Michelle Langstone find the answer to daily stresses at Pakiri Beach
I had missed the ocean, missed sleeping near it, missed feeling the salt residue on my cheeks in bed at night. Too much city had seeped into my bones. A wild beach, on a windy day, with the odd seagull for company and the weather rolling in was what I needed. My husband and I ran away to Pakiri for a night as an antidote to our busy lives.
I've stayed at the Pakiri Holiday Park several times over the past decade and it is very comforting how little things change. There are always helpful people in the reception office as you come in, there are always icecreams and every flavour of chips in the little shop attached and they always give you a map of the park along with your key before they usher you through the gates. There's something genuine and old fashioned about it; it feels like a universal campground, like something preserved from childhood.
Pakiri Holiday Park has cabins that look out to the water as well as a campground. Our chalet is one in a block of three and from the doorstep we can see salt spray catch the sunlight on the beach, sending the air into shimmers. We arrive on the first day of school holidays and there are lots of families coming and going to the beach and kids tearing around on the lawns
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but the sound of the sea swallows up most of the noise. The laughter that spills through our windows reminds me of being barefoot and excited at their age - it uplifts me.
From where we stay it's a sandy meander down to the fence line and across a wooden bridge that's wiggly as a loose tooth, before you're on that biscuit-coloured sand, walking and listening to it squeak under your feet. We walk in the direction of Leigh and the headland, with Pakiri Regional Park on our right, the ocean on our left. The clouds roll dark and heavy over the sea and two gannets cut through the gloom, gliding with sharp precision above the froth of the waves. I deliver my husband to the ocean, where wetsuit-clad, he swims deep and disappears, re-emerging along the shoreline like a seal.
On other trips to Pakiri I have clambered up the green slopes to take in the views and have a go on the swing that someone has hung from a tree on the hillside. I have ridden horses out there and cantered along the beach with the wind in my grinning face. On this visit I just walk until the beach runs out. I rescue the bees that have found their way on to the sand and turn shells over in my fingers as I wander. There are people around but the spread of shoreline is so expansive it feels as if they pass you by, vanishing into the salt air like ghosts. It is best when there is barely anyone. I sit for a while just watching, until I get dive-bombed by some nesting birds and beat a hasty retreat back down the beach, collecting my husband along the way.
The salt air has brought on hunger, so we rush through hot showers, dragging on jerseys and making the trip back up the hill towards Matakana, to have dinner at the Smoko Room at the Sawmill Brewery. They've just reopened after a fire wreaked havoc last year, and the space is warm, wooden, and inviting. The daylight leaves quickly and we watch as our reflections come into focus in the glass windows that look out to the dark lawns. The food is good — chargrilled broccoli with watercress, flatbreads with hummus and labneh, salt-and-pepper tofu. The beer list is extensive and the lager delicious. It's tempting to stay for dessert but we want to get back to the sea. The drive through the dark and winding countryside is lit by a moon fighting its way through cloud. The kids at the holiday park are embracing the evening, clutching torches, playing Spotlight in between the chalets. Wet towels are draped over outdoor lines and car roofs and the air is briny and cool.
There is a particular kind of tiredness that takes you over at the seaside. Perhaps it is the salt air and the negative ions everyone says are so good for you but I can never stay up late beside the ocean. We climb into bed with books, listening to the timber walls creak in the wind and the ocean telling its own bedtime story. We are asleep before we know it. In the morning when we head home I feel different; my body is looser in space and I breathe better. The ocean is always the answer.
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