Old-fashioned family bach is still in style

17:00, Sep 15 2013
Rope Family bach
HOME AWAY FROM HOME: The Rope family at their beloved Glinks Gully bach.

It was one of those endless childhood summers. The sky was high and blue over the great sweep of sun-baked sand where the Pouto Peninsula skids into the Tasman Sea and pretty little Camille Rope was crowned Miss Glinks Gully Junior 1991.

Just 11 years old, with the winner's sash draped around her, she could be forgiven for thinking that life simply couldn't get any better but oh, it did... it did. With every summer of her life thus far - and many, many days in between - spent at the family bach 15 minutes south-west of Dargaville, she was yet to realise the extent of her good fortune. This was just how her life went.

But her father Neville knew. Oh, he knew alright because Glinks Gully had been his childhood turf as well. He watched his children Camille, Elliot, Olivia and Aynsley scamper around, sticky with salt, gritty with sand and prickly with sunburn and saw the childhood shadows of his own brothers and sisters flit over the shore behind them. When his grandfather had set off from the less-tropical climes of Suffolk in England in 1879 he could never have imagined just what a legacy his great-grandchildren would enjoy but then, who knows, perhaps the shade of that first Rope also lingers over the little baches of Glinks Gully.

Actually it was at Te Kopuru on the upper Kaipara Harbour that the first Rope made his home but it is Glinks Gully just across the peninsula where the Ropes have really put down their roots. Although the search for work has dispersed them all over New Zealand, it doesn't take much to bring them all running home to that cleft on the wild west coast and it is this little settlement that the adult Camille now recognizes for the prize it is.

For Camille's branch of the family, the diaspora was merely to Auckland, thankfully close enough to reach Glinks regularly. But there are certain formalities that dictate the journey. It is a familial understanding that a weekend does not even begin to count as a weekend unless it is from under a Glinks Gully duvet that the sleeper staggers out on a Saturday morning. And if that first cup of Saturday tea is not brewed in the Glinks Gully kitchen, then it is definitely not a proper weekend away. Neville is emphatic about that and it is a prerequisite that makes perfect sense to his brood. If the outsider is somewhat confused by the criteria, they need only to see the affection on the faces of the Rope family as they talk about their beloved Glinks to understand.

So north they go on a Friday night and if they time it right they are at Dargaville by dinner-time. There is a park bench in the township just about perfect for a meal of excellent fish and chips and the chance to open a box of beer. Malt and salt - if that isn't a traditional Kiwi take-away, then what is?


Finally, almost 200 kilometres from their family apartment in Auckland's CBD, they roll into Glinks Gully. They load up the wheelbarrow with provisions and trundle it to the front door of Ropes Roost: such a small door to open onto such a big part of their lives. The wheelbarrow makes several trips to and from the car, laden not only with provisions but also with a selection of recipe books for, if Camille describes those Dargaville fish and chips as excellent, then it is certain that they are because Camille's other great love is cooking.

During the week she will have perused her collection of more than 1000 cookbooks and come up with menus for the weekend. She must know at least a little bit of what she will be cooking before she arrives because all the provisions must be bought prior to Glinks if they don't wish to leave the Gully for the nearest shop at Baylys Beach or Te Kopuru. It is not possible to garden at Glinks either as the soil is far too sandy and plants would require constant attention. The Ropes visit Glinks regularly but a successful garden would need a permanent on-site presence. One day... they collectively sigh.

Most of the dishes will include fish caught straight off the shore below the bach. Ripiro Beach is the longest driveable stretch of sand in New Zealand, longer even than the misnamed Ninety Mile Beach (which is really only 88 kilometres). Ripiro's 107-kilometre sweep runs far beyond the length of the Pouto Peninsula, from the Pouto lighthouse to Maunganui Bluff, past Glinks Gully and Baylys Beach, Chadwicks, Mahuta Gap, Chases Gorge and Omamari.

Pouto means the float of a fishing net and the nets of those who cast them on this coast are never empty. The Rope net is soon out, one end being held chest-deep in the tide and the other by someone merely up to their knees. It is span enough and Neville and his helpmate of the moment can feel the fish slamming into the net: mullet, kahawai and flounder pile up in a tangle of gills, a haul that is really way too easy for the netters. They also spear flounder and Neville sends out his Torpedo Kontiki for trevally, gurnard
and snapper.

So it's hard to believe the Ropes never tire of fish, but Camille sees to it that they don't. Even in this land of abundant kai moana and good cooks, it would be hard to find someone as inventive with fish as Camille, reckons her family. Although, it must be confessed, there is the most amazing butcher in Dargaville.

The Ropes fish all day. They catch, they gut, they fillet, they cook, they smoke... and then start all over again. They eat off Nana's collection of Crown Lynn and drink water fed from a lake in the hills above. They eat shellfish and smoked fish with a horseradish and beetroot dip. They eat awesome fish pies, smoked-fish soup and kahawai sashimi.

They eat on the deck because Glinks is strangely and joyfully mozzie free. Camille surprises them with her current dish du jour which will be determined by her latest favourite books - at the moment Al Brown's Stoked and a perennial favourite, Jerusalem by chef Yotam Ottolenghi who uses his Israeli heritage for the gastronomic good of mankind.

Camille's husband Kyle is her right-hand person. Although he is an engineer he has a firm love of cooking. Neville does the dishes, now helped by a newly purchased dishwasher which, he says, has changed their lives. Camille's mother Teresa must surely be one of the luckiest women in Glinks Gully. Camille spends at least half of her Glinks Gully days cooking. She forbids mere sandwiches for lunch and frowns on eating between meals, so her family is suitably hungry at the dinner-table.

Rainy days are never a problem in the Gully. There are books to read, recipes to consider, board games to play and perhaps a DVD to watch, especially if it's a concert recording. The remoteness is grand, reckons Neville. No mobile phone, no television signal, no shops. The lack of contact with the outside world is what makes it so special, he says.

For all that, the Ropes are not the pioneers their great-grandfather had to be and from time to time the call of coffee sends them scuttling back to Baylys Beach and The Funky Fish café. And sometimes, at five o'clock and if the tide is right, their special Glinks Gully car takes them down the beach to The Funky Fish again for a cooling beer. Their dear old reliable Hyundai is just beginning to feel the first twinges of vehicular lumbago; when it gives up it will be like a death in the family.

One thing that will never die, however, is the Rope's understanding of how, in an already extraordinarily lucky country, they are so wonderfully fortunate. How grateful they are to a young man who set off to live in a remote country in an even more isolated spot and found Glinks Gully. And even more thankful that the son of that first adventuring Rope one day managed to somehow scrape together $1750 for a little bach that has had such a huge and treasured influence on his descendants.

- NZ Life & Leisure