It’s January. We ignore the painfully long (and seriously ambitious) list of stuff-that-absolutely-MUST-get-done-before-work-starts, leave home, and drive gleefully towards connectivity truancy – the black beaches, high-rise sand dunes, wild seas, and blissfully mobile coverage-free Te Henga. Two days of sanctuary at Bethells Beach on Auckland’s raw west coast.
We meet our host, Jim Wheeler, and his tan Jeep at the beach carpark, and follow him inland in our tiny blue city-kids car. We drive through the Wheeler’s farm towards Lake Wainamu, and on through little freshwater streams to our refuge. Wainamu Luxury Tents. We park on the grass beside our gate and follow Jim around our campsite. I have the most enormous, totally uncontrollable dorky grin spread across my face, and am fighting fits of excited giggles. I want to drag everyone I know here and point – ‘Look! And the! Look at the thing! And this! Isn’t it! Wow!’ After Jim leaves, and is some safe distance away, there is much leaping about and high-fiving. Then a serious exploration and photographic documentation begins.
A wooden-floored, cream canvas tent so beautiful, so carefully made, and so thoughtfully bestowed with treasures I feel my chest tighten. A huge bed, covered in pillows and soft floral quilts. Sheepskin floor rugs. A jar of bright red dahlias on an upturned metal bucket. A sofa, woollen blankets, and crocheted throws. Lanterns to be lit. Home made muesli and bread to be devoured. An enamel bowl of farm eggs. Kiwiana tea-towels.
There is no sound but the breeze in the pines and the song of the birds that crisscross above our heads. We have an outdoor kitchen, a chest full of ice, a fire-pit with kindling already laid, and a jar full of marshmallows ready for toasting. We can cook over open fire, wood or gas BBQ, gas-ringed hob.
It is here, summer sun on our shoulders, that we plan our year. We make billy tea, serve it in pottery mugs, and sit on the tent porch surrounded by the smell of mānuka, grass, and canvas. What was wonderful about 2014? What sucked – comprehensively, marginally, whatever? How do we want to feel in 2015? And what things, people, places, and activities help us feel that way? The Post-It’s come out and we paper the floorboards of the tent with our revelations. Looking at the good, the great, and the mildly miserable laid out before us on fluoro squares, we can see patterns start to form. We are struck that without thoughtfulness and attention, the really delightful bits of life tend to disappear, and regular old stuff just expands to fill the gaps. And so we decide, with much hilarity, that our grand intention for the year is to Schedule The Awesome. (Emblazoned T-shirts, perky hashtags, and motivational speaking tour to follow.)
Our days are filled with wandering, resting, reading, eating. We meander down farm tracks, through streams, and stand, necks cricked back, to admire the towers of the dunes and their waves of black and gold sand. We watch kids leap, squealing, off a small jetty into the lake. We pause under pōhutukawas and listen to the noisy wings of Tūī, and walk along the coast – our feet in the foam of the surf, the dramatic landscape softened with drifts of salt spray.
Our cell-phones are lying lifeless somewhere in the car. And I feel wholly, expansively relaxed.
We eat feasts of food flavoured by wood smoke, drink west-coast wine, and watch the valley darken. We light lanterns and listen to the cast-iron bath fill with water. The darkness stops just beyond the flicker of our candles. Steam from the hottest water we can stand lifts itself above the rim of the tub and curls up. There is an almost inaudible chorus of tiny insect wings, and a smell of beeswax. Satellites arc across the starry ink above our heads. Even the birds are quiet.
This. This is sanctuary.
Wainamu Luxury Tents
Jim and Anna Wheeler
Bethells Beach, Auckland, New Zealand