We boarded the ferry at Devonport - it was 1982 - our first family camping holiday; lots of small humans, some bigger ones and a very old canvas tent. One of the fantastic things about Motutapu Island was that it was easy to get to - a 30-minute ferry ride (they were slower then) and there it was. All deserted and basking in the never-ending January sun.
As we approached on the old bumpy Kestrel, my little brother yelled out, "Is that Fiji Mum?"
I remember the old timer who was driving the ferry laughing at us as he helped us unload our six weeks' worth of food. There was no shop on this island. One tap. One toilet. We carried in on that long skinny path: a case of lettuce, a box of apples, a case of bananas, a box of tomatoes, sleeping bags, one borrowed canvas tent, a spade to dig a trench and a whole lot of optimism.
We had friends coming at various times bringing in fresh bread and milk.
There were no cellphones so if there was an emergency you had to use the phone at the Ranger's house (sweetest job ever).
I remember that summer as magical. Looking back, it's like a beautiful 80s movie. Our biggest concern was how many swims we could fit in before breakfast/lunch/dinner.
Motutapu's enormous pohutukawa trees made the best ships/castles/war base. Long balmy evenings of Go-Home-Stay-Home and Molly Woppy were the best. We were feral. Running amok - not showering for weeks. But swimming in your cleansing tide a million times a day. Felt like we owned that beach. It was called Home Bay.
Poor Dad was back on the mainland, manning the family fruit shop. He would turn up on the ferry every few days with stonefruit and strawberries - "seconds"- the stuff he couldn't sell. The more whiffy pieces he would hold up in delight, like it was a golden ticket and say, "Nothin' wrong with it!" Then he would proceed to cut or bite out the rotten bits and hand to the lucky recipient (cue children's groans).
One of the many things we'd love to do was watch our grandfather, Poppa, swim his laps of the beach. He had skin like leather and was as strong as an ox. Up and down he'd swim, every day. The tempo of his overarm stroke could send me to sleep. Us kids would all watch him in admiration. Our rock star. Sometimes we would go out deep in the canoe and cheer him on. Don't think he'd notice, deep in his meditation.
I loved the smell of beetroot sandwiches. Of watermelon. Of 1980s sunscreen, possibly with a tad of coconut oil thrown in for good measure.
I can remember the feeling of my Holly Hobby singlet, fresh and cold, on my brown skin. Carefree. Careless.
Except for the day the rain hit.
It didn't let up and in the middle of the night I remember Mum (superwoman) pulling out that spade and digging the trench around the tent. Mum could do anything. It must've been tough for her, with her feral kids and a husband who would turn up with rotten fruit every now and then.
I remember the day that Dad said we could walk to neighbouring Rangitoto Island for an icecream. We all set off, excited, on that long winding path. It seemed to take about four hours.
We got there and there was no shop. "Daaaad!"
That was a long walk home, especially for Dad. That was the day he got "tomatoed"... all's fair in love and war. Motutapu Island, I miss you.
Life was simple back then.
Jodie Rimmer is in Silo Theatre's show Boys Will Be Boys from 8-24 September at Q Theatre. More info at silotheatre.co.nz.