of hwyl runneth over. I will continue to observe the insane blues, vast greens, ominous greys and baked browns that make the palette of New Zealand colours. I will continue to engage strangers in conversation and expect their candour and kindness. I will trust my instincts at the smell of rain approaching… and having expunged this nagging compulsion, I will be patient and revert back to my beloved film and beautiful OM1 to capture it all.