People here are asking me if I miss London, imagining, I suppose that the quietude of Waiheke must be incomparably dull compared with the bustle of a great world city. I’m always at a bit of a loss how to answer this question and the clue to my dilemma is that they are indeed incomparable. As much as I adore London and could never give it up entirely, I find I’m curiously at peace here in the semi solitude of Rocky Bay which has a community and an identity distinct from the general relaxed Waihekian modus operandi, i.e. laid back and relaxed – except for the dash to catch the ferry.
My new view across the valley
There are memories of Phillip, who died here. They are good ones and I realise that they need to be revisited. Let me give you an example. Three years ago I stubbornly refused his request to trim a tree blocking the view from our balcony across the valley. My reason then was that the birds came up close in those branches, which also provided food for them. Now I can see his point. There are plenty of trees around for the birds and I can now see houses nestled in the bush on the other side of our valley, providing at least a visual connection. The Island is now wearing its Christmas decorations. The Kanuka Trees (a relative of the Manuka which flowered earlier and famed for Honey) are coming into bloom.
The effect on the hillsides around is of a light dusting of sugar or snow on the tops of the trees. Pohutukawa trees, known as the New Zealand Christmas tree, are early this year and their large bright red blooms contrast with the small white Kanuka flowers.
Pohutokawa in flower
I’ve always had a passion for the New Zealand native bush and animals; the later being almost entirely birds. Here in Rocky Bay, I am surrounded by bush and it’s great to re-connect. Throughout the year each species of native plant has its moment to get maximum attention from pollinating insects and birds. Later in the season there are seeds and fruit for them to eat. Just at the moment the Tui, a black bird with emerald green markings on their wings and a white ball of feathers at their throat, are enjoying the nectar from the flax flowers (Phormium Tenax). They are aggressive and territorial birds making a noisy whirring sound with their wings in flight. They are unconcerned by my presence, whizzing past my ear en route to a more important target. This is often a Blackbird or Mynah bird (immigrants) perching on one of their trees.
The huge and cumbersome native Pigeon (Kereru) also comes in for flack as do individual Tuis trying to muscle in. Tui make the most extraordinary and varied sounds; melodious bell like calls punctuated by clicks and glottal calls. They are great imitators, so you can never be sure what you are listening to. Mum was a great fan of the Tui and often when on the phone from the UK, I would hear the Tui in the background.
I’ve made friends with the local blackbirds, who in years of separation from their European cousins, look significantly different, particularly the young adults who have rusty red heads. In my daily quest to rid the forest floor of Jasmine and Tradescantia, the Blackbirds gather expectantly to take advantage of any insects, worms and other invertebrates disturbed by my grubbing of the soil. They too have their hierarchies with the males (black with yellow beak) chase of the youngsters. As Tuis don’t feed on the ground the blackbirds here have found a niche on the forest floor, once exploited by the now rare Kiwi.
There are human connections to be made and with a permanent population of around eight thousand (burgeoning to 30 thousand in the summer) most people here know each other, or at least recognise fellow islanders. I note in The Gulf News (the local weekly paper) that there’s a book launch on at the new library. Six women writers on the Island have got together and published an anthology of their work. Sentries of the Heart has been printed on the island and contains poems, short stories and excerpts from longer works. I’m impressed by the library, a stunning example of contemporary New Zealand architecture. It’s the first amazing thing you see coming up the hill from the ferry at Matiatia.
There’s a good turnout but the only person I know is my friend Warwick who in a few short years on the Island has managed celebrity status. There is a huge spread of food to be eaten and a complimentary glass of wine or two, all of which, in this airy building, makes the readings go down well. There’s a musician, who with a collection of instruments comments on and introduces each new reading. I get talking to a blond woman who then seems to cross my path coincidentally for the rest of the weekend. Richard is coming over and after a chilly and short swim at the school pool; I collect him from the ferry and we meet up with Warwick for lunch. I’ve had an invitation to the Waiheke Island Rainbow Coalition to join in a dinner party at The Shed – a restaurant at Te Motu vineyard. It’s described as a ‘soft pink’ event and Richard & I meet more of the gay and lesbian community over good wine and fantastic food. Worth a return visit I think.
