Morning Story: No complaints from this salty dog


Mark Story is assistant editor at Hawke's Bay Today.

My Skin's still salty. As are the board shorts, sunglasses, cap, car and pillow.

But you won't hear me complaining. These grains were gained on a two-week family holiday involving three golden beaches.

The first stop on the coastal itinerary was Central Hawke's Bay's Aramoana Beach. That's Aramoana, by the way, not "Shoal Beach", as it seems to be now popularly known by the great unwashed. Strange how a plush development can spark a complete change in a beach's designation.

Aramoana is a mix of the pastoral and playful. Farmers and holidaymakers spend the hours on quad bikes - tools of the trade and toys respectively.

Under private ownership for so long, this is a rare coast in that it's bach-less.

We stay in Spartan but homely shearers' quarters one station and one stream back from the beach. Our view is of a busy woolshed, hills directly at front and a crashing beach off the verandah's starboard bow.

Over the years my wife and I have sat for hours taking it in, not caring in the slightest if the riesling warms in the sun, or if coffee gets cold. Neither scenario warrants leaving the view to remedy.

One twilight I spent diving for paua. Luckily the rest of the family baulk at this fine fare, so all I needed, and found, was a solitary specimen.

Sending it off on a high note, I sliced it into thin strips and flash fried it with onion, coriander and a single red chilli. Sixty seconds on the heat, a crack of pepper, a twist of lemon and, if you can do without it, a splash of white wine brings it off the hotplate hissing with flavour.

Two days later we ventured south to further blue skies in Akitio. Staying in a campervan, we parked alongside the popular river mouth and began fishing for kahawai.

This mouth is noteworthy for me, not just because I adore fishing, but because of the reference made in James K Baxter's acclaimed poem, At Akitio.

Fishing at river mouth, a woman

Uses the sea-drilled stone her mother used

For sinker, as big kahawai come,

As tides press upward to time's source.

(Coincidentally, he also wrote a poem called At Aramoana, yet it's of the Aramoana in Otago).

We managed to pull in two kahawai before dark.

Filleted, they were coated with a mix of olive oil and sugar before smoked atop manuka chips.

Unlike Aramoana, Akitio is a surfcaster's paradise. During the day it looks much like a pa. In rusting metal holders scores of surfcasters pepper the skyline. Huge Maori men march into the surf pointing their rods forward like taiaha, the back elbow cocked ready for the challenge with tangaroa.

Teenagers with jet skis, the annoying boyracers of the ocean, leap and jump in the swell while a middle-aged old salt with "Chevrolet" tattooed on his shoulder edges past on a quad bike wearing a flannelette Tui hat.

He gives us a decent stare. Maybe because we were freedom camping and thus parked illegally both nights. By dint of Akitio's beauty, Tararua District Council obviously considers there's a price to pay for its lodgings. Sleep here is a commodity.

For the final stop on our itinerary, we changed coasts and headed south to my brother's house overlooking Waikanae Beach.

Rain came in sideways. Visibility was poor. Kapiti Island hid like a shy child.

But it was here we enjoyed by far and away the culinary highlight of our coastal sojourn - cockles.

The stripped delicacy, tuangi, was as much a pleasure to gather as it was to eat. The entire family stood ankle deep in the warm surf and engaged in a most unusual hunt using our feet.

The kids squealed with joy at the discovery of each apricot sized find in a marvellous twilight treasure hunt in sand.

Soaked for a day in fresh water they were steamed open in wine and tossed through a fresh herb and garlic butter. An absolute triumph.

I had intended to pen a piece about which beach was my favourite, and why. The joys at each three beaches changed that somewhat. Turns out I'm more interested in celebrating each one's differences.

A plaque fixed to a quaint bench seat erected in the dunes on Waikanae Beach summed up the blissful torpor that hits whenever I sit and gaze at the ocean. It read: "Sometimes I sit and think. Sometimes I just sit."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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