Cooks Beach - a great place to have a holiday, but would you really want to live there? Mike Mather did. And he would again, if given the chance.
The problem with living in paradise in your teens is that you don't appreciate it as much as you should.
Such was the case with Cooks Beach, where I grew up in the 1980s and early 90s. At the time it was probably the most boring, backward locale in the entire country, if not the planet - a not unreasonable conclusion to reach, I thought, as I tuned in my clunky shortwave radio to the weak and frequently fuzzy signal eminating from the Auckland student radio station bFM.
Many of my evenings were spent listening in to the sounds of the big city, it's colourful personalities and endless exciting events. It sounded like the most intoxicating, unruly, happening place on Earth. The complete opposite of Cooks Beach.
Geographically isolated, serviced by a single general store, a hardware store and a takeaway bar, it was (and still is) home to hundreds of holiday baches and homes, most of which remained empty for 95 per cent of the year. The small, resident population in those days consisted almost exclusively of older, retired farming folk and young bogany types.
I suppose I, having moved there with my parents in '85, fitted into the bogany category. A quiet, sit-at-home-and-read-comic-books-rather-than-go-out, totally-bewildered-by-girls kind of bogan. Frustrating times. I was yet to figure any of it out. I'm now in my 40s and still largely haven't, but that's beside the point.
Most of my peer group, who grew up there, had got it figured. I once got into a slanging match with a guy from my high school when I once, in a rare fit of boldness, described the place as a hole.
"F*** off! It's a choice hole," he chided.
He was right.
Cooks Beach, for the uninitiated few, sits on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, tucked inside the broad arc of alternating beaches and headlands that is Mercury Bay. It's a sandy, three-kilometre strip of sand bookended by Shakespeare's Cliff at one end and the mouth of the Purangi River at the other. If you can't catch a fish from the Purangi, you ain't gonna get one anywhere.
It is named after Captain James Cook, who visited the beach in 1769 to observe the planet Mercury travel across the face of the sun. As you do.
Tangental aside: For some reason there is no possessive apostrophe in Cooks Beach. It's always bugged me and is another thing I have never figured out.
A short distance away is Ferry Landing, where us youngsters used to catch the ferry across the Whitianga estuary to Mercury Bay Area School. According to legend it is where the Polynesian explorer Kupe first set foot in Aotearoa in 950AD. It's also home to the oldest stone wharf in Australasia, built in 1837. The more recently-built wharf on the opposite side is a better place to do bombs into the water though.
Right next to Cooks Beach is Lonely Bay, accessible via walking tracks. It was an important place to us young fellas back in the day because many interesting people used to go there for a spot of topless or bottomless sunbathing. In the height of summer they could usually be found a few metres apart. Not so lonely at all, really.
Back in the 80s, when you didn't really worry about things like fire restrictions or hapless children stumbling into the embers the next morning, there were plenty of bonfire parties on the beach. The best featured a keg or three, and some guitars.
Because it is so sheltered from the open ocean, Cooks Beach doesn't get the big surf that you find on most other beaches around the coastline. That's part of the reason why plenty of young families holidaying there - they usually arrive in droves just after New Year's Eve, after the younger folk have decamped.
By the time I moved there with my parents, Cooks Beach was already a legendary regular holiday destination for my family and home to a million intriguing family yarns and anecdotes, many of which involved mucking around in our dinghy, the Little Titter.
I could tell the tale of the time our dog Goldie went for a swim off the beach, and just kept going - to the horizon and beyond. Well out of sight she was, for over an hour. Then, when we had decided she had become a snack for a shark, back she paddled. To say Goldie loved the water is an understatement.
Then there was the time, a few years later, Dad chucked the anchor off the side of the boat, without ensuring first that it was attached to anything. Or the time the outboard motor on the family fizzboat got stuck in reverse and we ended up going around and around in circles, just off the boat ramp, while Dad calmly scratched his head and looked for the source of the mechanical mishap.
The locals have a name for the masses from Hamilton, Auckland and other cities who used to flock to Cooks Beach come Boxing Day: Loopies.
I never called them that. To me they were like emissaries from the promised land- the exciting cities I could not wait to get to, after I got high school out of the way.
Quoth Lou Reed: "There is only one good use for a small town. You hate it and you'll know you have to leave."
Sage words as always, Lou, but I've changed my mind about Cooks Beach now.
- © Fairfax NZ News