I’ve never been to any of those ‘Live performances’ from the National Theatre in London or the Met Opera in New York. The Waiheke Cinema has Skylight by David Hare showing for only $25 so I go. It’s a great evening of lovely acting from all three of the cast and cleverly filmed to give the impression of being there, even though we are sitting on comfortable sofas and one woman on the side has moved to the floor.
It’s Friday night and I’ve got a dinner engagement with old friends in Herne Bay, Auckland. This means I shall have to forgo the Happy Hour this month at the Rocky Bay Hall. I guess there will be many more happy hours to come and besides, this is a job for the Brompton which I fold up and carry onto the ferry. I vaguely hear people making comments, but not close enough to acknowledge. The ride is easy except for the hill up to Herne Bay and the ride back after a lovely dinner and conversation is even quicker. This system of putting the bike in the back of the car is going to work.
There’s no need to take it over to the launch of the launch of the Pan Asia Pacific Out Games 2016 which is held at the Viaduct Event Centre as this is just a short walk along the docks on over a bridge, which happens to be raising up as I arrive, to let a yacht through to the inner moorings. My new team mates from TAMS are already there and Coach Cynthia has brought me a club tee shirt to wear at competitions. I’ve actually worn my 2013 ‘Keep GLLAM and Swim’ tee shirt which is much admired. The local Iwi (tribe) begin with a welcome and speeches (all in Maori) supporting the Gay Games. There is no translation and I realise that most people here know what is being said. There are lots more speeches, including one from an MP who is a lesbian and Maori. Apparently the local Iwi has been supporting gay rights for many years – well ahead of other tribes. Although there is a pay bar, the food is free and we get some tasty canapés. I’m already looking forward to getting involved in the games organisation, particularly as TAMS will be responsible for the swimming.
It’s the Swimming Club Christmas party on Sunday afternoon and another task for the Brompton, cycling to Westmere, some Km west of Herne Bay. By contrast with the Out to Swim Christmas parties, held in West End clubs, this affair is at the home of the coach and partner. The theme is frocks, fascinators and frills, forcing the lesbians to forego trousers and allowing one of the chaps to wear a gold lame frock. Head wear is everywhere but I’ve gone for my 2014 GLLAM tee shirt (blue & pink) with blue Samoan lava lava; a boa of silver tinsel hung with tree decorations – silver and pink triangles around drums, completes the outfit. I have to change into it all when I get there as it’s not possible to cycle wearing all this.
People have made an amazing range of salads to go with a gigantic ham which has to be glazed. We bring our own drinks except for an initial glass of bubbles and quite a few vodka jelly shots which are delicious but difficult to get out of the glasses with your tongue. Pudding is of course that ubiquitous Kiwi dish the Pavlova and there’s also a home made cheesecake. It’s a chance to get to know people a bit more and helped by a tail wind, the cycle ride back to the ferry takes no time at all in spite of the quantity of food and vodka jelly consumed.
This is the weekend of the Rocky Bay art exhibition and the only change to catch it is on Sunday morning. There’s also a new initiative from some local women, who are opening a weekend café in the hall for the summer, giving walkers and visitors to Rocky Bay somewhere to get coffee and cake. The scones with cream and jam are excellent and the coffee recommended – worth a trip to Rocky Bay.
This all sounds busy and action packed, but I’ve been reading about the Greek Philosopher Epicurus and his quest to live life well, particularly in old age. The Author Daniel Klein, has, like me travelled to an Island, and although he’s ten years older than me, I am making the connection between age and enjoyment. Slowing down is definitely part of my life now, doing an hour of weed clearance a day is sufficient and great progress has been made. London winds me up, discouraging the frequent reflective periods I enjoy on Waiheke. I pause in my work to watch the birds and to enjoy the trees. Whilst I don’t go as far as Epicurus in savouring a dish of lentils, I eat well. Lettuces and radishes are now ready for picking and there is plenty of parsley. The vegetables grow daily and I’ve planted for a winter supply. The Epicureans who indulge in orgiastic fine dining have missed the point entirely and somewhere in between these two extremes is a good place to be at this time.