When we first arrived at our new home in Castlecliff, the first thing I did was take my two little boys and partner winding through the backyard to the decrepit brick barbecue out the back.
The boys crouched down beside me curiously, as I wiped away leaves and dirt to reveal two small indents in the concrete; the remnants of my baby hand and foot prints put there in 1990.
Late last year, my little whānau moved into our old family homestead on Puriri St in a bid to get into the housing market. My parents, sister and I originally moved out of this house when I was a little girl in 1993, but my family's history here dates back long before I was born.
My Dad bought the house with his first wife at the start of the 80s. They had two children, my sister Jennie and brother Cameron. But everything changed in 1983, when Cameron drowned in the swimming pool out the back at just 14 months old. Soon after the marriage ended.
Cameron was a gorgeous wee boy with blond hair and blue eyes and a cute bottom lip that sort of sucked in in the middle. He was my father's only son and his death shattered everyone. The swimming pool is now filled with soil and shrubs that we overlook from the back porch.
Years later, my mother moved in with her daughter Jaimie-Anne, and Jennie had a new sister. They grew up together here for years, creating bonds and memories, but none of which I share. My parents had me in 1990 and within a year, my older sister Jaimie-Anne died after battling cancer most of her life.
By all accounts, Jaimie-Anne was a spirited and loving girl. She had golden brunette curls that once upon a time fell all over her face. She was cheeky and brave and showed our family what true resilience looked like. She was only 9 when she died.
My father has buried two children in his life, both of whom took their last breaths in this house. It was not until I became a mother myself that I understood the depth of that loss and pain, how cheated my parents and my sister must feel. I long for my siblings and it hurts me that I know them only by name. I am conscious that this is still their home and maybe a piece of them still lives here.
Over the past 25 years, our homestead has housed an array of family friends and extended whānau. For a short stint, a few years back, I moved in with Dad while we were both going through relationship breakdowns.
More recently, my older cousin Ian and his partner lived here, but in a tragic turn of events, Ian lost his life in 2019 to cancer too. Losing loved ones is one of the hardest things to deal with and this house has seen it all.
With all of this in mind, it has been a very interesting experience moving back in. It is familiar, but different. It feels natural, but also strange. I have been quick to put up our art and photos to make it feel like our own. It was comforting setting the boys up in a bedroom that was once mine.
Our next-door neighbours have kept their home in the same family too, so it has been lovely being welcomed home so warmly by neighbours who remember me from when I was born. That sense of community is priceless.
In general, there is a sense of community in Castlecliff that is contagious. The street can be buzzing with life; people socialising and listening to music; kids laughing and playing; my neighbour often gives his stock cars a rev up, and we hear the odd burn out up the road. It is noisy but it feels wholesome to be living somewhere with energy, and we enjoy adding to it with our own family.
What is sad to see though is the deterioration of the area and it is clear to me that this part of town, that this community, has gone underserved for years. There are hardly any trees up our street and there are no berms on our side of the road. All the power lines still feed straight into the top of our houses and do not run underground like other places. We have no pretty parks or walkways. There is nothing for the kids to do around these ways.
It frustrates me that there has been such a lack of investment in this community and I often wonder why a seaside suburb like this has been left to rot for generations. Meanwhile, the cost of housing in Castlecliff is increasing at one of the fastest rates around the country and I can see why.
The suburb feels spacious with a big sky and lots of birds. The houses are sturdy, and the sections are huge with actual backyards – not all poky and cramped together like newer subdivisions. It is great to see The Citadel café by the beach and the transformation happening there.
I have heard people say that Castlecliff is the hip place to live now but I would hate to see that put pressure on long-term residents to sell up and move away. There are strong intergenerational connections out here that are good for communities and gentrification can come at a cost.
For now, we settle into our homestead and we begin the process of making our own memories here and adding to the history of this house. We play our music, and we laugh out loud and we add to the buzz of the street. And at night, we fall asleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the shoreline.
I am acutely aware of the history of this home, but it is a comforting feeling more than anything else.
It's the house my parents fell in love in in the 80s, it's where I was born, it is where my sister had her first baby, and its walls hold more stories about my family than I will ever know.