Have you ever wished to get away from it all, get into nature and escape into solitude? Probably, and I’m there now for two weeks, minding a garden and a B&B for friends. Ohiwa Harbour between Whakatane and Opotiki, New Zealand, is a magical place to retreat and reflect.
What force of nature draws us into her secret places? How can merely being outside, retreating from the buzz and rush of the world re-charge us?
“Get up early and do stuff,” they said before they left. “Sleep in the afternoon then potter round some more. Have a drink up in the Mediterranean garden and eat about 8.”
The view pulls me into the next day earlier than usual. Bird chatter entices me to open wide the glass sliding door, never mind cooler morning air, to do nothing except watch and listen. This is therapy. A fizz boat zooms from the Ohope wharf with hopeful fishermen. A small commercial fishing boat chugs noisily in the channel close to this side of the sandspit and out to sea. I watch anxiously as it rises over and sinks between waves twisting its way across the Ohiwa bar, calm enough today.
I write. I get up and do stuff. This means foraging for garden produce to be processed. I choose a green bucket and set off. Passionfruit, both purple and yellow litter the path; red tomatoes, cherry, plum and beefsteak hide among their foliage; blackboy peaches have rolled down the driveway after a high wind; green table grapes perfume the air and hang in luscious bunches from the pergola. Silver-eyes are having a field day! Such abundance! I have a lot to be grateful for.
I make myself a cappucino and stare at the ever-changing tide. Birds gather in their hundreds on the sandbanks; white-fronted and caspian terns, New Zealand and banded dotterels, bar-tailed godwits, black-billed gulls and common gulls. The Collins’ have cleared Tern Island of pests and weeds and monitor the birds’ breeding. Sadly, huge swells from Cyclone victor have washed away a precious dotterel nest and eggs, a scrape in the sand usually beyond such disasters. Herons and other waders patrol the edges.
White-faced heron protecting his feeding patch
The garden provides my lunch and there’s the last slice of homemade pizza with Meg’s own olives foraged from the street trees in Papamoa. I cut and scrape out passionfruit seeds, stew under-age peaches and squash them to remove the stones, make Italian tomato stew, peel, quarter and cook pears then carefully ladle them in too-small bottles. I hope the lids will seal. Everything is preserved in jars which I had the foresight to bring, because I am taking my work home.
Time to snooze; the heat creates inertia in me. Later, a G&T sounds the perfect antidote. I balance a tray up to the Mediterranean garden with nibbles, feeling queen of Ohiwa Harbour. Fantail Cottage does ambiance so well! I see some plants will need re-staking tomorrow from the wind, and watering too.
For dinner, I douse gurnard with garam masala, cube it in large chunks and saute it with ginger and garlic to which I add – of course- my tomato stew. Simple and delicious. As the sun sinks over the hills that surround the harbour, I sip wine and consider the perfection of what the Creator has made for the created to enjoy. It’s a spiritual feeling, being part of that perfection, then thump! Falling passionfruit jerk me from my reverie.
At 4am I wake for a call of nature to another display of grandeur. Coloured fairy lights strung around the house look pretty enough, but a full moon lights up the harbour in a pale gleam like a beacon, contrasting with the golden lights of Ohope.
Maybe today I’ll be able to complete my half-finished painting.
Me in my painting hat