Paradise is a place on earth called Rawhiti

ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 11:11 23/01/2014
Bay of Islands
ELTON SMALLMAN/Fairfax NZ

Room with a view: A new day dawns over the Bay of Islands and there is no time to waste.

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It's quiet on the water.

A few hardy souls sail or chug their way through the gap between Urupukapuka Island and Orerewai Point to meet the morning sun.

Deep Water Cove beckoned, perhaps Motukokako, where fish bubble on the surface and skippers cruise through the Hole in the Rock.

Rakaumangamanga rises sharply from the sea floor and the Cape Brett lighthouse stands upon its jagged spine as it winds its way back to Te Rawhiti (Ra-fiddy if you're a local), the last stop on the road from Russell in the Bay of Islands.

My introduction to this gem of the nation came on the eve of the new millennium as a smitten twenty-something with a Rawhiti girl on his arm.

It was late and the unfamiliar roads from the Opua ferry crossing were blackened with rain from a fierce storm that wrought misery to thousands in the Far North.

The morning broke fresh and clear and as the sun climbed from his eastern lair, the glow from his face pierced the sky, clouds rolled, a chorus of angels sang and a single tear fell from my eye.

I stood frozen in place, awestruck by the most magnificent scene on God's earth and my breath softly poured from my parted lips.

Rawhiti girl once told me about the serrated reefs, sheltered bays and the calm waters but no words could describe the exquisite beauty of her home until I looked upon it.

That Rawhiti girl is now my wife and our tent is pitched in the same spot I stood over a decade before. Snuggled under a layer of thick blankets with our two children they remain deep in sleep as I wait at the mouth of our shelter for the sun to rise, afflicted with a curse that never lets a minute in Te Rawhiti go to waste.

Boats continue to ply the channel throughout the morning. Hundreds, maybe thousands of them turn the quiet strip of sea into a highway more akin to Auckland's morning rush hour traffic.

Million dollar launches and sail boats from foreign waters share the sea with tinnies and kayakers with the arrival of the summer holidays.

Back at the camp, a full billy heats above the camp stove for a morning cuppa.

Nylon threaded and hooks secured, I head down the track with rod in hand to a tiny secluded beach at the bottom of the hill for a breakfast snapper. Just a pannie will do to start the day.

Tight lines are secured by rod holder jammed between reef and rock oyster as stingrays sit in the shallows just a few metres from my feet, watching every move.

Tiny movements from the rod tip indicates a snapper has leapt on my line.

Big enough to mention but too small to keep, his freedom is guaranteed and as I wait patiently for big brother to bite, an octopus camouflaged in red seaweed washes between two rocks with the surge of the tide and sneaks by.

Its black eyes watch me as its tentacles mimic the weed back and forth with the ebb and flow of the briny, and a game of cat and mouse ensues.

I turn my head, he moves, I turn back, he freezes until cephalopod stealth gets the better of human understanding and he dashes for the deep.

My children call from up on the hill as they make their way down the track just in time to reel in a fish for breakfast and back at the tent Rawhiti girl stirs from her slumber.

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The sun brightens the day and beats down as the fresh snapper makes it to the pan.

Snapper is her favourite kai and a reminder of the simpler days of her youth.

Our tent is pitched at The Pa, family land with a small papakainga at the top of a grassy point that stretches down to the sea where whanau come to unwind and recharge.

Cousin John lives there with his family and conversation quickly turns to fishing from the 18-foot Stabicraft crouched in the driveway, hungry for action.

Cousin Kelvin comes over with offers of homemade apple pie and cups of tea and yet another cousin Robert appears from the back of the section with stories of the gas-heated, outdoor shower he built. The hours tick by without thought as kids leap from a pohutukawa limb overhang the bay, eat kina and oysters, pick pupu from the rocks and ride the quad bike.

Rawhiti girl's father and brothers make the trip home with their families and gather around for a meal and talk of the old days growing up as Pa kids.

The children play deep into the afternoon, creating memories of their own so they can repeat the ritual in years to come.

Paradise is a place on earth called Rawhiti.

My father in-law tells how his koro used to ply the waters of the Bay of Islands as a whaler with my great-great grandfather in his crew, growing up on Moturua Island, life in the bay before the road came so far, as the lapping tide plays its sweet song.

The flotilla of sea craft files back into the bay after a long day on the water, leaving the darkness that chases them and our conversation turns to fishing once more.

Cousin John, who was raised on the bay and knows every inch of her majesty, glances at the sea for signs of fishing fortune. He gives the nod, bait and rods are stowed and berths are filled. The 18-foot boat senses our anticipation and lets out a roar as we head into the night.

elton.smallman@waikatotimes.co.nz

- Waikato

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