Helen van Berkel finds that the lost childhood art of kite-flying deserves to be resurrected.
The sheets were flapping on the line, the blossoms from the cherry tree were carpeting the neighbourhood in pink and white petals. The blustery day meant one thing: it was kite-flying time.
Auckland's volcanic cones and its choice of numerous east and west coast beaches - either side is windblown no matter which direction the breeze was coming - offer an open invitation to go kite-flying.
Our first stop on a blowy Saturday was the North Shore's Long Bay. It had been a month of gales , so it was a lucky Saturday when the kids were ready and the breeze was up.
Lesson number one: set up your kite at home. Struggling to put it together and untangling the strings while fighting the gusts is a recipe for frustration. We had two kites and, typically, as soon as we arrived at Long Bay and had the kites organised and ready to take off, the wind died to a zephyr. No matter how many times we ran up and down the beach and threw our kites up in the air, the wretched things merely thudded along behind, burying themselves in the sand. Result: two disappointed children. But we persisted and it paid off.
Finally the breeze picked up again, caught those colourful little scraps of nylon and they were off.
Up went the black, yellow and red kites, soaring into the blue, tugging surprisingly hard as they filled with wind. The girls struggled to hold on to the strings and raced up the beach, their delighted shrieks of laughter attracting the attention of dog walkers and families taking advantage of the golden evening sunshine.
Long Bay is a magnet for parasailers and whenever the wind blasts in from the ocean and luminous grey clouds gather on the horizon, they're out there. One tells me Orewa is his favourite when the easterly blows. North Head, too, is an open invitation to kids and kites, so that's where we headed next.
By now we had the hang of the dynamics of flight, managing the spools of line like pros as the kites leaped and dipped and soared above the Head's green slopes. The ground there is much less even than the beach so we had to take a little more care of their footing. But the gusts are also stronger, so far less running is required to get those kites into the wide yonder. They were patches of colour against the city skyline, dipping and soaring as the girls held on to their spools. They learned to manage the thread, letting it out and pulling it in to keep the kites airborne.
Our third expedition was to Muriwai Beach. If there's ever been a day that I've been on those black sands without a stiff breeze messing up my hair, I can't remember it. The girls almost lost their kites as the wind viciously snatched them and hurled them to the sky. They leaned back, struggling to hold their kites as the wind filled the fragile nylon and the kites tugged and jumped in the wind. The girls shrieked when their kites plunged sandward and they were left holdinglimp strings. Undeterred, they threw their kites skywards again. It seemed more difficult to keep the kites aloft at Muriwai where the currents tossed them hundreds of metres up, only for them to spin uncontrollably and plummet back into the sand almost immediately. The girls raced up and down, each holding a spool and running and laughing with the pure joy of the challenge of keeping their respective craft up.
Flying a kite is one of the lost arts of childhood that definitely deserves a resurrection.